by Rob Wilkins

TV expert and 1972 RAC winning co-driver, Tony Mason was once again at the Rallyday this year, interviewing the likes of Ari Vatanen, David Richards and Russell Brookes on the Castle Combe stage for the viewing public. Crash.net Radio managed to catch up with him there and get his thoughts on that event and rallying today...

Q:
Tony, it's fair to say that you're a bit of a Rallyday veteran, what have you made of the show thus far?

Related Articles

Tony Mason:
I think it's absolutely marvellous. This is the sixth one and I've been to all of them. I think it's a brilliant day. They're getting better and better, the crowds are just enormous, the attractions are equally enormous and we have the legend of all time, Ari Vatanen, here with David Richards and everybody. There's also other veterans, as you call it, like Jimmy McRae and Pentti Airikkala plus young drivers like Mikko Hirvonen, Mark Higgins and the youngest of all Matthew Wilson - you've got the full spectrum of drivers, and of course cars of every era.

It's a wonderful day and I'm so pleased to have so many people here. I'm also enjoying my job - I'm interviewing on the stage and we're going back down memory lane, because my associations with Ari Vatanen for example goes back to 1975, when he first joined the Ford team and so on and so forth.

Q:
So is your highlight seeing the Ari Vatanen cars out there?

TM:
I think it is in a way, although obviously I've seen them in the museum in Beaulieu and I spend a lot of time doing films and things with classic cars. I was at Goodwood only two weeks ago and there were a lot of them there as well. So I am used to seeing these classic cars, but it is nice to see them and relive those days.

But it's the drivers that it's nice to see because we all have such memories; we all remember all the little incidents. Ari Vatanen has a remarkable memory - it's probably how he managed to drive so fast, he could remember all the bends on a stage - he can remember details that I'd forgotten, so we've been having some nice chats.

Q:
Speaking of memories, what do you think is your fondest memory of Ari?

TM:
Well I think it was in the very, very early days when he was going to join Opel to drive and I was working for Ford - competing as a co-driver and running the team. I understood that he was talking to Opel in a next-door hotel bedroom in Barry, near Cardiff, just before the Welsh rally. I thought that he was going to be signing for them so I spoke to the people at Ford and they said to get Timo Makinen, another Finnish legend, to ring the room and tell Ari, in Finnish, not to sign for Opel until he'd spoken to me. So we did that and when Opel had gone Ari came into my room and we signed him - that was a good manoeuvre and brought back a memory for Ari and me!

Q:
Returning to this year's Rallyday, it was nice to see everyone pay their respects to Richard Burns at midday and nice to see it was observed so well by the crowd...

TM:
Yes it was. I was on stage with Ari, David Richards and David Sutton to introduce that minute's silence and I was very pleased that it was observed so well. It was a very poignant moment for me as I knew Richard extremely well, and Michael Park obviously, but I filmed with Richard for BBC's Top Gear when he was 16 or 17 and I saw him all the way through his career.

It was at this event last year, 2005, that I last saw him in person when he was here with his collection of cars. I had a little talk with him, although he wasn't very well of course. It's really, really sad to lose two really nice people and the world of rallying is a far worse place without them.

Q:
It's good to see the Richard Burns Foundation keeping that memory alive and raising money for a good cause at the same time...

TM:
It's excellent and it is a good cause. Roberts Reid the chief executive, who was of course Richard's world championship winning co-driver, will explain more but I was at Goodwood a couple of weeks ago and there were a lot of collections being made so it's set off in a really good way.

Q:
Changing the subject slightly, do you still follow the WRC and BRC?

TM:
I do indeed yes. I go to some of the World Rally events with Rally Travel Ltd who run these wonderful spectator tours. Lots of people go to watch the popular rallies, particularly in Europe, and I tag along sometimes and give them the benefit of my experience, knowledge and a few jokes and I mix and mingle with them all and have a great time.

Then I go into the manufacturers' area - Subaru, Ford, Citroen and everything - and I do know the young, modern drivers I'm pleased to say, people like Marcus Gronholm, Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg. They seem to know who I am, I'm pleased to say, so I'm keeping in touch.

Q:
If we look at the World Rally Championship now, Sebastien Loeb has obviously been pretty dominant - do you think anything can stop him in the second part of the year?

TM:
In rallying you must never give up and you never ever know what will happen, but the fact is that he has a very good lead - although Marcus won the last round in Greece and I think Marcus could beat him in Germany and certainly Finland, but Sebastien has this knack of not retiring and unless he does retire from two or three events then Marcus has got his work cut out. I was talking to Marcus a fortnight ago about this and he said 'well you must never give up' but it's getting more difficult.

Q:
What do you think has made Loeb so dominant? Obviously if he wins it this year it'll be his third title on the trot and it looks like he'll also soon beat the 26 WRC win record set by Carlos Sainz...

TM:
Well, every now and then a brilliant driver comes along and there have been many brilliant drivers in racing, Michael Schumacher for example currently, and that happens in rallying also. Bear in mind, if Loeb wins this year it'll be his third - which is pretty good - but there have been two people with four world title wins, Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Makinen.

Loeb is brilliant, no question about it. He seems to judge the speed of his car brilliantly, he has very few offs and his line is slightly different to everyone else's. I suspect that he's a born sportsman, rather like Carlos Sainz, who was very talented in about five different sports and even had a trial for Real Madrid. Loeb was a champion in gymnastics, which would give him extremely good balance and I think that balance is a quality that all top rally drivers have. I think that being a provisional sportsman with brilliant balance goes some way to explaining why he's so good.

Q:
Do you think that when Citroen introduce their new car next year, the C4, it might slow him down and give teams like Ford a better chance?

TM:
I don't know much about the car to be honest, but I'm sure they'll make it as good as possible - unless they make a big mistake, like Peugeot did with the 307 a few years ago. Citroen aren't going to bring out a car that isn't much good so I think that Sebastien's performance will probably be just the same.

Q:
There aren't many Brits in the WRC now, after Richard Burns and Colin McRae, but Matthew Wilson is making his full season debut at the top level this year and we've got Kris Meeke and Guy Wilks in the Junior WRC. What's your assessment of them?

TM:
Well I know them all, I've been watching their careers and I think they're very, very good young drivers. They've got a few way to go before they can challenge Marcus, Petter Solberg and people like that. But they're up there and I think that Malcolm Wilson has been giving Matthew, his son, tremendous assistance and guidance. He's an excellent young driver, a nice boy and I think he'll do very, very well.

I've got some videos of him when he was only nine or ten, dressed in mechanics overalls working on his father's car - and I knew his father when he was only Matthew's age really. So I've got a great affinity with the Wilson family and I would say that Matthew will achieve a great deal - whether he'll become a world champion I don't know, because the sport is ever changing.

As you say, the other two - Guy Wilks and Kris Meeke - are very enthusiastic drivers and getting more and more experience; they've done a lot of world rallies. Yeah, I'm following them and I just hope it'll happen, but you do get the odd Finn or Frenchman or whatever who suddenly appears and puts all the calculations wrong!

Kindly transcribed by Pete McLaren