Ted Toleman, Dakar Rally alumnus, 1938–2024

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Credit: Toleman Motorsport

The late Ted Toleman is perhaps best known for kickstarting the Formula One careers of those like Ayrton Senna, Rory Byrne, and Pat Symonds via Toleman Motorsport. After selling the team to sponsor Benetton in 1986, Toleman decided to remain involved in racing, albeit in a slightly different discipline from what he was used to.

In 1987, a year after his F1 exit, Toleman and company decided to enter the Paris–Dakar Rally. Although the race had only been active for a decade, it quickly grew into the world’s preeminent rally raid and still holds this reputation today. Toleman’s maiden start came a year after fellow F1 outfit Minardi did a Dakar one-off in a truck, where they retired after seven stages.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the last great adventures left. I’ve always been one for pitting yourself against the elements. After doing the Atlantic, the desert was a natural,” said Toleman in a team promotional video for the 1989 race titled Heat and Dust. “I think perseverance and patience (are most important) because you have to be patient with one another. It’s a long time to be together under stress. I think those are the important features.”

The programme was revealed at 1 Savile Row in London, the former headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society and current home of menswear tailor Gieves & Hawkes, consisting of Toleman as driver and Barry Lee as navigator of a Range Rover. Lee was a multi-time hot rod national and world champion who also enjoyed success in the British Saloon Car Championship and rallycross. However, their début was cut short when two team members were arrested at the Algerian border for alleged currency irregularities.

For their second attempt in 1988, the duo decided to modify an Austin Metro 6R4, a brand that previously competed in Group B rally much like many Dakar vehicles of the time. Dubbed the TG88 Raider, sported a longer wheelbase and a 3.9-litre V8 engine from a Land Rover that produced 230 horsepower, as opposed to the V6 of the original model. The car proved to be quick, which landed it on the front cover of Autosport‘s 7 January issue. Although the Metro was fast, Toleman’s support truck was not and got stuck in the sand, causing it to take too long to reach the finish and forcing him to retire yet again.

“In this sort of thing, you obviously become competitive immediately. It’s taken a couple of years for us to get to understand that when you actually do get stuck in the sand, jumping out and rushing around and pulling the sand away is not the way to do it,” Toleman commented. “You’ve got to take your time, you’ve got to relax and get on with it.”

Even with 1988 a bust, the TG88’s impressive outing inspired Toleman to use it again for the 1989 edition albeit with more upgrades courtesy of Adrian Reynard‘s Reynard Motorsport and engine builder JE MotorWorks. JE provided a new 3.9-litre motor capable of 256 hp, while Reynard reduced its total weight by seventy kilograms. Now named the T89 Enduro, which Motor Sport‘s Bill Boddy remarked was an “ugly brute”, Toleman simply hoped to bring it to the finish line for once; to avoid a repeat of the previous year, his team came more prepared as they added a Range Rover driven by Jan Van Tuyl and Toleman’s son Gary.

The Range Rover rolled over and caught fire during the Prologue, forcing the T89 to start the main rally far ahead of their team-mate. Alas, mechanical trouble struck again for Toleman as the Libyan desert took its toll on the car’s electronics, forcing him out yet again. The younger Toleman continued in the race before rolling and being torched a second time, knocking him and Van Tuyl out too when the blaze could not be put out.

Despite plans to return in 1990, Toleman eventually sold the T89 to Jackie Loomans, an entrepreneur who also débuted in 1987 and continued to compete at Dakar until the final edition from Europe to Africa in 2007. Loomans passed away in January.

Going zero-for-three in his Dakar starts despite competitive pace oddly reflected Toleman’s F1 operations well. The team struggled to even qualify for races in their first two seasons in 1981 and 1982, before seemingly finding some luck over the next three years. As a rookie, Senna retired from eight races but also earned three podium finishes including a near-upset victory in Monaco, and his outstanding campaign earned him opportunities at Lotus where things really started to take off. Symonds and Byrne worked as engineers for the team during this period and through their transition into Benetton; the former currently works as F1’s Chief Technical Officer while the latter is an advisor for Scuderia Ferrari.

Outside of Dakar, Toleman also competed in powerboat racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He died last Wednesday in the Philippines at the age of 86.

“I am saddened to hear that Ted Toleman has passed away,” Formula One Group CEO Stefano Domenicali stated. “He gave so much to Formula One and his achievements and legacy will always be part of our history. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.”

Norman Edward Toleman: 14 March 1938 – 10 April 2024

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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