Blog : Lap of a God

Keith Adams

It doesn’t happen often, but for 25 minutes last night, I was rendered speechless. What, you wonder had such an effect? I had the pleasure of watching the in-car footage from Tony Pond’s 100mph lap of the Manx TT track in the Isle of Man.

Back in 1988, Rover wanted to ensure that the newly-launched 827 Vitesse would have some sporting kudos, given that its predecessor, the SD1 was known to be a little handy on a race track in ETCC trim. However, the 800 was front wheel drive and was never going to make an effective circuit car so Rover marketing needed to find another way to prove its new car’s mettle without going head to head with other cars.

The idea of going for the Manx lap was a straightforward one, but at the same time extremely clever. After all, at that time, no production car had yet to officially lap the 33.75 mile long track at an average speed of over 100mph, but it was eminently attainable, all the same. There were several pieces that needed to be in place to go for the record attempt, not least finding a driver mad/capable enough to rise to the challenge. After all, the 800 Vitesse is over 15-feet long and weighs about the same as a small bungalow.

Tony Pond pretty much chose himself as, by this time, he was a semi-official “works” driver; called in whenever Austin-Rover motorsport needed a consistently fast driver to hand. His experience in the development of the 6R4 and his popularity with the press were positive assets. Like all the best racing and rally drivers, the affable persona disappeared once he slipped behind the wheel of a competition car: he became a demon…

Ultimately the 1988 effort failed, missing out on the target by 1mph. To say that Pond and Rover were disappointed was an understatement. The resolve was there to put it right though and, although the Manx TT circuit beat them once, they would be back.

After all, the 800 Vitesse is over 15-feet long and weighs about the same as a small bungalow”

That’s where my video comes in: two years later, they returned to get the job done properly. Pond’s 1990 lap of the TT circuit captured by in-car camera. 25 minutes of gripping, scary, exhilarating footage, which I challenge anyone to watch without saying, ‘shiiiit’. It’s impossible – and I did try! What marks this video out for me was the sheer brilliance of Pond’s driving on the world’s most demanding track. Ah, there are lots of speed videos out there, I hear you cry. Yes, perhaps, but as anyone that has seen the Manx TT track will tell you, the sensation of speed is somewhat heightened by the proximity of roadside objects.

By that, I mean houses, lamp posts, trees, that sort of thing. Objects that if you hit – even in a big car like a Rover 800 will kill you. Walls, trees, people flash by so close to the car you wince, expecting an impact that never comes. We are talking BIG speeds – on a couple of long straights, a box-out would appear with a speedo display: 150mph. Impressive – especially as the Vitesse used for the stunt was pretty much road standard apart from slick tyres, a roll cage and racing seats. The exhaust was obviously more open than standard, but that simply heightened the glorious Honda V6, which sounds wonderful at high revs.

The piece de resistance of the video has to be Pond’s deadpan commentary, though. He would say things like, ‘here we are flat through the corner at 140mph to keep up momentum…’ or ‘it got a bit slippy down here and I had to apply opposite lock at 120mph…’, as if mere mortals like us could relate to such genius.

Boy, he must have worked hard for that lap. You can see his hands see-sawing at the tiller-like 800 wheel which, as we all know, was allied to ridiculously over-assisted, undergeared Honda PAS. There is no way on Earth that Pond would have had any idea how the road felt because the wheel wouldn’t be telling him anything whatsoever… Again, his genius or big balls got him over that problem.

It is videos like this that prove that racing drivers are a breed apart from us – something that the sanitised world of Formula 1 can allow us to forget from time to time. Tony Pond: what a hero. He is sadly missed.

I won’t spoil the ending of the video, but will simply say that if you want to see some compelling in-car footage of a man and car on the limit, get over to Amazon and buy yourself a copy. I did!

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


13 Responses

  1. MGBmarvel MGBmarvel - November 30, 2013

    That took a massive set of gonad’s to even try that thanks for posting Keith haven’t seen that in years

  2. Andrew - November 30, 2013

    Mr Pond would have made a great fast jest pilot.

  3. Alastair - November 30, 2013

    I’ve ridden that circuit many times. It is a real challenge.

    In 2010, a Subaru lapped at 115mph. You’ll find footage on Youtube of a “tankslapper” at the foot of Bray Hill/Ago’s Leap that will have your heatrt in your mouth. I was the top of Begarrow seeing the Scooby come past. It was truly frightening as a spectator. What it is like in the car doesn’t bear thinking about. The brave can always find out as they do VIP trips around on closed roads at a more moderate pace during the TT.

  4. Sam Mace - November 30, 2013

    Amazing isn’t it? I had a screenshot from this as my desktop for ages :)

  5. Rich - November 30, 2013

    I owned that video back in the day. A truly astonishing talent on display and as you say, it needed balls of steel.

  6. Rhyds - December 1, 2013

    The other advantage of using Pond is that he lived on Mann and knew the place inside out. He was also a demon on the Manx Rally in whatever he got his hands on.

    I can’t help wondering however how well Pond could have done in the world of rallying with more competitive equipment.

  7. Paul - December 1, 2013

    Wonder what a modern production car could do it in now?

  8. David 3500 - December 1, 2013

    I never tire of watching this video and admiring the sheer determination of Tony Pond. He made it look rather effortless in places, particularly along the straights doing 140mph. However, the reality is that it is anything but effortless.

    A huge achievement that as others have already posted, took 21 years for a high powered Subaru to beat. I was always surprised though that Rover Cars never capitalised on his success in June 1990 through sales advertisements and even a press release to further promote the 827 Vitesse. It certainly would have added further prominence to a moniker that had already achieved so much in SD1 guise.

  9. Benny Ben Adams - December 1, 2013

    Its a weird one isn’t it.

    Rover Marketing needed this. Yet when Tony Pond delivered it for them, they barely pushed it. It was only known in Rover and TT circles for years.

    Yet when the Rover Metro won the Dunlop Cup they actually advertised that in most publications!

    I’ve not actually seen the full 25 minute video but one of the several 5 minute ‘edited highlight’ versions one finds on Youtube.

    As for the Subaru, the fact it took 21 years and a big turbo to beat the Rover says it all. The Vitesse was a brilliant car and still is today.

  10. francis brett francis brett - December 1, 2013

    One of two films that made my hair stand on end, the other is Walter Rohl in the Quattro.

    Utterly superb talent driving a car that was noted for being slack at the tiller.

    You really cant buy such milestones like this, they are priceless.

  11. Landyboy - December 3, 2013

    I have the original VHS version. Strange to think that around 177 bhp was a reasonable power output back then, now it seems common place. The car had some modifications, but apart from changing the exhaust and removing the rev limit (watch the tacho carefully on the long straights…), the engine was standard.
    It would be interesting to see what one of the 550ps supercharged Jags would do today in the hands of Mike Cross.

  12. Simon Hubbard - December 4, 2013

    What a great post Keith, thank you. We have had a number of threads about this on the Rover 800 site. We also believe that we might have found the car, a very nice chap came and saw us at the NEC whilst we were at the classic car show. What a driver.

  13. David 3500 - December 28, 2013

    Back in 1995 this very car was used as a courtesy demo car by the Ian Taylor Driving School at the Thruxton Race Circuit which I had the pleasure of watching. I have never heard the Honda V6 engine sound so addictive to listen to than when it was fitted in this car! This must have been down to its modified exhaust which made it sound more baritone. Several years later it had been withdrawn from its ‘active’ service at Thruxton and reputedly had been acquired by a private individual who had continued to use it in some motorsport activities. Sadly that is all I know.

    I hope the news reported by Simon Hubbard (comment #12) proves to be fruitful.

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