On Friday, Mark Higgins returned to his birthplace to claim his place in motorsport history by breaking the existing speed record at Isle of Man in a production Subaru WRX STI. He raced the lap alone with a speed of 115.356 mph in 19 minutes, 37 seconds.
A speck of land in the sea between Ireland and England, the Isle of Man is to motorcycle racing what Monaco is to F1. Tony Pond set the previous record there in 1990, clocking 102 mph in 22 minutes, 9-seconds in a Rover V6 827 Vitesse. His record, which took two years of attempts, went untouched for two decades.
Higgins estimated his WRX was 300 to 400 kg heavier than Pond's Vitesse.
The Isle of Man's Snaefell Mountain Circuit snakes through 37.74 miles of green mountain passes, narrow streets and tight residential lanes. In all, a driver squeezes through 264 turns, climbing nearly 1,000 feet, followed by a dive back to sea level. Over 100 years of motorcycles waging war on the mountain has claimed 231 lives during official practices or races, three year to date.
But not many race drivers know Isle of Man better than Higgins. He was born there -- a Manxman -- with racing in his blood. His parents had him racing go karts at nine. As a teenager, Higgins' parents wanted him to drive faster -- at least at Manx rallies, some of which they raced themselves. He earned his first British Rally Championship at 25. A few decades later, Higgins now has three British Rally Championships under his belt.
Last Monday, Higgins left the decades-old speed record in his dust on his first try. Flight time: 19 minutes, 56.67 seconds. Average speed: 113.5 mph. "Brakes are a big issue with a big car like this," Higgins said. "I made a couple messes or two at the tight corners. I was struggling to get it slowed down. I missed about three gears and had a terrible time coming out of those corners."
Higgins only got one chance a day between TT motorcycle laps. On Wednesday, the scheduled lap was canceled. On Thursday, a little bump in the road nearly became a launch pad. Higgins found himself wrestling with the WRX to keep it under control. "I've not gone sideways like that at 150 mph before," said Higgins. "To be honest, I don't know how we held that."
After a weather delay on Friday, he was able to clock his fastest lap yet.
Sean Kelly was six when Pond set the record on his island, and last week Kelly joined the crowds lining the streets of his hometown again. This time Kelly was cheering on a native brother. Kelly said, "It's great to see a Manxman [get] a new lap record, as it has been 21 years."