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Q&A: Tony Mason - EXCLUSIVE

18 October 2007

by Rob Wilkins


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH TONY MASON: CLICK HERE


1972 RAC winning co-driver, Tony Mason was once again at the Castle Combe Rallyday event in the UK last month and on stage interviewing the assembled stars for the viewing public. Crash.net Radio managed to catch up with the former Top Gear star and got his thoughts on that event and the WRC in general, prior to the recent two WRC asphalt events in Catalunya and Corsica...



Crash.net:
Tony, you have been involved with the Rallyday event now for a number of years. Just how much has it come on since the first one back in 2001?

Tony Mason:
Immensely. The first one was pretty good and the guys that run it - Darin Frow and Jo and Brian Stubbings, put in a phenomenal amount of work. It is like an amateur organisation - it is not a great company organising it. The first one was very, very efficiently run and everything else. It was a bit smaller and it wasn't supported by such stars names in terms of manufacturers or drivers. But it was really very good from the beginning and each year it has just moved on a few steps more. Since then we have attracted such immense names, like one of the guests today, Hannu Mikkola - the greatest driver ever in the world of rallying. He is here and each year we have had the Waldegard's, the Blomqvist's and all the Swedes and Finns and of course two years ago we had dear Colin McRae. We have always had lots of very good guests and it is getting better every year without doubt.

Crash.net:
What have you made of the WRC this year, because at the moment there is quite a close battle going on for the title between Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb?

TM:
It certainly is and the last rally, which was in New Zealand, Marcus beat Sebastien by only three tenths of a second, which is unheard of really. It was a tiny, tiny margin - it was like Formula 1 nearly, tenths of a second. It is tight. There are five events still to go and three of them are tarmac and two of them are gravel, which tends to put it slightly in Loeb's favour because he is a tarmac specialist originally - although both of them are very adept at both skills. It is going to go right to the end. It is exciting because it will probably be in Britain on the Wales Rally GB that the result of the World Rally Championship is decided, which it has been in several other years and it offers a really good thing for Britain.

Crash.net:
Gronholm has announced he is going to retire at the end of this season, will that make him extra determined to try and take his third world title?

TM:
I think it will. Now he has announced his retirement I think he will go very, very strongly to go out on a high and to be world champion three times, which he would like to do. He has done it twice so far. So yes - and of course Sebastien Loeb has won it three times but he wants to do it four times. I hope Marcus does win it in the Ford. I really do, because I am a Ford man of course, as you know from my background in world rallying. I hope he wins it and as he is retiring it would be very fitting and nice should he do.

Crash.net:
Do you think Mikko Hirvonen is ready to step up and lead the BP Ford WRT?

TM:
He is a good driver and he has come on immensely well this year. I think Marcus has helped him quite a lot. He has put in some good performances and if he got the position of being the number one driver he would probably raise his game a little bit. It is a difficult though and I have to say on the results and on the times this year, Gronholm and Loeb have been a step above everybody else. But yes, I think he could carry the team.

Crash.net:
Who do you think Ford are considering to replace Gronholm?

TM:
I don't know - all I have done is read the odd motoring 'paper, which might suggest one or two names. My own view is that it is a pity Markko Martin retired and had the crash when Michael Park was sadly killed a couple of years ago. Markko more or less retired after that, but he hasn't fully retired. He is still interested in the sport and still doing things. I was with him at Goodwood and I think he would like to come back into motorsport. He was a very fast driver - and a future world champion. He is still not too old by a long way and I'd like to see him back in the team.

Crash.net:
Subaru have had a tough year again and Petter Solberg has once again not had the car to match the top two…

TM:
No he hasn't - but he would admit that. He is very, very down and fairly low about it. He and Philip Mills, his co-driver, who I was talking to last night, basically they are very loyal to Subaru, but the car been outpaced a bit this year. They have got a new car coming next year and that will be fantastic obviously. I can't understand why they should be so late in getting up there with the other two, the other major manufacturers' though. But they will get there I am sure and it will be next year. I feel a bit sorry for Petter because he really hasn't got the machinery at the moment. It is amazing how things move on so fast in rallying isn't it?

Crash.net:
Suzuki will step up next year with the SX4 WRC – that is obviously a boost for the sport. How do you think they will get on?

TM:
In there first year they will obviously have a few problems here and there - and a few struggles and so on. They probably won't win an event, but very few people win on their first involvement at that level and in world sport. We will see. But as you say another manufacturer is a great thing.

Crash.net:
The calendar is going to be slashed from 16 events to 12 from 2009. Do you think that is the right way forward?

TM:
Not necessarily I don't and swapping events and doing all this kind of thing – no not really. I think it is nice to have a proper championship with 16 events but I suppose they are trying to reduce the actual expenses for manufacturers in flying cars around the world. I don't think it should be watered down though or made any easier. It should stay at 16 events. I am not into the politics of it however and I do know they make lots of mistakes in these kinds of things and regret it. But this business of taking events out and putting them in a year later and swapping them and dropping them and all that - it just makes it confusing. It should be nice and simple. The general public should know there are 12 rallies and they are in every continent in the world and that is the world championship.

Crash.net:
It is quite close in the BRC too, a three-way fight between Guy Wilks, Mark Higgins and Gwyndaf Evans. How do you see things developing in the last two events?

TM:
I am not sure what Mark will be driving on the final round - the Wales Rally GB at the end of the year. He has been driving in the Irish Tarmac Championship and the PWRC and swapping cars and he has been in the wrong car on occasion. I don't know. I'd like to see Mark win and take his fourth BRC title – then he would equal Roger Clark's four BRC wins and be one behind Jimmy McRae. I'd like to see Mark win but I know all of those drivers' and they are all good lads. As you say it is a great - another battle and you have got another good championship. You have got Formula 1 - that is going to be decided right at the end and you have also got the two main rally championships, the World and the British.

Crash.net:
Colin McRae was tragically killed 7 days ago. That has obviously overshadowed things here. Is there anything you would like to say in tribute to him?

TM:
Well I handled the one minutes silence here and we read out a few tributes. I knew him extremely well. I knew him when he was 17-years-old and on his very first RAC Rally we did a TV programme about him. I helped him get onto that rally in a little tiny Vauxhall Nova. Ever since then I knew him and I interviewed him right the way through to his world championship wins. I was very close to him. We had a good relationship, I did a lot of interviews with him and we use to have quite a laugh sometimes. I always remember that whenever he broke down or crashed or something happened I would always be there and he couldn't believe it. Whenever I interviewed him and said: 'Are you going to get to the finish?' He would always say: 'No problem Tony' - and it became like a saying and everybody said: 'No problem Tony'. They even had T-shirts made with that on. When he won the world championship and the RAC in Chester in 1995, I was on the finish ramp to do a live TV interview. When he drove up I was the first person to speak to him on camera with the microphone and there were 50,000 people at Chester race course and my first question was: 'How was that then?' and everybody shouted out 'No problem Tony'. It was fantastic. So I have got lovely memories of Colin and his family. I feel very sad about it like everybody else here.


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH TONY MASON: CLICK HERE


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