The annual Isle of Man TT plays out on a 37.8-mile course made up of public roads, which are closed down during race days. It’s run by motorcyclists, and crazy sonsofbitches skilled pilots can complete the loop in under 18 minutes. Curious how long it would take an automobile to run the same course? Back in 1990, driver Tony Pond was curious as well, and he pushed a Rover 827 Vitesse around the island in 21 minutes, becoming the first driver to average 100 miles per hour in a car on the course.
Subaru decided to have a go at that record, and sent a WRX STI sedan and driver Mark Higgins to the Isle of Man. The car is a stock STI, with the exception of a roll-cage, race harness, fire extinguisher and adjusted springs and dampers to handle the various bumps found on the public roadway. How’d Higgins do? He smashed Pond’s record by two minutes, with a time of 19:56.7 and an average speed of 113 miles per hour. Higgins stated, “Setting the record was both the most exhilarating and the most frightening thing I have ever done.” We believe you, and we salute you Mr. Higgins, on a rather impressive bit of driving.
The long-standing road-car lap record for the Isle of Man TT circuit has been comprehensively smashed in a production-spec Subaru WRX STI saloon. In his very first run around the challenging 37.8-mile course, former British Rally Champion Mark Higgins posted a blistering lap time of 19 minutes and 56.7 seconds, translating to an average speed of 113mph. The peak speed achieved during the lap was 162mph.
Higgins’ time is more than two minutes faster than the previous record, set by the late Tony Pond 21 years ago to the day (on 6 June 1990), at the wheel of an Rover 827 Vitesse. Pond was the first to break the average 100mph barrier in a road car, and his lap record has stood ever since.
The TT event organisers gave Higgins just one lap to conduct his record attempt in the car, and there was no opportunity to carry out high speed practice runs.
The WRX STI used for the record breaking run was a standard Subaru production car, equipped with a 300PS Horizontally-Opposed Boxer engine, unmodified brake callipers and with road-legal Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tyres. Springs and dampers were adjusted to minimise any potential damage when the car encountering the various bumps and jumps at high speed along the course.
In recognition of the speeds involved, and the fact that there are little or no crash barriers around most of the TT road circuit, the WRX STI was fitted with some essential safety enhancements. These included an MSA-specification T45 integrated roll cage, TRS race harnesses and a Lifeline extinguisher system. To help forewarn spectators of the presence of the oncoming car, the Subaru team also fitted the WRX STI with a high-decibel exhaust.
“Setting the record was both the most exhilarating and the most frightening thing I have ever done,” explains Higgins, whose career as a driver in the British and World Rally Championships hasn’t exactly been short of excitement. “The rules allow for a flying start, so I crossed the line at 125mph. I then went down through the Bray Hill junction – normally taken at around 20mph – at over 150mph. Once that tricky section was out of the way I settled into the lap and quickly got used to the balance and sheer pace of the car.
“In the end the lap was simply fantastic, and the WRX STI behaved impeccably,” explains Higgins. “That we managed to set such an impressive time at our first attempt is a great tribute to the Subaru, especially given that so few modifications have been made. The engine pulled incredibly strongly throughout and the cornering capability proved crucial on such a twisty, unforgiving course.”
The TT crowds got fully behind the record attempt, reports Higgins. “The atmosphere out on the circuit was incredible, especially once the spectators heard over the PA system that we were in the process of setting a new record. I could hear the cheers in the car and it really added to the experience.”