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!