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 History of the Isle of Man TT Races


Motor racing first came to the Isle of Man in 1904 when the Gordon Bennett car trials were held.

In England the Government made it impossible to close the public roads for any sort of motor racing so a proposal was put the Isle of Man Government. The Manx Government brought in new legislation to enable the closing of public roads for motor racing and the Isle of Man was ready to take up the mantle of the Road Racing Capital of the World, a slogan it has used for many years.

The first motorcycle race held on the Island was the qualifying trials for the International race to be held in Austria. The course used ran from Quarter Bridge south to Castletown, then back through Foxdale to Ballacraine, then reverse way to the TT back to Quarter Bridge.

The first TT races where held on the triangular course with the start at St John's. The riders proceeded along to Ballacraine before turning left and following the current TT course through to Kirk Michael. At Douglas Road Corner in Kirk Michael, the short course left the current TT course and followed the coast road to Peel, before turning left again and heading back to St John's. In 1907 two races were held on the short course with H. Rem Fowler winning the twin cylinder class on a Peugeot-engined Norton at 36.22mph and Charlie Collier the single cylinder class on a Matchless at 38.22mph. They each set the fastest lap in their respective classes, Fowler at 42.91 mph and Collier at 41.81 mph.

The short course was used for the first 4 years and in 1910 Charlie Collier won the last TT on the short course on a Matchless at 50.63mph. The fastest lap that year was by H Bowen on a BAT at 53.15 mph. In 1911 the racing moved to the Mountain circuit, which is used today.

The Mountain circuit is some 37.73 miles long and runs from the start at Glencrutchery Road in a westerly direction through Braddan, Union Mills, Glen Vine and Crosby until it reaches Ballacraine. At Ballacraine the riders turn right and head north through Glen Helen, Kirk Michael, Ballaugh and Sulby to Ramsey, some 23.5 miles from the start. Now the riders swing south and head up the daunting Mountain climb rising from sea level in Ramsey to some 1400ft at the highest point at Brandywell.

On the way they pass through Ramsey Hairpin, The Waterworks, Gooseneck, Guthries Memorial, The East Mountain Gate, Black Hut, The Verandah and the Bungalow. After Brandywell it is nearly all downhill to the finish, some six miles away, through Windy Corner and the 33rd Milestone on through Keppel Gate and the fast run down to Creg-ny-Baa. Then it's on down to Brandish and on up through Hillberry to Signpost Corner. Now just over a mile from the finish the riders swoop through Bedstead corner and the Nook and past the Governors residence on their left to Governors Bridge, from there it's just a short run up Glencrutchery Road to the finish line.

This was not actually the course used for the first few years. In 1911 the riders turned right and Cronk-ny-Mona and proceeded down Johnny Wattersons lane to Ballanard Road where the pits were situated and from Ballanard Road turned right onto the current TT course at St Ninians crossroads.

In 1911 two races were held on the Mountain course. The Junior was won by P J Evans on a Humber at 41.45 mph and the Senior by Oliver Godfrey on an Indian at 47.63 mph. Evans set the fastest lap in his race at 42.00 mph and Frank Phillips (Scott) the fastest Senior at 50.11 mph. In 1913 the Mountain circuit was used for the first time and 1913 also saw the first fatal accident at the TT. Hugh Mason won the Junior on a NUT at 43.75 mph and H O Wood the Senior at 48.27 mph.

They also set the fastest laps that year in their respective classes, Mason at 45.42 mph and Wood at 52.12mph. Racing was suspended on the Mountain circuit after 1914 due to the First World War, but returned again in 1920. During the early years the roads were not closed for practice and in the early 1920's Tim Birkin was killed near Kirk Michael during one of the early morning practice sessions. He died after colliding with a horse and cart out doing their early morning deliveries. The corner is now known as Birkin's Bend. After this the roads were subsequently closed for the practices.

During the early years, the mountain road was little more than a cart track and there were gates across the road. It was the duty of the first rider round in the morning to open all the gates on his way, and the last one to close them all. During the 1920s the road conditions began to improve and with this so did lap speeds. In 1920 the lap record was 55.62 mph and by the outbreak of World War 2 this would have risen to over 90 mph.

The 1920's and 30's also saw riders like Jimmy Simpson, Wal Handley, Jimmy Guthrie, Charlie Dodson, Freddie Frith, Harold Daniell, George Meier and the legendary Stanley Woods competing on the Mountain Course.

In 1922 a class for 250 machines was added to the program with the first winner being Geoff Davison on a Levis at 49.89 mph. The fastest lap in the class was by Wal Handley at 51.00 mph on an OK Supreme. 1922 also saw a new absolute lap record for Alec Bennett on a Sunbeam in the Senior at 59.99 mph, the last TT win by a side-valve machine.

1923 saw the first of his ten victories on the Mountain circuit by the legendary Stanley Woods when he won the 350 class on a Cotton at 55.73mph. It also saw the first running of the Sidecar TT, which was won by Freddie Dixon on his banking-sidecar Douglas at 53.15 mph. The fastest lap in the Sidecar race was by Harry Langman on a Scott at 54.69. The Sidecar race continued for another 2 years with the 1925 race being won by Len Parker on a Douglas at 55.22 mph and the fastest lap going to Dixon again Douglas mounted at 57.18 mph. Sidecars were removed from the event in 1926 and did not reappear on the island until 1954.

1926 saw the first 70 mph TT lap by Jimmy Simpson in the Senior at 70.43mph on an AJS, and in 1931 he was to become the first rider to lap at over 80 mph when he took his 500 Norton round at 80.82 mph. By 1937 the lap record had risen to over 90 mph when Freddie Frith lapped his Senior at 90.27 mph and in 1938 Harold Daniell bettered this with a lap of 91.00 mph on his Norton, a lap record which would last some 12 long years. 1939 was to see the last of Stanley Woods ten victories, when he won the Junior on a Velocette at 83.19 mph.

Ted Mellors won the Lightweight on a Benelli at 74.25 mph and Georg Meier won the Senior on a supercharged BMW at 89.38 mph. After a break of eight years the TT returned in 1947, and Harold Daniell won the Senior at 82.81 mph. Speeds were somewhat lower than before the war due to the poorer quality of petrol and it took another three years before Harold Daniell's 1938 lap record was to be broken.

In 1949 the Motorcycle World Championships were first held, and the mountain circuit was one of the venues that year. Two of the great riders from the pre-war years were to win their last TT's that year, Harold Daniell (Norton) won the Senior and Freddie Frith (Velocette) won the Junior. Manliff Barrington (Moto Guzzi) won the Lightweight.

With the TT enjoying World Championship status during the 1950's, top riders came from all over the world to compete. The 1950's would see the emergence of the Italian motorcycle manufacturers with riders like Carlo Ubbiali and Tarquinio Provini on the Mondial and MV Augusta, Geoff Duke and Bob McIntyre rode the Gilera's and Bill Lomas and Ken Kavanagh on the Moto Guzzi's.

In 1950 Harold Daniell's long-standing lap record was finally beaten when Geoff Duke won his first International TT on a Norton with a new lap record at 93.33 mph in the Senior on the first of the Featherbed Manx Norton. 1951 was to see the introduction of a 125 race and this was won by Cromie McCandless on a Mondial at 74.85 mph. 1954 was to see the introduction of the Clypse course. This course, which had previously been used for cycle racing, was situated on the outskirts of Douglas.

The course ran down Glencrutchery Road before turning right at the top of Bray Hill onto Ballanard Road and then right again up Johnny Wattersons lane to Cronk-ny-Mona. The riders then turned left and proceeded back up the mountain road through Hillberry and Brandish corners to Creg-ny-Baa before turning right and following the road back to the top of the Whitebridge Hill. There the riders turned right at Begoade Corner and joined the Laxey-Douglas road for the blast through to Onchan, right at the Manx Arms to Signpost, through Bedstead, bypassing the Governors Bridge dip and on back to the start line on Glencrutchery Road. In the period 1954 to 1959 races for 125 and Sidecars and from 1955 to 1959 the 250 class were held on the Clypse course. The winners that first year were Rupert Hollaus in the 125 class at 69.57 mph on an NSU, and Eric Oliver won the first sidecar TT since 1925 at 68.87 mph on a Norton. The Junior and Senior classes remained on the Mountain Circuit.

In 1957 the brilliant Scotsman Bob McIntyre (Gilera) became the first rider ever to lap the Mountain circuit at over 100 mph in the Golden Jubilee Senior. Geoff Duke had come agonisingly close to the ton lap in 1956 when he lapped at 99.97 mph. The late 50s and early 60s were golden eras of the TT, with riders such as John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Jim Redman entertaining the crowds. 1958 also saw the first appearance by a Japanese machine in the form of Honda, who won the team prize for the 125 TT.

Mike Hailwood won the first of his 14 TT's in 1961 and became the first rider to win three races in one week. He won the 125 and 250 TT's on Hondas, the first TT victories by the Japanese marque, and the Senior race on a Norton. Mike went on to win the Senior TT from 1963 to 1967, the first three on MV machinery, and the last two on the mighty Hondas.

In addition he won 2 Junior races, one each on a MV and a Honda, and two more Lightweight races, again on Honda machinery. 1965 also saw the first appearance on the Mountain Circuit of Giacomo Agostini. He was to go on to win 10 TT's before his final appearance in the 1972 meeting.

The battle between Hailwood on the Honda and Agostini on the MV in the 1967 Senior TT is said by many to have been the greatest race ever at the TT. Hailwood set a lap record that day at 108.77mph, which would last until 1975. 1967 was also to be Mike Hailwood's last appearance at the TT for eleven years.

In 1972 during the 125 race, Gilberto Parlotti, the Italian Morbidelli works rider was killed at the Verandah on the last lap of the race. Weather conditions were atrocious at the time, and Giacomo Agostini was ready to boycott that afternoons Senior TT. In the end the weather conditions improved and Agostini won the race. It was to be his last TT.

Agostini and Phil Read proclaimed that the TT course had become too dangerous for the modern motorcycles and although the TT circuit maintained its position on the Grand Prix calendar the star riders of the day shunned the course. The writing was on the wall.

1975 was to see Mike Hailwood's absolute lap record, which had stood since 1967 finally beaten. The man to do it was Mick Grant on a two-stroke triple Kawasaki who raised the lap record to 109.82mph. The end came in 1976 when the British Grand Prix was held on the mountain circuit for the last time. Many people thought this would be the end of the TT. How wrong could they be? 1976 also saw the first appearance of one William Joseph Dunlop who was to rewrite the record books over the next twenty years, and John Williams became the first rider to lap at over 110 on the Suzuki in the Senior race when he raised the absolute lap record to 112.27.

1977 was to see the first of Joey Dunlop's 26 TT victories when he won the Jubilee Classic race. It also saw the return to TT racing of one of the TT's biggest critics, Phil Read, who won the Formula One TT that year, and so became a World Champion again. 1977 also saw the first 100mph lap by a Sidecar, George O'Dell and Kenny Arthur taking their Yamaha round at 102.80.

1978 saw the return of Mike Hailwood to the TT circuit after an absence of 11 years, prompting more people came to the TT that year than in any year previous or since. Could he return and win on the course he had made his own? In the 1978 Formula One TT, Mike Hailwood did just that and became a World Champion again.

He returned in 1979 and won the Senior, his 14th and last TT victory. He narrowly failed to win a 15th when beaten by Alex George in the 1979 Classic TT by just 3.4 seconds after some 226 miles of hard racing. 78 also saw the first sub-20 minute lap by American GP star Pat Hennen on a 500 Suzuki in the Senior TT.

Joey Dunlop raised the absolute lap record to 115.22mph in 1980, the first 115+ mph lap. With the removal of the TT from the World Championship calendar the Isle of Man never attracted all the top G P riders again, although 350 world champions Takazumi Katayama and Jon Ekerold, and Rolf Biland and Jock Taylor two World Champion Sidecar drivers did compete here in the late 1970's and early 1980's. In 1982 Jock Taylor and his passenger Benga Johannson raised the Sidecar lap record to 108.29mph, a lap record which remained unbeaten for 7 years.

1983 was to see Joey Dunlop win the first of his six consecutive Formula 1 TT's, all on Honda machinery, and, in 1989, when he was unable to race through injuries received in an accident at Brands Hatch, Steve Hislop took over the works Honda and became the first rider to lap at over 120 mph with a lap at 121.34 mph in the Formula 1 race.

In 1992 four-time World Superbike Champion Carl Fogarty came back to the TT, and in the Senior raised the absolute lap record to 123.61 mph. He finished second that day to Steve Hislop on the rotary Norton, Norton's first TT win since Mike Hailwood's Senior victory in 1961. 1992 was also to see Joey Dunlop finally equalled Mike Hailwood's record tally of 14 TT wins when he won the 125 on a Honda; he went on to add the 125 in 1993 and 1994, the 250 in 1994 and 1995 and the Senior TT in 1995 to his tally, making him without doubt the most successful rider ever on the mountain circuit with a record tally of 19 TT victories to his credit by 1995.

In 1995 Joey Dunlop won the Lightweight for the third year running and the Ultra Lightweight for the fourth time in five years to take his record tally of wins to 21, in his 21st year of TT racing.

Phillip McCallen became the first rider to win four TT's in a week, when he won the TT Formula 1, Junior, Production and Senior TT's, all on Honda machinery. Dave Molyneux and Pete Hill also created history in the Sidecar races when the smashed the lap record and became the first sidecar crew to lap at over 110mph with a lap of 20 minutes 23.4 seconds, 111.02mph.

They also became the first crew to average over 110mph in a sidecar race with a race average of 110.28mph. 1998 saw Joey Dunlop raise his record number of TT wins to 23 with victory in the Lightweight TT.

Absolute course records were to fall in both the solo and sidecar classes in 1999 when Jim Moodie lapped in 18 minutes 11.4 seconds, 124.45 mph from a standing start in the Senior whilst Manx star Dave Molyneux and passenger Craig Hallam raised the sidecar lap record to 112.76 mph on their DMR Honda outfit.

The first race of the new millennium was to see arguably the greatest rider in TT history achieve possibly his finest victory when 48-year-old Joey Dunlop won the opening race of the 2000 TT, the Formula 1 race. Joey was to record a further two victories, the Ultra Lightweight and Lightweight, during the week to take his total of TT victories to 26 in what was to be his last TT.

David Jefferies also made history by winning the Junior, Production and Senior races, the first time two trebles had been recorded in the same week, with a new absolute lap record of 125.69 mph on the last lap of the Senior, nearly the first sub 18-minute lap on the TT circuit.

The TT mountain circuit is without doubt the greatest challenge any racing motorcyclist can take on, but it is not for the faint of heart. Each year some 500+ riders arrive on Mona's Isle to take on the gruelling mountain circuit in either the TT races in June or the Manx Grand Prix races in late August and early September. Most come just to pit there skills against the circuit with no thoughts of ultimate victory but just to gain a finishers award or a coveted replica. It is a dangerous circuit, but they all know the risks. No one is forced to race here, they all come for one reason and one reason only, to pitch themselves against the greatest pure road race circuit of them all, the TT Mountain Circuit, The Road Racing Capital of the World.


By Dave Clarke


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