Following their 1979 début, Nick Mason and Steve O’Rourke went on to make four and seven more appearances respectively in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but only actually shared a car once. A BMW M1 in 1982.
“I think Steve and I teamed up only once because we had different opportunities,” Mason analysed. O’Rourke didn’t do things by half. He founded his own racing name under the name of EMKA, the company he had set up to manage the career of Pink Floyd, and fielded his own prototype.
PHOTOS (© ACO ARCHIVES). ABOVE: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 19 & SUNDAY 20 JUNE 1982. Unfortunately, Mason and O’Rourke were forced to retire their BMW M1 in their only joint venture in the race. BELOW: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 15 & SUNDAY 16 JUNE 1985. The EMKA prototype’s best performance resulted in an 11th place outright for O’Rourke, Tiff Needell and Nick Faure.
“Steve really wanted to race with the EMKA-Aston Martin project,” Mason continued. “He financed it with sponsors and he needed professional drivers to make it work. When you want to compete in the 24 Hours as an amateur, you need sponsorship and when you get it, you have some responsibility to do a good job and bring in some extra driving talent.” Powered by a 5.3-litre Aston Martin V8 engine, the EMKA completed the 24 Hours in each of its two appearances (17th in 1983, 11th in 1985).
When you want to compete in the 24 Hours as an amateur, you have some responsibility to your sponsors to do a good job and bring in some extra driving talent.
Mason himself saw the chequered flag at Le Mans on his first two starts (18th in 1979, 22nd in 1980), both times at the wheel of a Lola. The performances were good enough to earn second and third places in the 2-litre prototypes class – an illustrious ancestor of today’s LMP2s. So, which of the cars he had the opportunity to drive in the race has his preference? “I think it’s a split between the Lola which was easily manageable, and of course the Canon Porsche 956 which was just sensational and so stable.”
Before his two finishes with his own EMKA-Aston Martin prototype, O’Rourke finished 12th in 1979 and then 23rd the following year. However, he saved his best performance until last when he finished fourth in a McLaren F1 GTR, shared with Bill Auberlen and Tim Sugden, in 1998. “I was jealous, definitely!” Mason joked. Praiseful too of the success of his friend and manager, accomplished just five years before O’Rourke passed away in 2003. “It was a fantastic effort indeed. As I said before, he managed to put things together, and there would not have been any place for me in that team.”
PHOTOS (© ACO ARCHIVES). ABOVE: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 16 & SUNDAY 17 JUNE 1984. In his fifth and final 24 Hours, Mason shared the wheel of the dominant Porsche 956 with Richard Lloyd and René Metge. BELOW: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 6 & SUNDAY 7 JUNE 1998. His fourth place at the wheel of the McLaren F1 GTR was just reward for all the efforts made by O’Rourke, who even became a constructor in the mid-eighties.
Mason is an eminent connoisseur of racing cars from every era, starting his own private collection with the iconic Ferrari GTO which is still one of his own personal favourites: “The Aston Martin Ulster because it’s the first car I raced and I am still racing it now, and so did my wife and kids; the Maserati Birdcage because I had one of my best races with it in a support event of the Silverstone Grand Prix; and third is the GTO Ferrari because you can race it, you can rally it, you can make weddings with it so it makes me look clever!”
In recent years, he has been keeping his eye on the Ford GT at the 24 Hours of Le Mans... for more reasons than one. “It is the kind of car I am familiar with, which you can drive both on the road and on the track.” He was particularly attentive for the marque’s comeback in 2016 as the squad of factory drivers included his own son-in-law Marino Franchitti!