by Rob Wilkins

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

1972 RAC winning co-driver and former Top Gear star Tony Mason was at the Castle Combe Rallyday in the UK recently. Crash.net Radio caught up with him there and got his thoughts on that event and the World Rally Championship in general...

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Crash.net:
Tony, this year's Rallyday looks like it is going to be a big success...

Tony Mason:
It is a really good day. This is the eighth Rallyday and the weather is absolutely amazing. It is fantastic. There is a really great turnout of people and a good turnout of rally people and cars of course too. There are thousands of cars here. I would think it would go down as one of the best.

Crash.net:
How important are events like this for the sport?

TM:
They are immensely important because otherwise fans only see the people and cars on television if they are lucky - and there isn't as much coverage on TV as there should be in my opinion. But also people don't get the chance to go and watch rallies very easily. You can go aboard on special tours and so on and you can see some of the European events. But otherwise in Britain, and I know it depends on the size of the event, but in terms of major rallies there a very few of course. It is vital. This is the only chance a lot of supporters get to see a car up close and of course see many of the current and well known drivers.

Crash.net:
The battle for this year's WRC drivers' title seems to be edging towards Sebastien Loeb again doesn't it?

TM:
It does and I have been talking to Mikko Hirvonen and I know him very well. He is a really nice, humorous and splendid young guy and I feel very sorry that he has sort of lost it. He has led the championship pretty much all the way through and he had really bad luck in New Zealand. He was very happily in the lead there and he had a puncture 11 kilometres from the end of the whole rally and Loeb was no-where to be seen really. There are four more events left now. Two are tarmac and there is no question Loeb is a faster driver on asphalt - although Mikko is improving and working hard at it. Then there are two forest rallies, one is in Japan and one is Wales Rally GB. I would love to see Mikko win them both. But basically the odds are stacked against him, which is a great pity, unless Sebastien has a lot of problems - and he doesn't seem to be one of those guys that has major problems really. He is a brilliant driver and is one of the greatest rally drivers of all time. But I do have my loyalties and being an ex-Ford competitor I am always supporting them and Mikko is the number one driver there. I'd love to see Mikko win it but he has got a slight uphill struggle.

Crash.net:
As you say it is difficult in a way with only four events to go and the gap between them eight points...

TM:
I think so and Mikko admits it. But he is still very upbeat. However if he doesn't win it, he doesn't win it. He has tried hard and he has certainly established himself as a very top class driver. It is good to have these sorts of people here. This is what is so amazing about this event. Over the years I was looking back and we have had Colin McRae here, Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist - all these people that we have had as guests, it is quite incredible what the organisers do and how they do it. They are partly amateur people who have other 'proper' jobs and to put on a thing like this is absolutely fabulous and fantastic.

Crash.net:
Turning back to the WRC, Jari-Matti Latvala was promoted this year to the Ford 'A' team. What have you made of his performance in the second Ford?

TM:
Jari-Matti Latvala has just been unbelievable. He is a very, very fast driver and a lot of these Finns are very fast drivers. He just needs taming a little bit. Everybody is trying to tame him somewhat but basically he only knows one speed and occasionally he wins and will do. He is a great, great star coming up. He is only 21-years-old or something and Hirvonen is now 28. He thinks he is one of the old men in the game! But this young Jari-Matti is brilliant. But driving at those sorts of speeds you do crash a lot. That is what use to happen to Colin McRae. I think you will hear a lot more of him but he needs to try and get more finishes, more good position finishes.

Crash.net:
Latvala has been transferred back to the Ford 'B' team for the next two tarmac events. Do you think that will affect his confidence?

TM:
No, apparently not. Apparently he is very happy with that. He realises it is a little bit of a relief for him and he can learn from the experience. I don't think he will be that worried. But as I say and I wouldn't dream to be critical of him, and over the years I have seen this happen a great deal, when Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola came up on the scene and had problems, and they all said the same things. This one is the latest little fastest flying Finns and it is what you have got to expect.

Crash.net:
Marcus Gronholm retired at the end of last season. There is talk he might come back do you think he should?

TM:
No. I have spoken to Marcus about it and he doesn't really particularly want to come back. Although he might feel if the money is right he might come back for the odd event or something. He is doing Rallycross at the moment and it sounds as if he is quite enjoying it - and winning in it of course. I don't think you will see him come back fully. There is the possibility you might see him do the odd guest drive and that has been mentioned. But having said that he has a lot to lose and not much to gain. I don't know if you will ever see him back in a WRC car.

Crash.net:
Next year in the WRC this controversial rotation system will start. What do you think of that?

TM:
I think it is a pity to lose some of the very great classic rallies which will happen. Indeed our own British one - Wales Rally GB - will disappear [in 2010] and the Monte Carlo Rally won't happen next year [as part of the WRC] and other events like that. I always feel the WRC should be made up of well known and famous events. It is all very well going and having new ones in Jordan and Poland and places like that. But I don't believe they have the same pull as the great, great classics. I think those four or five big classics should stay in every year.

Crash.net:
Is the sport shooting itself in the foot again?

TM:
It has always been accused of that and yes, it probably is a little. It is all these committees and councils and so on. I am not a great believer in committee meetings and things like that. But you have to have them and it is a great world sport and you have to have governing bodies and so on and decisions are made. But I don't totally agree with rotation. It is a retrograde step.

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