JUNE 11, 2008

Ove Andersson 1938-2008

It is with great regret that we must report the death of one of motorsport's most extraordinary characters Ove Andersson, a legend in the rallying world who went on to become the force behind Toyota's motorsport activities for more than 30 years. He was the Toyota F1 team principal until his retirement. He was 70 years of age.

Andersson was taking part in the Continental Milligan Vintage Trial, an event in South Africa for pre-1960 cars. He was driving a 1957 Volvo 444. A minibus pulled out from behind a truck on a bend near Oudtshoorn, not far from Andersson's home in the coastal city of George, in the Western Cape in South Africa. His co-driver Tubby Bennett was injured in the accident, but his life is not believed to be in danger.

Ove came from a humble background. He was born in the city of Uppsala in January 1938 and grew up on a remote farm, cycling four miles each way to school on his mother's old bicycle. After his father acquired a 98cc motorcycle Andersson developed an interest in machinery - and in speed. He had several impressive accidents but survived with cuts and bruises and won a place to study engineering in Uppsala, 30 miles from his home village. While he was there he saw his first ice races and was soon working as a marshal on the Hedemora circuit, where the Swedish Grand Prix was held for cars and bikes. He soon grew tired of travelling each day to Uppsala and quit school and began working as an assistant to a blacksmith, while continuing his education with a correspondence course. Moving on to a local automobile repair shop, he impressed the owner with his abilities on a motorbike. He encouraged the youngster to go racing, which did not impress Ove's parents.

In 1958 Andersson did his national service and stayed on to become a member of the United Nations peace-keeping force in the Gaza Strip, where he survived typhoid and a fire while he was in hospital. When he returned to Sweden he found it hard to settle down and tried for other UN postings. To kill time he began repairing Saabs and a friend suggested that they club together to take part in a rally called the Roslagsvalsen. They finished sixth, a dramatic achievement which drew Andersson to the attention of the local rallying community, although with very little money behind him, he needed to find a job with one of the factory teams. This was tough but when his friend Bengt Soderstrom became a Saab works driver Andersson was able to borrow parts from the factory and thus become more competitive. He was offered the opportunity to go with the UN to Congo, but turned it down in order to concentrate on his driving career.

His first works drive was actually with a Mini Cooper in the 1963 Swedish Rally and this was sufficiently successful for Ford's rally boss Stuart Turner to offer him a Mini Cooper S for the RAC Rally. He was then signed by Saab for 1964 and soon afterwards became much more competitive when a co-driver suggested he get some glasses to help him see better!

In those days rallying was very different and Andersson and his co-driver drove from Sweden to Athens to take part in the Acropolis Rally, a trip that was a bigger adventure than the rally itself. He stayed with Saab in 1965 but was soon stuck in the shadow of Erik Carlsson, who Andersson believed always had better machinery. As a result he wrote a letter to Lancia's Cesare Fiorio offering his services for the 1966 season and was taken on for the first three events. He finished third in all three and cemented his place in the team. At the same time he rallied for Ford in the Swedish national championship and that year won the Swedish Rally in a Lotus Cortina. The following year he was second for Lancia on the Monte Carlo and won in Spain. He also won the Gulf London Rally with a Lotus Cortina. That year he shared a Lancia with Sandro Munari in the Targa Florio.

He signed to drive for Ford in 1968, but began the year racing for Lancia in the Daytona 24 Hours and competing on the Monte Carlo Rally. Later in the year he shared a Lotus-Cortina with Roger Clark on the London-Sydney marathon and dominated the event until the final phase in Australia, where mechanical trouble ruined their hopes of victory.

His next major win came in the Welsh Rally in 1969 in a Ford Escort. At the end of 1970 he was approached by Alpine and asked to join the French company's rallying operation and he was dominant at the start of 1971 with victories on the Monte Carlo, San Remo, Acropolis and Austrian rallies. In 1972, partnered by Jean Todt, he finished second on the Monte Carlo.

In the middle of that year he was contacted by Toyota, via his co-driver David Stone, and was asked to drive for Toyota on the RAC Rally. He went to Japan to meet the top management and thus began a relationship which ended only when Toyota was established in Formula 1. Initially he founded Andersson Motorsport in his native Sweden and began running the Toyota rally programme from there, but in 1975 he moved the team to Brussels where it became Toyota Team Europe, funding coming from Toyota dealers around Europe. That year the team scored its first World Championship victory with Hannu Mikkola and his co-driver Atso Aho winning the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland in a Toyota Corolla Levin. The team moved on to Cologne in Germany in 1979.

Ove contined to compete himself, winning the Safari Rally in 1975 for Peugeot before running Toyota machinery between 1975 and 1980, with co-driver Henry Liddon, who would become one of his chief assistants at Team Toyota Europe.

It was not until the 1980s that TTE began to win on a regular basis, being most successful on the African rallies with drivers Bjorn Waldegaard and Juha Kankkunen. In 1987 the team moved into a new purpose-built facility which remains its headquarters today, but that same year lost Liddon in a plane crash during one of the African events.

In 1990 Carlos Sainz gave the organisation victory in the World Rally Championship with the Toyota Celica 4WD and that success was repeated in 1992. The following year the Toyota Motor Corporation bought the team from Andersson and it became Toyota Motorsport GmbH. Juha Kankkunen won the World Championship and Toyota took the first Manufacturers' title to be won by a Japanese firm. This double success was repeated with Didier Auriol in 1994 although the following year the team was caught using illegal turbo restrictors on the Catalunya Rally in Spain. Toyota admitted that the parts had been illegal but it was clear that Andersson knew nothing about the activities. He accepted that his mistake had been to give his technical director too much freedom. The team was banned from competing for 12 months by the FIA but Andersson retained control. Toyota returned to the World Rally Championship in 1996 but its dominance had by then been lost.

At the start of 1997 Toyota began to recruit staff for an assault on the Le Mans 24 Hours race, with the long term aim being to enter Formula 1. The Toyota GT-One sport car was ready for the 1998 Le Mans and Toyota hired an impressive driver line-up including former Grand Prix drivers Thierry Boutsen, Martin Brundle and Ukyo Katayama. The 3.6-litre twin-turbo V8 engined cars were fast but were beaten in both 1998 and 1999.

At the end of 1999 Toyota announced that it was closing down the World Rally Championship team in order to concentrate on the planned Formula 1 programme. The team secured an entry and Andersson led Panasonic Toyota Racing into Formula 1 in 2002. He stood down in 2003 but worked as a consultant to the team. At the end of last year he decided to leave Germany, his adopted home, and moved to South Africa, hoping for a better climate. He settled in George and was very happy with his decision.

Ove was married three times and leaves two sons and a daughter. His son Fredrik works as an engineer at Renault F1. His daughter Sophie works in advertising. His second wife Elizabeth Nystrom, who was his co-driver in several events, went on to become a Swedish member of parliament.

"Everyone at Toyota is extremely shocked and truly saddened at this terrible news," said George Yamashina, chairman of Toyota Motorsport GmbH. "Ove was an inspiration to our team and to many in motorsport. His passion for motorsport was legendary and he is a great loss to our sport. The thoughts of everyone at Toyota Motorsport are with Ove's family at this difficult time."