by Rob Wilkins

Paddy Hopkirk is a British rallying legend, having won the Monte Carlo Rally back in 1964 in Mini Cooper.

Crash.net Radio caught up with Paddy at Silverstone recently, where he was promoting his book 'The Paddy Hopkirk Story - a dash of the Irish'.

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Here he talks about that book, as well as the current state of rallying and why he thinks upcoming Ulsterman Kris Meeke has the potential to go all the way.

We also have six signed copies to give away so stay tuned to Crash.net and Crash.net Radio for all the details on how you could win a copy.

Q:
Paddy. You are obviously most well know for that Monte Carlo Rally win back in 1964, and I assume all that and more is documented in your new book, 'The Paddy Hopkirk Story - a dash of the Irish'?

Paddy Hopkirk:
Yes well, it was quite a debate whether Haynes was going to do it or it not. Its not... it's more about my life and my family. I think it is called vanity publishing these days and I don't expect it to sell as well as Harry Potter! But, at least for my family and my grandchildren, it's a record of what their old granddad did.

Q:
It must have been amazing to win that event in the Mini Cooper?

PH:
I think the book will probably let some of the younger drivers today know how different it was then, in a lot of ways. It's mainly pictures - there are a lot of good pictures in the book that I don't think anybody has ever seen before. But, my god, it was a lot of work. Bill Price put it together with me and we have been working on it for four years now. Anyway, I'm glad it's done and it's nice to have done a book.

Q:
As you mentioned, there rallying has changed a lot over the years. What do you make of the World Rally Championship today?

PH:
Well, the WRC is wonderful - and there is no doubt that the cars go a lot faster, and stop a lot faster, and go around corners a lot faster [than we used to]. They are virtually, I suppose, Formula One cars with bodies on them to make them look like it's the car you buy in the showroom.

Our cars were much nearer to what you could buy. They were beautifully prepared and hand built and every nut was checked, but they were much closer to what people could buy. But I think that is advancement and things have changed. I admire the guys of today very much.

I am actually involved in trying to get Ireland on the map as a WRC country, to hold a rally in 2007. We have got the Belfast and Dublin governments together to try and do a joint pitch for the rally to be held in Ireland. We are talking to [FIA president] Max Mosley and the people who make those decisions. It would be nice if my home country was back - well, not back in, because this would be the first time in the WRC - but they know a lot about running rallies over there and the background scenery would be quite different from the usual dusty things you get down in Cyprus, etc.

Q:
How realistic a prospect is a Rally Ireland?

PH:
Well... we were making a pitch for it with the administrators from the north and south governments. We went down to see Max Mosley a few weeks ago and we put Ireland forward as possibility. It would be a joint venture between the north and south, run in the north-west of Ireland. The roads over there are quite unique. So I think, I hope, it has got a chance. It's a bit like pitching for the Olympic Games - everybody hopes they are going to get it.

Q:
Of course, there has been a lot of talk of pairing WRC events in 2006 and beyond. It would be ideal to pair it with the Rally GB, wouldn't it?

PH:
Yes, that may be a possibility, but I don't know enough about it. They may change the rules a bit to double up, which would be good. There are 16 events at the moment. There are three new countries trying to get in and I think they were talking of cutting it down to 12 [rounds a year]. But they may increase it. I don't know.

Q:
Going back to how the sport has changed. People often look back and say 'in my day it was better'. But the sport has obviously evolved, like everything else does. What do you think has been gained and lost since your day?

PH:
Well, I didn't say it was better. I think that is advancement. I think it has lost 'the mystique'. People didn't go abroad in my day - to go further than Clacton was quite a unique thing to do. Now everybody travels the world, it has become a very small world.

To go to Monte Carlo was a very glamorous place, even to go to, I started in Russia to go there, and that was quite a unique experience and a great adventure. It got a lot more publicity - it was front page news and it was a national thing. It was France versus the UK versus Sweden - all the different nationalities, etc. The rallies started from all over the place. We had, I think, nine starting places - Portugal, Lisbon, Athens and Greece, Stockholm, Russia, Paris, even Monte Carlo was a starting place - and sometimes they had other countries as well, even Glasgow. So all the press people from these different countries went to Monte Carlo to see how their boys were doing, so it was front page news. Nowadays, you have to probably look in the motorsport pages to find that.

Q:
Talking of today, Sebastien Loeb is very much the star of the moment in the WRC. He has been doing incredibly well, hasn't he?

PH:
Yes. I don't follow it as closely as I probably should, but these guys are very fit, and very, very capable drivers indeed, fantastic.

Q:
Who do you rate out of the current WRC drivers?

PH:
Well, I am very fond of [Kris] Meeke. About five years ago, I picked him as being light years ahead of his competitors - without insulting his competitors. I don't mean to do that.

But he was very outstanding, not just as a driver, but as a personality too. I opened the Ulster Motor Show the other day and I met him again - and what a nice young man he is. He is very young, but I would like to see my fellow countrymen do well and come up, because there are not very many people in Northern Ireland.

I think it is 1.6 or 1.7 million people but, pro-rata, there are a lot of very enthusiastic drivers, because the sport over there is very important, like football or soccer is very important in England. Motorsport is very important in Northern Ireland - all of Ireland in fact. It is a bit like Finland - if you are a good rally driver in Finland, you become very well known - and I would think the same happens in Northern Ireland a little bit.

Q:
Noticeably, there are no Brits now in the top flight. You mentioned Kris Meeke there, but we also have Guy Wilks competing in the Junior WRC as well. Do you think they have what it takes to make it to the top and emulate the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and, of course, yourself?

PH:
Well, it is slightly different. They are much fitter than we were. We probably enjoyed it a bit more. But you can't get away with that nowadays. These guys are dedicated and they have to be with the high speeds and so on. They can't afford to make any mistakes. They have some awful accidents, but they seem always to come out unscathed. But the pure G-forces on their bodies must be a hell of a lot harder than what we had. Everything is an advancement I suppose, and whether it has got better or worse I will leave that for you to say.

But it is a fantastic sport. I am just sad rally drivers don't get more recognition because I think, to drive on a loose road, it a bit like skiing. I remember in the old days, teaching Formula One drivers on loose roads - and they weren't very good. There were very few of them that were good all-rounders. People like Jim Clark could ride a motorbike, could drive on a loose road and could drive a Formula One car. He was marvellous, but there were others that aren't. I reckon, if you had a competition, a sort of marathon between rallying and racing and everything, I think the rally drivers might come out best. I don't think they get enough recognition, like the prima donnas of Formula One do really. But that's life.

Q:
I suppose F1 is a lot easier to televise than rallying though, and that probably accounts, to some extent, for why it gets more publicity?

PH:
Well, it's money too. For driving people around in circles on a track, you can charge people to watch it, but it is a bit more difficult to do that for rallying.

Q:
If you were pushed, who do you think is the more likely to make it out of the two current British hopefuls in the Junior WRC?

PH:
Oh I don't... I don't know... but I have to back my fellow countryman.

Q:
Thanks Paddy.

'The Paddy Hopkirk story - a dash of the Irish' is available in all good book stores now, published by Haynes and priced ?18.99.