December 2000     

American Team to Face European Winter Rally in Vintage Saab

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This 1967 Saab 96 will carry Kevin Clemens and Peter Pleitner through Europe in January on the CRA Winter Challenge.
Automotive journalist Kevin Clemens from Columbus, Ohio and educator Peter Pleitner from Ann Arbor, Michigan will compete in the Classic Rally Association's 12th Winter Challenge Rally from January 14-19th in 2001. The event, formerly known as the Monte Carlo Winter Challenge covers many of the classic winter rally roads through the French Alps. The cutoff for vehicles is 1968 and no electronic timing or navigation equipment is allowed. Clemens, who ran the event last January in a 1961 Alfa Romeo Guilietta said "This is pretty much how they ran in the late fifties and early sixties. The roads are the same, the navigation is the same and the cars are required by the rules to be unmodified, so it feels very similar to what the giants of the sport experienced forty years ago."

Clemens and Pleitner will attack the event in a 1967 Saab 96 sedan, similar in many ways to the successful Saab rally cars of rally legend Erik Carlsson. The car has an 841 cc two-stroke three cylinder engine and will be the smallest displacement car in the event. With front-wheel drive and Nokian Hakkapellitta winter tires, the American Saab team is hoping that tough winter conditions and lots of snow will give them an advantage. "In tough conditions, these cars were the giant killers of their time," said Clemens.

Link to CRA site The Classic Rally Association, headquartered in London has created the run to the south of France 11 times before. It has also put on epic events like the Peking to Paris in 1997 and the Around the World in 80 Days rally that Kevin Clemens also competed in during 2000. Prior to last year the event ended in historic Monte Carlo, but disagreements with the Automobile Club de Monaco has resulted in a finish that now takes place on the Mediterranean coast in the town of Cannes. The real competition takes place on the icy narrow roads that crisscross the Alps. Competitors have a choice of starts for the five day event, including Brooklands racetrack in England, Oslo in Norway and Cannes itself. Clemens and Pleitner will start in Noordwijk, Holland.

The only modifications to the team's Saab 96 are the addition of winter tires and gas shock absorbers, period rally navigation like the Halda Speedpilot, map lights and more comfortable reclining seats and competition seat belts for the long drive. The rally is long and tough with several late nights and one drive through the night to the next day. Unlike most American old car events, this one is tough just to finish and the Saab team from America is hoping to be among those who make it to Cannes by January 19th.

Other U.S. entrants include Andrew Barron and Timothy Westby in a 1969 Lotus Seven, Mark Janiczek and Nicholas Falcone in a 1956 Chevrolet Corvette, and Michael Kunz driving a 1974 MGB. There were a total of 171 entries as of early December.

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