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Isle of Man, brief History of the "Snaefell Mountain Course"

Isle of Man, history and importance in motorsports

Nowadays, the Isle of Man is internationally recognized for holding motorcycling sporting events whose main public feature is danger and its adjacent consequences.

Giacomo Agostini (MV AGUSTA)

Apart from the arguments (the defenders and the detractors), the truth is that the maintenance of these races is only possible due to the load of tradition that they contain. The less public feature at the origin of this tradition is the fact that the Isle of Man is the birthplace of motorbike and car road racing!

The genesis

At the beginning of the 20th century there were no permanent circuits (aka racetracks) and in the United Kingdom a law was in force that limited the maximum speed (on public roads) to 20 mph (about 32 km/h). Due to the fact that the Isle of Man, the result of the hypocrisy that still prevails in offshore territories, has some legislative freedom, those responsible for the “Automobile Car Club of Britain and Ireland” enticed the authorities to allow the dispute over car races on the island's public roads. Thus, in 1904, in the form of a time trial, the first event for touring cars was held, using a route, "Highroads Course", of 52.15 miles (about 83.93 km), Clifford Earl, at the controls of a NAPIER, was the winner of the race played in 6 laps of the course. In September 1905, another car race was held, now called the “RAC Tourist Trophy”, which was won by John Napier who crewed an ARROL-JOHNSTON, reaching an average of 33.90 mph (54.56 km/h). As an expedient to find a team to represent Great Britain in the “International Motor-Cycle Cup Races”, it was also in 1905, the day after the car race, that the first motorcycle race was held. The fact that the bikes used were unable to make the steepest part of the mountain led the organization to opt for an alternative route of about 25 miles (40 km): Douglas-Castletown-Ballacraine-Douglas. This race was won by J. S. Campbell (ARIEL) who, despite a fire on his motorcycle and equipment during refueling, managed to complete the 5 laps of the race (125 miles/201 km) at an average speed of 30.04 mph (48 .34 km/h). Car races were held on the Isle of Man in: 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1914 and 1922. These were the origins of the prestigious “RAC Tourist Trophy”, which were not contested between 1923-1927 and which from 1928 onwards were even contested on the continent. The reasons for the change of scenery were due to the danger that the route posed and the fact that, in the meantime, permanent circuits had begun to appear in mainland Great Britain. In 1907, the motorcycle race was held in the Isle of Man under the designation “Auto-Cycle Tourist Trophy”, the designation “Tourist Trophy” is due to the fact that the motorcycles admitted had to have brakes, mudguards and gearbox. tools, that is, they had to be compliant to circulate on public roads.

From then until today, with the exception of the periods of the Great Wars (1915-1919 and 1940-1945) and Covid-19 (2020-2021), the race takes place under the name "Tourist Trophy" even though the characteristics of the admitted motorcycles varied between the series derivation and the prototypes.

The 1907 winner Charlie Collier riding a MATCHLESS averaged 38.21 mph (61.49 km/h)

The circuit

Between 1907 and 1910 the race was held “St. John's Short Course”, a 15-mile (about 24 km) circuit. In 1911 the event started to use the “Snaefell Mountain Course”, a circuit of 37.40 miles that is used until today with slight variations due to changes in the design of the road network, currently it has 37.73 miles (about 60.725 km). ). The "Snaefell Mountain Course" earned the sad reputation of being the most dangerous circuit in the world from the beginning, until today, more than 260 riders have lost their lives on this course, in the main event (about 150), including the fatalities that occurred during the other events in the meantime created for amateurs, the “Manx TT”, or classics, the “Classic TT”!!!...

The major danger factors of tracing are:

Ralph Bryans and Luigi Taveri, 50cc race in 1966

. The size of the circuit perimeter makes it difficult to memorize, it is said that in order to be fast there it is necessary to go there and live there and this is the solution that some pilots found to get to know the layout in depth;

. Although it has some very slow points, for example “Quarter Bridge”, “Braddan Bridge”, “Ginger Hall”, “Parliement Square”, “Hairpin” or “Water Works”, the route is on the whole very fast which increases the negative implications in the event of an accident, today, in the fastest classes, large portions of the course are covered at more than 300 km/h, the fastest lap was performed in 2018 by Peter Hickman, in the “Senior TT Race”, with 16m42.778s at an average of 135.452 mph (217.989 km/h), as a curiosity, in the 50cc, which took place between 1962-1968 as part of the scoring event, at the time, for the World Speed ​​Championship, in 1966, 55 years ago !!!, Ralph Bryans in HONDA won the race at an average of 85.66 mph (137.86 km/h)!!!...

. The limitations of a road circuit where the lack of passive safety (escapes) and even the control of animals in a perimeter of this dimension (it has already happened that a pilot ran into a horse that was startled by the noise made by a helicopter that was going to assisting another injured pilot), determine the impossibility of making the route safe according to the current standards;

. Finally, and to make it even more difficult, on a route of this size and an altitude variation of more than 400 meters, the atmospheric conditions often vary during the same lap, there is often fog on the mountain and a radiant sun in Douglas. Between 1954 and 1959 a variant of the circuit was also used, which was called the “Clypse Course”, this course was intended only for Sidecar and Ultra-Lightweight and, from 1955 onwards also for Lightweight, in 1960 these classes began to compete along with the others on the “Snaefell Mountain Course”, the “Clypse Course” had a perimeter of 10.92 miles (17.63 km) and used two sections of the “Snaefell Mountain Course”.

Mike "The Bike" Hailwood (DUCATI), 1979

The World Road Racing Championship

It was in the Isle of Man that the British GP, part of the World Road Racing ​​Championship, took place between 1949 (year of creation of the championship) and 1976. The 50cc was contested between 1962 and 1968, the 125cc between 1951 and 1973, the 250cc, 350cc and 500cc between 1949 and 1976. Thus, in the list of winners of this circuit there are names of first magnitude in the world speed scene, such as: Luigi Taveri, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read, Tarquinio Provini, Bill Ivy, Kel Carruthers, Giacomo Agostini, Jim Redman, John Surtees, Bob McIntyre, Tom Herron, Mick Grant, Jack Findlay, Gary Hocking or Geoff Duke, among many others. After the 1972 race, Giacomo Agostini announced that he would never race on the Isle of Man again, stating that it was too dangerous and that it was scandalous that this circuit remained on the World Championship calendar, later other riders joined the boycott and 1976 was the last year in which the scoring event for the World Championship took place on this track.


The post-World Championship

Dissatisfied with the loss of status, the organisers, using the weight of the ACU (the English federation) in the FIM, managed to create a TT World Championship which would have as main characteristics the fact that the admitted bikes were derived from series and that the circuits are on (natural) road. This championship never had a big international impact, Isle of Man aside, and eventually ended up using some permanent circuits. It had the last edition in 1990.

In Portugal, during its duration (1977-1990) it had 7 editions in Vila Real: 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990.

The post-World Tourist Trophy

In the last 32 years, the competition has been supported by the enormous load of tradition, by the image of extreme danger and adventure that attracts the most daredevils and by aggressive communication on the part of those responsible for the organization and authorities of the island, whose greatest assets are the fact that of being a tax haven and the tourism revenue that the circuit generates. Today, the event's popularity continues to grow.

GP racers versus Isle of Man racers

The best riders on the Isle of Man are not necessarily successful when faced with the cream of permanent circuit drivers and this is mainly due to the fact that they ride in different ways. On a permanent circuit, riders drive to the limit, with the passive safety conditions that exist today, they are unlikely to be injured when they fall. In the Isle of Man, fast riders know that if they fall, they have a high probability of hitting a wall, pole, tree or falling down a cliff, naturally, this reality does not allow them to search for the limit in a systematic way, it requires more defensive. So there is no confrontation between the two families of riders, some do not accept to race in the Isle of Man, the others are not used to riding the extreme limit of the bike they drive. For those of the Isle of Man, without a doubt, the title of most daredevil remains!

The greats of the Isle of Man

The three names that most often reached the top step of the podium, in the various races/classes, are the following:

  • 26 x – Joey Dunlop

  • 23 x – John McGuinness

  • 18 x – Michael Dunlop

Undoubtedly speaking of the Isle of Man is also, by force of circumstances, speaking of the Dunlop family, from Armoy (Northern Ireland), which has an impressive record on the island. Joey won 26 times and died in 2000 in an accident in Tallinn, Estonia - road circuit -, his brother Robert won 5 times and died in 2008 in an accident on the "North West 200" in Northern Ireland - road circuit -, son of Robert and Joey's nephew, Michael won by 18x, finally, William, Michael's brother, Robert's son and Joey's nephew, had honorable participations on the island and died in 2018 in an accident at the "Skerries 100 Road Races" in Dublin, Ireland From north. As a curiosity, it is said that Robert Dunlop died as a result of an accident during a 250cc class training session in which his two sons also participated, his bike had the front brake levers and the left clutch due to physical conditions. that he already had from a previous accident, it seems that the engine would have seized and he, when he wanted to squeeze the clutch, made a mistake and braked hard at about 160 mph (about 260 km/h) after falling was hit by the pilot following him. The next day, his two sons, in great consternation, insisted on participating in the race as a way of honoring their father's memory, surprisingly, Michael won the race after a head-to-head dispute with Christian Elkin (at 1.029 s) that ended in second ahead of John McGuinness (at 1,763 s).

Robert Dunlop's accident in the "North West 200" in 1998, which resulted in serious injuries that incapacitated him for a long time and from which he would never recover to 100%, at the time he was crewing a HONDA in the 125cc class, curiously the same model as the his brother Joey was driving when he had the fatal accident

Film of the impressive race (250cc) that Michael Dunlop starred in the 2008 "North West 200" the day after the death of his father Robert


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