The History of the TT
More than 100 years on and thrill seekers still venture to the Isle of Man every summer for the same reason the gentlemen of 1907 did, the Tourist Trophy more commonly known as the Isle of Man TT.
It was the spirit of competition and advancement that brought the original TT competition to the Island as racing on the highways and byways of Britain was impossible, forbidden by Act of Parliament and by the introduction in 1903 of a 20mph speed limit. The Secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, Sir Julian Orde, set off in February 1904 for the Isle of Man because he had a fairly shrewd idea that the Manx authorities would adopt a more conciliatory attitude automobile racing on public roads.
He was right. The Highways (Light Locomotive) Act 1904 gave permission in the Isle of Man for the 52.15 mile “Highlands” course for the 1904 Gordon Bennett Car Trial, the British trial for the fledging European car racing championships.
It was not until the following year that a trial race for the motorbikes was to be introduced the day after the Gordon Bennett Car Trial. The inability of the bikes to complete the steep climbs of the mountain section led to the race being redirected and it didn’t return to the Mountains until 1911.
The new route ran from Douglas south to Castletown and then north to Ballacraine along the A3 primary road, returning to the start at Douglas via Colby and Glen Vine along the current TT Course in the reverse direction. The event was won by J.S. Campbell in a respectable 4 hours, 9 minutes and 36 seconds.
The new race was proposed by the Editor of “The Motor-Cycle” Magazine at the annual dinner of the Auto-Cycle Club held in London on the 17th January 1907. The races were run in two classes with single-cylinder machines to average 90 mpg and twin-cylinder machines to average 75 mpg. This was done to emphasise the road touring nature of the motor-cycles. The organisers also insisted there were regulations for saddles, pedals, mudguards and exhaust silencers.
The 1911 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races took place for the first time over the “Snaefell Mountain Course”. The Auto Cycle Union (ACU), organisers of the race, announced an extension to the course with the reintroduction of the Mountain Course setting a four lap (150mile) Junior course and a five lap (189 mile) race for the Senior race. By now crowds were accommodated in Grandstands to watch the American bike manufacturer Indian take the first three places.
The following year British pride was restored by the Yorkshire based two-stroke bike, Scott and in the Junior 350cc race by the Douglas’ taking first and second. The race meeting was close to being cancelled due to several manufactures threatening to boycott the race having struggled the year before on the Mountain course with the single gear bikes.
It was during the early years that the Mountain Circuit was little more than a cart and horse track which included the odd gate between fields. It was the duty of the first rider round in the morning to open all the gates along the way, with the last rider responsible in shutting them.
The 1914 TT was the last race before the outbreak of World War I; the meeting was not to be held again till after the War in 1920. Cyril Williams competing in the Junior race on an AJS valiantly pushed his AJS over the finish line in first place having broken down five miles previously.
It was in 1921 that a young Stanley Woods first made the ferry trip over from Ireland to the Isle of Man as a one of the thousands of spectators now attending. The following year a seventeen year old Stanley Woods would enter his first ever TT.
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 rose to over 90 mph.
The 1922 TT will be remembered for two things, Tom Sheard winning the 350cc race on the dominant AJS, the first ever Manxman to win at the TT and the seventeen year old Stanley Woods attaining fifth position on a Cotton with a time of 3hrs 50min 33secs despite having to contend with a broken exhaust pipe and a pit fire that set both man and machine ablaze.
The 1923 competition saw the introduction of the first Sidecar race won by Freddie Dixon and passenger Walter Perry. In the Junior 350cc Stanley Woods was to record his first of ten TT victories, the last one being in 1939. By 1938 the lap speed record had reached 91mph, a record held by Harold Daniell for a further 12 years.
Following a break of eight years the Isle of Man TT returned after the War in 1947, with Harold Daniell winning at a much slower speed than his previous record due to the poorer quality of petrol, setting speeds of 82mph.
It was in 1949 that the TT first became a venue for the Motorcycle World Championships. It was also the last time the two great pre-war riders, Harold Daniell on a Norton and Freddie Frith on a Velocette were to be seen ridding at the TT, both winning the Senior and Junior races respectively.
The 1950’s and the World Championship status brought along the world’s top riders to the TT. The decade was notable for the emergence of Italian manufacturers Mondial, MV Augusta and Gilera and their riders Carlo Ubbiali and Tarquinio Provini, Geoff Duke and Bob McIntyre. Bill Lomas and Ken Kavanagh on the Moto Guzzi’s were also prominent.
Three years after Harold Daniell’s lap record was set, Geoff Duke set his own on the way to winning his first International TT on a Norton, reaching 93.33mph in the Senior class. In the same year, the 125cc category was introduced.
In 1957, the Scotsman Bob McIntyre became the first rider ever to lap the Mountain circuit at 100mph, much to the annoyance of Geoff Duke who came agonisingly close the previous year, achieving 99.97mph.
The late fifties and early sixties are known as the golden era of the TT, with riders like John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Jim Redman competing in entertaining battles with machine and each other. This era is also notable for the first appearance of the Japanese bike company, Honda.
In 1961, Mike Hailwood won his first of 14 TT’s whilst becoming the first rider to finish with three wins in a week – 125, 250 on a Honda and the Senior race on a Norton. Hailwood would later go on to win five consecutive Senior titles.
The battle between Giacomo Agostini on the MV and Hailwood on a Honda in the 1967 Senior TT is considered by many as the greatest ever race on the Island. Between 1965 and 1972 Agostini managed 11 race wins of his own, while in 1967 Hailwood set another lap record at 108.77mph, which would stand for a further 11 years.
The record was to stand until 1975 when Hailwood’s absolute lap record was broken by Mike Grant on a two-stroke triple Kawasaki, raising it to 109.80mph. The following year saw the end of the Isle of Man’s association with the British Grand Prix but the TT’s introduction to the skills and talents of the now legendary Joey Dunlop.
It was not long before Joey’s talents came to the fore. In 1977 he won the Jubilee Classic race, the first of an astounding 26. This same year saw the first Sidecar duo to exceed the 100mph mark, George O’Dell and Kenny Arthur taking their Yamaha round at 102.80mph. Also the American GP star, Pat Hennen, managed the first sub-twenty minute lap on board a 500 Suzuki in the Senior TT.
Mike Hailwood after an 11 year absence returned to the TT in winning form in 1978 which he matched in his final race in 1979, with his 14th and final TT.
The eighties were dominated by one man – Joey Dunlop. He recorded the first 115mph plus lap in 1980, and in 1983 won the first of six consecutive Formula One TT’s on the dominant Honda machines. Injuries sustained in a race at Brands Hatch prevented Dunlop from defending his title for the seventh consecutive time in 1989, a race won by Steve Hislop who broke Joey’s lap speed record, pushing it to 121.34mph.
The arrival of World Superbike Champion Carl Fogarty to the 1992 TT saw the beginning of many epic races between Carl and Steve Hislop. 1992 was also the year Joey Dunlop equalled Mike Hailwood’s record of 14 TT wins by winning on his 125 Honda. A Norton, ridden by Hislop, was their first TT win since Hailwood’s 1961 victory.
At the tender age of 48 Joey Dunlop recorded his 26th and final TT win at the start of the new millennium. For only the third time the TT races was cancelled in 2001, due to concerns over Foot and Mouth epidemic that was destroying the UK’s mainland. 2004 was marked by the a hat trick of wins for a John McGuinness, who last year reached average speeds of 129.4mph on the way to his 11th TT victory and new lap record and race records.
The Centenary year saw huge numbers visit the island from all over the world and they were treated to a new TT lap record of 130.354 by John McGuinness who won the Superbike and Senior races to leave him with 13 titles. Dave Molyneux also won the two sidecar races giving him 13 outright titles. McGuinness again recorded victory in the Senior TT in 2008, equaling Mike Hailwood’s record of 14 titles but he was outshone by Australian Cameron Donald who won the Superbike and Superstock races and finished runner up to McGuinness in the Senior in one of the closest races in TT history.
McGuinness moved ahead of Hailwood’s record when he recorded his 15th TT win in the 2009 Superbike. A 16th win had seemed on the cards as he dominated the Senior that year, but his hopes were dashed when his chain came loose – there was some consolation, though, when McGuinness smashed another barrier, raising the outright lap record to a staggering 131.578mph.