Like most British Motorsport fans, I was flying on anticipation. I tuned into the novel televised start-cum-stage in Nottingham’s Wollaton Park. And came down to earth with a big bump. Henri Toivonen fired his Lancia Delta S4 along a piddly, very slippery straight and almost fused the radar gun. I recall a three-figure reading. Four cars later, `Pondy’ could only manage a high-70s mark in the source of my ‘rally fever’, the MG Metro 6R4.
Not to worry, there was a long way to go. This, remember, was when the RAC Rally was still an all-points-of-the-compass event: Midlands spectator stages, Forest of Dean, Wales, Notts forests, North Yorkshire, Kidder, Scottish Borders and Lake District Sixty-five stages. Sunday through Thursday. I fervently hoped that `Pondy’ would survive until Tuesday morning, which is when Dad and I would be stood in Clipstone forest.
They fell likes ffies on the Monday, in Wales: the Audi quattro Sport S is of Hannu Mikkola and Walter Röhrl, and the Peugeot 205 T16s of Timo Salonen and Kalle Grundel. But `Pondy’ made it to the Nottingham rest halt And he was second, too, sandwiched between those awesome Deltas of Marldur Alen and Toivonen.
Tuesday, February 26, 1985. Noon. The glorious note of the Metro’s V64V motor is drowned by the shouts of a flag-waving crowd. This was my 12th pilgrimage to the RAC, but there had been nothing like this before. Very un-British. Very exciting. A happening.
We jumped into a trusty (rusty?) Datsun 160J SSS Coupe (you know, the one with the dogleg-first ‘box!) and thrashed up to Kielder, our plan being to watch the rally pass through SS38, Stang, some eight hours after the cars, or rather the car, had traversed Clipstone.
We never did get to see it again, though a massive Pond-inspired traffic jam thwarted us but we were happy, somehow. We had been part of it, and that was what mattered.
A few years later, as a raw recruit to sister newspaper Motoring News, I clambered into the passenger seat of a Rover Vitesse. It had been tweaked somewhat in order to become the first saloon to lap the Isle of Man TT course at more than 100mph. But what made it really special was that Tony Pond was its driver.
Rover were having a track day at Donington Park and the circuit was littered with cones to keep novices on the dark stuff. The first time we hammered through the Craner Curves, a misplaced cone forced Tony wider than he wanted to go. “That’s not right” he muttered.
Next time through, he brushed the erroneous cone, easing it out of his way. Eased, mind, not knocked over.
He never did catch those Lancias, and my cone incident might have been a fluke that he deadpanned, but I knew, we all knew, just how good he was.