Behind the scenes Tony Pond was a private man, but thrust a microphone under a moustache that put Nigel Mansell to shame, it wouldn’t take long before a wry smile or witty quip emerged. Tony had come to fame the hard way - he was working class, with no family money or big ticket sponsorship, yet still found his way to the top, and the British public adored him for it. Rally jackets had rarely been worn with such swagger.
Yet his driving style was anything but flamboyant. He was neat, serious, precise and devastatingly quick. A driver ahead of his time, Pond took great care of himself and spent many hours studying lines when most of his contemporaries were chain smoking their way towards the bar in the nearest Kings Arms. It was a technique that saw him consistently getting cars such as his Triumph TR7 and Rover SD1 to punch above their weight. When Group B came along Tony was behind the wheel of the iconic Metro 6R4. Despite being a fan favourite, the little hatchback lagged behind the competition but in true underdog fashion Pond mounted a serious challenge at the 1985 RAC, falling just shy at the final stage to the rampant Lancia Delta S4’s of Henri Toivenen and Alen Markku. After nine and a half hours of intense racing, Pond finished an agonising 2.27 seconds adrift. It was the dinky Metro’s best ever showing.
Pond was even a dab hand behind the wheel of a Touring Car. Today the particular skills required to operate at the top level of circuit or forest racing means any cross over of talent is unheard of, yet Pond stuck his Rover 3500 on pole in his very first BTCC outing at Donnington. In the next race at Silverstone he won. He was therefore the perfect man for the job of attacking the four wheeled TT record.
His vehicle of choice made the challenge even greater. By no means a slow production car, the Rover Vitesse 827 wasn’t even at the sharp end of performance cars, let alone supercars - it was a favourite of the Boys in Blue patrolling the motorways, a comfortable executive saloon with a turn of pace. It’s predecessor was the much loved rear wheel drive SD1, but the new 800 series was a product of Rover’s partnership with Honda, meaning it was based upon the front wheel drive Legacy platform. The 2.7l naturally aspirated KV6 was good for 177bhp and 0-60 in 8s, however Pond’s car was rather quicker - despite fervent claims of the Rover being completely unchanged, skulduggery was in play. Chief mechanic Dave Appleby later let slip the car was running on slicks and had been stripped to the bone, weighing as little as 1160kg - 200kg less than a showroom example.
Not that it helped for Tony’s first attempt in 1988, where rain stopped play. Tony returned in 1990 and promptly ditched his co-driver, requiring photographic memory of the courses’ 100 plus turns, not to mention its many bumps, yumps and cambers, but he considered it a worthwhile gamble as it removed a significant ballast on a course with an elevation change of over 1000ft. Rolling the dice paid off as Pond powered around at an average speed of 102mph, clocking 22:09s against the stopwatch. He became the first driver to ever circle the island at a three figure mean.
As ever, motorsport junkies Duke Video captured the lap, and watching Tony pilot the Rover at full commitment through the narrow streets is enough to have even seasoned bikers tipping their visors in respect. Glimpses of the footage can be found on YouTube in Dukes promotional material, but we strongly recommend you purchase the full DVD or download for less than a cup of coffee. Backed up by commentary from the man himself, the on board footage shows just how smooth and talented Pond is whilst the exterior shots highlight just how hard he is working the Vitesse to extract that remarkable time - at multiple points throughout the lap Pond is hitting an indicated 150mph as he threads the needle between all manner of hazards.
His record stood for 21 years, until Subaru turned up to the 2011 TT with an army of mechanics and local specialist Mark Higgins, who drove the wheels off a modified Impreza WRX. He raised the average speed to 115mph and cut over two minutes from Pond’s time - ten years later that record still stands. Tony retired from rallying in 1986 when Group B was outlawed, taking up a position as an MG Rover development driver, where he had a hand in the MGF. He passed away all too soon in 2002 at the age of 56, after a battle with Pancreatic Cancer. Like the professional Golfer who carries around the title of ‘best player to have never won a major’, Pond has to be in the discussion about the best British Rally driver to have never won in the WRC.