Isle of Man

“… it makes Le Mans about as exciting as Mallory Park …”

THE notice on the wall read “ROADS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC,” the reason being that races were due to be held. When the roads were open again they were free of any 70-m.p.h. restriction. This was not paradise or some foreign land, it was on an island just off the N.W. coast of England, a few hours by boat, or a few minutes by air, from Liverpool. Any motorcyclist knows “the Island,” where the T.T. motorcycle races have been held since 1907, but there are probably a lot of motoring enthusiasts who have not tasted this feeling of freedom. The Isle of Man is world-famous in the sphere of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and one trip round the 37½-mile “Mountain” circuit soon shows you why.

For a number of years there have been agitations in influential circles to hold a motor race on the “Mountain” circuit, and these movements have been gaining momentum and force with great rapidity this year. In the July Motor Sport of this year I made mention of this matter and said : “It would seem at the moment that only the dead-hand of the R.A.C, itself stands in the way . . ” the idea being to run the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy in the Isle of Man and put that race back in a position of prominence, alongside Le Mans, the Nurburgring 1,000 kilometres, the Targa Florio and the Sebring 12. hours. In other words, to make our T.T. a classic event once more, instead of the pathetic national “club” event that it has degenerated into.

At the end of September the Lancashire Automobile Club ran their National Open hill-climb at Tholt-y-Will in the middle of the Isle of Man, and Joe Gardner, the Clerk of the Course, suggested I went to the island to see for myself that in Great Britain there is a hill that would do justice as a round in the European Mountain Championship. During the season many people have written to me about the 3.6.-mile long Tholt-y-Will hill that runs up the Sulby Glen nearly to the top of the Snaefell mountain. They are all absolutely right, for this hill makes anything on the mainland look a bit simple. It starts 260 feet above sea level and finishes 3.6 miles later 1,215 feet above sea level, and takes in every type of bend imaginable, from bottom-gear hairpins to flat-out curves, and even passes the forecourt of a pub and the steps of a chapel on the lower slopes. The record stands at 2 min. 56.5 sec., but very few people have beaten 3 min. It would seem that next year’s September event will be in the R.A.C. Hill-Climb Championship and it should make the other qualifying events look a bit tame. However, the visit to the Isle of Man was not solely for the hill-climb, though that was a most enjoyable week-end, well rounded off by the sight of a convoy of single-seater racing cars entering Douglas town having driven all the way from Ramsey on the public roads (did I say I was in a foreign country?). They were heading along the promenade on their way to the boat to return to the mainland on Sunday night.

It is some ten years or more since I was in the I.o.M. for the motorcycle T.T. races, so it was not long before I was off for a lap of the “Mountain” circuit. I found that I had forgtaten just how fine a circuit it is though I had not forgotten the way round for circuit-learning is like swimming, Once you learn you never forget. I remembered the T.T. circuit as being interesting, but I was staggered, it is absolutely fabulous. As I drove round I visualised a Group 4 sports car and a Prototype Group 6 race like the Targa Florio. I thought of a Ford GT40 charging down Bray Hill, an LM Ferrari on full song (160 m.p.h.) down the dip at Glen Vine, Surtees in a Lola-Aston Martin GT coupe through the tricky bends at Glen Helen; a Porsche Carrera Six aviating over the brow at Creg Willeys, and any car you like to name going through Kirkmichael village, along the Sulby straight or through the Square in Ramsey. A GT40 and an LM up the twisty bit from Ramsey to the Guthrie Memorial had me tingling with excitement, and I then imagined sitting on a grass bank somewhere on the Snaefell mountain section and hearing 4 V12 Ferrari P3 coming along the fast mountain road and going past the Bungalow in a crash of sound. At the thought of Clark in a Prototype Lotus hurtling down to Greg-Ny-Baa and Parkes touching 175 m.p.h. down the hill to Brandish Corner in a works P4 Ferrari my mind began to boggle a bit. As these were ordinary public roads I set off on another lap thinking “how nice it would be, but our Government does not allow racing on the public roads.” But, wait a minute, this was the Isle of Man and the Manx Government do allow roads to be closed for racing, so it is not just a pipe-dream. I went and had another look at the notice on the wall. “ROADS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC” it said quite clearly. A royal procession or something to do with horses I thought. and read the smaller print under the heading. There was no mistake, the roads had been closed for the Manx Grand Prix motorcycle races 1966. I did another lap knowing that the Government and the people of the I.o.M. were on our side. we did not have to go cap in hand asking if we could race on their roads, the “Mountain” circuit is the Isle of Man and the Manx Tourist Board want it used, especially if it will bring visitors to the island, for their economy is dependent on visitors from the mainland, who come and spend money.

During my second lap I curbed my enthusiasm a bit and looked at bends where so-and-so would be certain to have an accident or bumps where such-and-such a car would break a wishbone, and I got back to the pits realising that a 10-lap race over this circuit would make all other races I have been to seem to be suitable for Auntie in her Morris 1000. The TT. on the Mountain Circuit could became the Blue Riband motor racing, and I do not make that statement lightly, it is made with 30 years’ experience of motor racing behind me.

After a lap ot the 37½-mile circuit anyone would be convinced that it has no parallel, except for the defunct Mille Miglia course; it makes Le Mans about as exciting as Mallory Park, the Nurburgring about as challenging as Brands Hatch. even the Targa Florio pales into insignificance and the Spa-Francorchamps circuit seems little better than Oulton Park. The lap record for motorcycles on the I.o.M. course is over 107 m.p.h. and I would estimate that a Grand Prix driver in a Group 4 sports car would lap at over 110 m.p.h., while Surtees in a 5-litre Lola GT Prototype would lap at 112 m.p.h. or even 115 m.p.h. It would he worth going a long way to see such teats of driving. for they would have no parallel in these days of “wishy-washy” safety-conscious, barrier-protected motor racing. It would be a challenge to man and machine, driver and technician, that would be out of this world. It would be exacting, and dangerous, it would leave the best driver slightly pale, and trembling a bit, and would be a sight worth seeing anywhere around the 37½-mile length. I don’t think there are more than 30 drivers that I would allow to drive on the “Mountain” circuit with fast cars, and I would not allow a lot of cars that race on our circuits at present. Unless a driver had proved his ability on the Nurburgring, the Taiga Florio. the Mugello circuit, Clermont-Ferrand, Spa and Monte Carlo, I would not accept his entry, and I mean “proved his ability,” not merely driven on those circuits, and unless a manufacturer had proved that his cars could race on those circuits without breaking, plus a few more chassis-breaking ones, I would not let hirn enter.

The T.T. could become a face for the cream of the World’s cars and drivers and Great Britain could stand at the head of the F.I.A. countries and the R.A.C. could go to Paris with head high, instead of sitting apologetically and seeing the T.T. removed from the list of classic long-distance races yet again because all we could offer was a club-race in a park. The French think Le Mans is the Blue Riband of long-distance racing and the Sicilians think it is the Targa Florio; it could so easily become the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. Unfortunately I don’t think the R.A.C. are capable of organising a race on the “Mountain” circuit, and there are few people in Britain who have the imagination or drive to tackle “The World’s Greatest Motor Race.” Possibly Nick Syren of the B.R.S.C.C. would be capable and he would certainly have the wholehearted backing of the Manx Tourist Board, the Manx people and the British Trade and Industry. In fact, the only people I can imagine who would oppose the idea would be circuit owners on the mainland, as it would retract all their glamour.

Among the many points raised in discussing an Isle of Man T.T. was the inevitable one of cost, and that immediately brings up the subject of starting money. It may seem naive, but I would say that any racing driver worthy of the name would willingly forgo a large slice of his income for the chance of driving a racing car on the “Mountai ” circuit. I feel sure that John Surtees would agree with me that most people “would give their right arm” to race on the “Mountain” course. As they would be handicapped without their right arm, they could knock £50 a lap off their starting money. If a driver returned after a 110-m.p.h. lap and said he wasn’t satisfied with the 37½-mile drive, I would be most surprised and would have underestimated the true racing-driver.

This may all seem like .a pipe-dream, but in fact. it could happen in 1968, and at the moment the only people who are not enthusiastic about the idea are the “old gentlemen of the R,A.C.” (I nearly said gentlewomen!), and it is their race that is in the balance, for the once classic Tourist Trophy race belongs to the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain.

One final word. I know that many readers are racing motor-cyclists and they will feel that the 4-wheeler people are trying to muscle in at the expense of motorcycle racing. Believe me, the Manx Government know what motorcycle racing has done for their Island since 1907 and they will not let you down. No doubt many readers will feel like writing to me on the idea of a car race on the circuit, but please don’t. Instead, I suggest you write to the R.A.C. Competitions Committee, for they are the ones who need convincing. not me.