Ove Andersson: Rally driver and manager
Monday 23 June 2008
After a highly successful career as a driver, Ove Andersson moved over to motorsport management and presided over Team Toyota Europe victories in both drivers' and manufacturers' championships. A man with great patience and respect, he was the first truly to get to grips with a Japanese automobile manufacturer, opening the way for Japanese success across the motorsport world. Andersson was a rare figure in motorsport: he was a winner as a driver and as a team principal, yet he had few enemies and kept his feet firmly on the ground.
He grew up on a remote farm in the vast forests of Sweden, and learnt to be self-sufficient early, because his family visited the city of Uppsala only once or twice a year. He began school at seven, riding his mother's old bicycle to the village four miles away. He tried everything to make the bicycle go faster. "It was not long before I was found by a forest worker hanging in a hedge with my clothing destroyed and bleeding from cuts to my legs," he remembered. "Bandages were applied and I was sent off to school again."
In an effort to get the bicycle to slide around corners while he was still pedalling, Andersson tried some modifications. More bandages were required. As he was not allowed to use a motorcycle at that age, he then fitted a motorcycle engine to a sled. It was the forerunner of the snowmobile, but for Andersson it simply meant more bandages.
In his teens he briefly studied engineering in Uppsala, but four hours' travel a day convinced him to work locally as a blacksmith instead, and it was not until he was 20, when he did his military service, that he discovered the outside world. He was fascinated and immediately volunteered to join the UN peacekeeping force in the Gaza Strip. After that he could not settle down, and applied for a UN posting to the Congo. While waiting, he bought a wrecked Saab, repaired it and entered it in a local rally, doing so well that the Swedish motorsport fraternity sat up and took notice. He would struggle for five years before finally landing a chance with a factory Ford (ie, one entered, prepared and paid for by Ford) in 1963.
Saab signed him up for 1964 and he rallied all over Europe, although he felt hampered by the fact that the team leader, Erik Carlsson, always seemed to have better machinery. Eventually, in frustration, he wrote to Cesare Fiorio, the boss of the Lancia rally team, offering his services for 1966. Fiorio took a gamble, and Andersson delivered, finishing second on the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally and winning in Spain.
In 1968, for Lancia, Andersson drove in the Daytona 24 Hours and the Targa Florio. He also competed for Ford in the London-Sydney Marathon, sharing a Lotus Cortina with Roger Clark. They had a huge lead when they arrived in Australia, but mechanical troubles – that even the resourceful Andersson could not overcome – dropped them down the order.
In 1971 Alpine came calling and Andersson was signed to help win the international rally championship. There was no drivers' title at the time, but if there had been Andersson would have won it, with victories at the Monte Carlo, San Remo, Acropolis and Austrian rallies. A year later, Toyota approached him and asked him to drive in the RAC Rally. It went well and Andersson established a Toyota team in Uppsala. As the team grew it moved first to Brussels, where it became Team Toyota Europe (TTE), and then to Cologne. Andersson still rallied for other teams and in 1975 scored his only win in the new World Rally Championship (WRC), taking the tough Safari Rally in a Peugeot. That year TTE scored its first WRC success with Hannu Mikkola winning the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland.
Andersson spent much time in Africa in the years that followed, and TTE won a string of events. As the WRC grew, so Toyota became more involved, and in 1990 Spain's Carlos Sainz won Toyota its first world title. Four consecutive drivers' championships followed, to which were added two manufacturers' titles.
In 1995 there was scandal when TTE was caught using illegal turbo restrictors. Andersson, an honest man, said that it was his failure because he had not kept a close eye on what his engineers were up to. Toyota kept faith in him. They decided to try to win the Le Mans 24 Hours and in 1998 and 1999, Toyota Motorsport (as TTE had by then become) came close to winning the endurance classic. Then came word that Toyota wanted to enter Formula One and Andersson embarked on creating Panasonic Toyota Racing. The team entered Formula One in 2002, but Andersson had reached retirement age. He was shoved into a consulting role and watched in frustration as the Formula One team failed to develop as he would have wished.
Last year, approaching his 70th birthday, he packed his bags and headed off to a new life in his beloved Africa. It was there that he was killed, during a vintage car rally in South Africa.
Ove Andersson, rally driver and motorsport administrator: born Uppsala, Sweden 3 January 1938; three times married (two sons, one daughter); died George, South Africa 11 June 2008.
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