Winner and True Champion
More sad news this week, Andrew Cowan, farmer, fisherman, rally driver, team manager, team owner and absolute rally enthusiast passed away earlier this week. No doubt much will be written in the serious motor sporting press about his achievements on the world stage, but closer to home he was President of Berwick & District Motor Club, the 1976 Scottish Rally Champion, twice winner of the Jim Clark Memorial Award (1977 and 1997) and loyal supporter of the Jim Clark Rally. In 2005 the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) presented him with the award for ‘Most Outstanding Contribution to the UK Motorsport Industry.
One thing about Andrew, wherever he went in the world, he was as Scottish as shortbread and tartan and those around him knew it only too well!
He was a contemporary and friend of the late Jim Cark and they both competed on local car club rallies and autotests in the late 1950s. Then in 1960 he contested his first RAC Rally and finished 43rd out of 177 starters. That put him firmly on the rally route as Jim concentrated on his racing career. Although he did actually race a few times at Charterhall and Ingliston, Andrew did have one ‘official’ test in a F3 car. He had never driven a single seater, but in 1966 Jim Clark arranged with Colin Chapman for Andrew try one out. That test prompted a couple of races after which Andrew wrote a polite but brief letter to Chapman thanking him for the opportunity and informing him that he would stick to rallying!
And the rest, as they say, is history. To list all of his achievements would fill a book on its own, but merely listing his highlights gives some idea of the man’s talent and determination.
He became a works driver with the Rootes Group and Mitsubishi but is probably best known for his ‘marathon’ drives on the London to Sydney and South American Marathon events, the Safari Rally and the 1985 Paris-Dakar Rally.
Between the two London To Sydney Marathons which he won in 1968 at the wheel of a Scottish (Linwood) built Hillman Hunter and 1977 in a Mercedes, there was a less successful outing on the 1974 World Cup Rally, but it typified the man’s determination, and also his charm. Andrew had managed to ‘acquire’ the actual Mk1 Ford Escort which had been used to plan the route of the 1974 event. In other words, it was well used, as opposed to ‘rally-proven’! Anyway, all he had to do was finance the on-event costs, hence his appearance at White Horse Distillers in Glasgow one fine morning where he managed to charm and persuade the Publicity Manager, Mr Gordon McIntosh (my Boss at that time), that this would be a most worthy and mutually advantageous venture.
He also met with a very impressionable young man who was looking after White Horse’s other rallying venture at that time, the Hillman Avenger driven by Gavin Waugh and Peter Handy in the British Championship. When the deal was done, I was invited into the conference room to be briefed by Mr McIntosh ( I never called him Gordon!) while Andrew filled me in on what was needed.
Andrew didn’t win that one, he finished 15th after a series of mechanical failures and suspension breakages which would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Some would say determination won the day, others would say it was sheer, downright stubborn-ness that carried him and Johnstone Syer through. What it did do though was provide White Horse Whisky with a very successful and effective campaign, so even if he didn’t win the rally, he put White Horse on the map in places it had never been before.
In 1983 he established Andrew Cowan Motorsports at Rugby in Warwickshire to run Mitsubishi Motors’ sporting activities and which later became Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe. Tommi Mäkinen scored 22 WRC wins and won 4 World titles between 1996 and 2001 driving for the team which also won the Manufacturer’s World Championship title in 1998.
It’s also worth noting that Andrew also gave Richard Burns his big break in the WRC, the Briton winning the Safari Rally and the Rally of Great Britain in 1998 during his three seasons with the team.
In 2003 Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports based in Germany took over the business although Andrew remained with the company until he retired.
Our thoughts at this time must be with his wife, Linda, his family and his vast number of friends throughout the Borders, Scotland and the rest of the world.