The spot on the F1 pit wall which Ove Andersson occupies today seems a far cry from his background as a top-line rally driver. But, as John Davenport explains, these early experiences were crucial in shaping Toyota’s motorsport general
It cannot have escaped your notice that several successful rally men have migrated to the world of Formula One in recent years. Ferrari has two, its president and its sporting director, while BAR is now guided by a former rally world champion. But so far, this exdusive list contains men who were co-drivers. Only one of the ex-rally exponents running an F1 team is a former driver, and that is Toyota boss Ove Andersson.
Over the past four decades the Swede’s credentials as a team manager have become immense, being the guiding force behind Toyota Team Europe as it collected seven world rally championship titles
in the 1990s. But the story of TTE and of Andersson’s own career goes back much further.
In 1961 Andersson, then aged 23 and running a small garage in Sweden, began rallying his own Saab. He was then introduced to the Mini importer for Sweden, which led to a year driving a Cooper S in his homeland, the highlight being a fifth place on the Swedish Rally. He was making an immediate impact and the establishment was taking notice.
“I was actually leading that Swedish Rally,” recalls Andersson, “but all the older guys really psyched me out. The next stage was very dangerous, they said, people were always flying off the road here and I had to be careful. I was so careful I dropped too much time to keep the lead.”
His good drives in the Mini landed him a deal for 1964 with Saab. Erik Carlsson’s multiple successes had given the Swedish manufacturer a reputation to live up to. So it needed to cultivate up-and-coming drivers and the lanky, bespectacled Mr Andersson fitted the bill perfectly. At first it was just Swedish events, but then he got a drive on the Acropolis. He finished 10th and followed that up with fifth on the Swedish and seventh on the 1000 Lakes.
By 1965, however, the 841cc Saab was being eclipsed by the Mini Coopers and Ford Cortinas. At the end of the season a friend suggested to Andersson that Lancia was looking for drivers.
“I wrote to Cesare Fiorio at Lancia. Nothing happened. I did the rest of my rallies that year with Saab. I was pretty low. Then, in December, I got a telegram from Italy. ‘I want to talk to you. Fiorio’.”
Ove flew to Italy almost immediately and just over 24 hours later was a Lancia driver. On his first event at Monte Carlo he finished third in a Flavia coupé. It was the year of the lighting scandal which led to the disqualification of the Minis, Cortinas and Imps, but for Lancia, still a young team with no official status within the company, it was a glorious result.
With the new Fulvia coupé Andersson was third in San Remo behind his victorious team-mate Leo Cella, and went on to take fourth place on the Acropolis and seventh on the RAC Rally. The latter event was one on which this writer was Andersson’s co-driver: he gave me a good example of the mechanical knowledge and ingenuity, allied to a deep-seated patience, which were becoming his hallmarks as a driver.
On that RAC we retired definitively several times, only to get going again each time. On the first occasion Ove cobbled together a fix for a broken oil cooler using two dozen washers to space out the untapped part of the bolt threads. The final ‘rescue’ involved him replumbing the feed from the petrol tank using a breather pipe and my Waterman fountain pen barrel as a connector!
With the new 1300 Fulvia available for 1967, results were not slow in coming. Andersson missed out on a win in Monte Carlo by only 13sec, followed this up with third in San Remo, second on the Acropolis and first in Spain. But his Lancia contract had never been exclusive, and outings for Ford were also becoming more regular.
It came to a head for 1968 as both marques fought for Andersson’s services. Lancia had its new 1600 engine and five-speed gearbox, but Ford was about to launch the Escort Twin Cam. In the end the Swede opted for the Blue Oval, and it was Andersson that took the Escort to third place on its debut in San Remo.
Looking at his results that year it would seem that the season was progressing well, but in fact Andersson was setting out on a voyage of bad luck that was to last almost three years. Mechanical failures restricted his success, and the next two years with the Escort TC yielded few results, the only win coming on the Welsh Rally.
During 1969 Stuart Turner returned to head up the Ford Competition Department. He made no secret of his admiration for Timo Mäkinen and retained the Finn for the 1970 season, alongside Hannu Mikkola, Roger Clark and Jean-Francois Piot. Ove found himself out in the cold.
“I asked Stuart in 1969 about next year and he said everything would be okay. But when I came home I had a letter from him saying that he didn’t want me after all.”
He did get two rallies through Ford Sweden but, in general, 1970 was a desert for the man now being called ‘the Chris Amon of rallying’.
But then Andersson got a call from Jacques Cheinisse at Alpine-Renault. The marque was in with a chance of beating Porsche to the International Makes’ Championship, but it had little experience of the RAC Rally. Cheinisse asked Andersson if he’d assess an Alpine on the TAP Rally in Portugal, which had plenty of dirt roads and rough going similar to the British forests. Despite being probably the tallest man ever to drive an A110, Andersson acquitted himself well. He was impressed with the car and the result was that he and his wife, Liz, joined the team for the RAC Rally. Sadly, the Andersson luck was not yet fully changed as their Alpine stalled in a mid-stage mudbath and was then hit by Tony Fall’s Datsun, eliminating both cars.
Cheinisse added Andersson to his team for 1971 and was amply repaid. Aboard the 1600cc A110, Andersson won the Monte Carlo, San Remo, Acropolis and Austrian rallies so that Alpine stormed to a comfortable victory in the IMC. It was a year of perfection – that would always be a hard act to follow.
And so it proved. Alpine used the 1800 A110 for 1972 but did not, at that point, upgrade the gearbox. That component failed Andersson on the last night while leading the Monte, and twice more before the season was out. This was followed by more bad news: “Late in the year Cheinisse told me that Alpine was being bought out by Renault and it was his opinion that I would have little hope of a contract for 1973, as I was not French.”
But the year had been a highly significant one, because it presented Andersson with his first contact with a Japanese manufacturer, when he drove a Datsun 180B to 12th overall on the Safari Rally.
I never saw Ove’s patience more severely tried than when I was sat next to him on that event. The Datsun was pretty standard in many respects, but the most standard thing was the wiring loom. The slightest overload on the system and the plastic covering of the wires would melt with the heat and they would short out. The best moment was early one morning when we were stuck on a 45-degree rock face going up the Tot Escarpment with the clutch mechanism inoperative and all the electrics shorted out. Ove wired the petrol pump and coil directly to the battery, stuck it in first gear and bump-started the thing uphill by putting a screwdriver across the starter solenoid terminals. That last bit was my job and since he could not stop until the top, I had to ride up Tot under the bonnet!
His Datsun contact was just the beginning. “At that time, at the end of ’72,” says Andersson, “David Stone called me to say that Toyota was looking for a driver for the RAC Rally. I did not have the faintest idea what its car looked like. So I said that I’d like to see the factory and the car before I drove it. A week later I had a return ticket to Japan. At the time it didn’t seem like very much…”
The RAC went well and Andersson won his class – and finished ahead of Rauno Aaltonen’s Datsun. Toyota was delighted and asked him to do more rallies in Europe, where it was just getting its products on the market. With a few guys at home in Dannemora as his team, Andersson competed in four rallies in 1973. But in ’74 came the fuel crisis and Toyota got cold feet despite ever-improving results.
“Toyota really wanted to stop, but in February 1975 I went to Japan. By the time I came home I was the proud owner of $250,000 of spare parts, several cars and a garage they had bought outside Brussels. I moved three of my mechanics down from Sweden to a motel and we were in business.”
Andersson was still principally a driver and not all of his rides came with the newly founded Toyota Team Europe. He notched up a famous victory on the Safari Rally in 1975 in a Peugeot 504, defeating Björn Waldegård in a Lancia Stratos.
But TTE was growing, and when Hannu Mikkola won the 1000 Lakes in a 1600 Corolla, its future was sealed. Toyota Japan now understood that it could win at the highest level and promptly started to make TTE a bigger, stronger organisation with its own engineering resources. Andersson’s driving decreased before he finally hung up his helmet in 1980.
His next career, that of team manager, was now in full flow. As the rally world whizzed up the yellow brick road into Group B, following Audi into the wonderful world of four-wheel drive, Toyota opted for a rather conventional two-wheel-drive car, the Celica Twin-Cam Turbo which appeared at the beginning of 1983. Juha Kankkunen wrestled one to sixth on the 1000 Lakes, while Waldegård won the African Bandama Rally, and showed where its true potential lay. Over the next three years this duo took the ungainly Celica TCT to three Safari Rally victories. It was this hat-trick, on a rally which was probably more important to the Japanese than any other, that enabled TTE to take the next quantum leap, although in the event it did not happen quite as had been planned. Just as GpB was running into fatal trouble, TTE was ready with a 4WD turbo car.
“We were all ready to go with the 200 production cars and we had the rally version under test,” remembers Andersson. “In any case, we had a high-volume production car in preproduction test based on the 200-off GpB car. So when GpB was banned it became a matter of simply homologating that into Group A. Of course, that first Celica GT-4 did not have any of the right competition bits on it, but at least we were rallying competitively by the middle of 1988.”
The rest is history: Toyota won four WRC drivers’ titles with Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol, plus three manufacturers’ titles.
Then TTE changed tack altogether, for the first time becoming a racing team, masterminding Toyota’s biggest ever effort to win Le Mans in 1998-99. It was a giant step for both Toyota and Andersson, but not as great as the next to head into F1.
As a manager, Andersson has made the transition appear seamless. “I think the basic philosophy of what you do in motorsport is much the same in all these disciplines,” he explains.
He recalls with some amusement how his team hit the road running in Formula One: “Most of our mechanics have been with us since the rally times. There was a pile-up at the first F1 race in Australia. Allan [McNish] was stuck but Mika [Salo] came round to our pits with a rear wheel pretty much hanging off. There was no discussion, the guys just got stuck in and changed the upper wishbone. Out he went and won us our first point. The guys in the other teams said that if that had happened to them, they would have pushed the car straight into the garage and retired.”
For 25 years Andersson ran Toyota’s rally activities, fostering a unique relationship with his Japanese masters. He sees his own rally experiences as giving him the patience to take TTE through that long period of growth between 1973 and the first title in ’90. His achievement was to keep Toyota sufficiently interested and rewarded to invest in the next level.
“You just had to keep quietly putting your point of view. And come up with the results. If you have no results, then no-one will give you more money.”
Simple to say, difficult to do.