We’ve got another Saab rallyista for you this week. This time, we chat with Luke Sørensen, a color analyst for Estee Lauder Companies in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Luke’s the first person we’ve interviewed who never really got into the Group B cars. What does he prefer? Make the yump and find out.
What got you interested in rally?
I grew up in the back seat of a SAAB and learned early on about their competition heritage. In college I started working events and assisting some other teams that ran SAABs.
Tell us about your rally car/truck. How long have you had it?
Our rally car is a 1975 SAAB 99, we started the build in 2003 and debuted the car at some events in 2004. At 35 years young, its almost always the oldest car at the event. The car is not exactly a historically correct specimen. For parts availability and performance we chose to replace the cars original 8V non turbo engine with a 16V turbo from a 1980’s SAAB 900. This engine is nearly bulletproof and provides a great usable torque curve for rally, especially with addition of a modern ball bearing turbocharger and programmable fuel injection.
Did you buy your rally car or build it?
What challenges did this cause? What benefits did you realize as a result?
We built the car, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I love the building aspect of rally and the fabrication. I love starting with a clean slate and not having to fix others’ mistakes. When I started building the car I thought I would do mostly rally-x for a few years and then build up to “pro rally” as it was called at the time, but then the news that SCCA was dumping the stage rally program came out. I wasn’t even sure for a while if the car I built would meet rules in the near future, or what the future of rally was. Rally New York had some events close by (under fledgling NASA Rally Sport program) and I figured what the heck, I built the car for this, lets pull out the stops and do it NOW. I was totally hooked after the first event even though we didn’t finish because of bad fuel pump wiring and a way under built skidplate. The other competitors were so supportive and everyone loved the car.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
We had a pretty heavy roll at STPR 08. We had just completed a pretty major rebuild of the car over that winter, new paint, new suspension, new shell (ok so technically it was pretty much a new car but for titling purposes it was the same one).
We transplanted the engine days before the event and we pushed the car onto the trailer and towed it up to STPR, the engine ran, but barely. We spent the whole day before the event in the service area troubleshooting the running issues and finding some electrical gremlins. We were pretty stressed but got the car though tech about 10 minutes before it closed.
I was also the first event for a new co-driver. Once we were on stage I relaxed a little, the new chassis setup was performing great, and we were setting some very fast times.
Midway though the 4th or 5th stage we came down into a dark valley out of a clearing, it had rained overnight but dried out in the sun mostly… the dense canopy of the forest had kept this section of road wet, and the STPR clay is like ice when its wet. We came into an off camber 3 just a little too hot, tagged the bank but recovered, however in the midst of the moment and the minor off we got a little off the notes and missed an instruction for a !! R2 that came up WAY too quick – clipped the bank and executed a textbook roll.
The hit was not hard, we came all the way around and landed back on the wheels, in fact I don’t believe the car ever stopped! But the windshield was shattered, every panel but the trunk was dented and we were pretty shaken up. We pulled off to make sure everything was ok, used the lug wrench to gain some fender clearance, and transited 18 miles back to service where we handed in the time card. It was a sad day. I didn’t rally for the rest of season and took almost a year off.
What’s the most rewarding part of being involved in rally? The most challenging?
Finishing an event is always such a great feeling, regardless of how you did. There’s just so much work for a grassroots team to even get to the event, most people have no idea.
How many events did you enter last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
Last year we ran 4 events. I had planned to run 4 again this year but West Virginia got canceled. We have run more than that’s but that’s about what is sustainable for me. Anything more than 4 and it seems to pretty much become a 2nd full time job just to keep up with maintenance and planning.
What kind of cash prize structure would entice you to enter more rallies or push the car harder?
The Max-Attack program is great. We’ve won some big money in both Max Attack events we’ve run.
How important are car classes? What class/region do you race in?
How many competitors in your class at each event?
The classes aren’t that important. We are G5, because of the turbo, but with a newer car could easily make more power and be G2. I mostly just watch the other 2WD guys and try to have a good time.
What do you think about recce vs pacenotes vs blind rally?
If you mean recce vs Jemba, I like the Jemba notes. I’ve done recce before and it’s good for me because I have a very visual memory, and I can pretty much remember a stage after driving it once, but the time commitment becomes too great to do recce with the 2 day events most organizers are favoring now.
Spectators: Dream come true or worst nightmare? Why?
I love seeing spectators out there. I was one too.
How do you get local gearheads involved in rally?
I ask them to crew for me. :) Really that’s one of the best ways to get into the scene and learn things, meet people, etc..
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
I used to think it was road access, but the recent economic conditions have actually helped that it seems. More towns are willing to deal with the rally organizers in order to bring some dollars into their local economies.
How do you help out at rallies when you aren’t racing?
This is something I could probably do more with. I help a lot of people with prep questions and I even build some parts as a service to the community.
If you could enter any WRC event, which rally would that be? Why?
Hmm, Sweden would be great, a car similar to ours won that event overall in 1977 and 1979.
Your favorite Group B car?
Not such a fan of the group B car’s. I’d much prefer a Group 4 car from the 70’s.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
Its pretty cliche to say, but Stig Blomqvist is pretty much the man. I’ve met him a number of times, he’s so humble and gave us the thumbs up a couple times we he passed us on a transit at STPR.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
Not really a formal club. I share a rented shop with 2 other like-minded gearheads. We all have day jobs and just use the shop at nights.
How often do you get together with other rallyistas to talk shop?
Everyday on the forums I started on my website, saabrally.com. The whole idea was to build a support network of people that had similar interests. We’ve organized some group buys and had new parts made that haven’t been available for 30 years.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
My roommates and friends from college, Jordan Pagano, Max Palmer and Matt Weir have helped tremendously. Jordan is a web-design guy so he built the site, Max does graphic design so he’s helped with graphics and team media stuff. Matt is great at keeping up on time schedules and planning. Our combined skill set is really amazing, and we’ve all learned a lot from each other.
Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here.
The guy that works the finish control on a steep downhill every year at STPR. Every year he tell us to not have our foot on the brake while exchanging the time card, because it will crack the rotors. Ok, but how are we supposed to keep the car from rolling down the hill while talking to him… we laugh every year. No seriously, I am really thankful for all the help that workers provide.
Gearbox Magazine would like to thank Luke for taking the time to be interviewed. If you’ve got a Saab and you’d like to get the most out of it, head over to SaabRally.com and say hello. Luke will also be at NEFR this weekend (along with Mike White), so get your buddies together and head to New England to cheer for the Saabs!