Isle of Man TT Race History
Held on a small island off the west coast of England, The Isle of Man TT is recognized as one of the world's most challenging and dangerous roadrace courses. Since 1907, the TT (tourist trophy) has been run entirely on public roads, which are regularly used by Manx citizens the rest of the year. Each lap of the TT course covers 37¾ miles, with elevation changes ranging from sea level to 1300 feet. The event is run in late May and early June each year.
The TT first started in 1904, as road restrictions on mainland Great Britain forced race organizers to look for a new home. In the UK, an act of Parliament a year before forbid road racing, even the organized kind, while a speed limit of 20-mph was unlikely to provide any excitement in any case. Sir Julian Orde, the Secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, headed to the Isle of Man in the belief that he would find a more welcoming home for organized road racing. After negotiations, Orde was granted his wish, and later that same year, the Gordon Bennett Eliminating Trial was introduced on the Island.
Originally, the event was only for touring cars, but the following year, a motorcycle race took place a day after the main event and it was soon to edge out the cars in terms of popularity. The course was initially set on mountain roads (St. Johns course), but with small, single-cylinder engine bikes struggling to cope with the climbs, it was diverted to the now-famous 37-3/4-mile Mountain Course (main A3 between Douglas and Ballacraine).
The early years of the TT featured some of the greatest names in motorcycle production. This included the Scott company of Yorkshire, who supplied many of the competitors and provided some of the earliest winners. Early photographs of these races highlight vintage bikes in all their prestige, adding to the Isle Of Man mystique.
Matchless and Norton were featured heavily during the early events, and it was the Matchless company as a whole who were partly responsible for the first official TT. Amidst allegations of cheating elsewhere in the world, the idea for an event on closed roads was mooted and the first race to be known as the Isle of Man TT took place in 1907.
The event was not run during the First World War, but returned in 1920 to herald a golden age for the TT. The event grew in popularity and began to attract more spectators and riders than ever before. Many believe that 1922 marked a real breakthrough with a Manxman, Tom Sheard, winning the 350cc class on an AJS.
The 1930's saw the TT become the most prestigious event on the calendar and also a shift in terms of winning bikes. Up until this point, the likes of AJS, Sunbeam and Rudge had dominated, but they were starting to be eclipsed in the main by Norton, as well as overseas makes such as BMW and DKW.
As War in Europe broke out again, the TT was not run from 1939 to 1946. Further upgrading with the course and regulations followed, and the 1950's marked the era when the TT evolved into the event that we know today. With World Championship status, top competitors from across the globe arrived to give the race more creditability than it had ever experienced. The classic bikes that had added so much prestige to the event throughout its history were now joined by a new range including Italian makes such as Mondial, MV Augusta and Gilera.
The Sixties saw some of the greatest riders emerge. In 1961, Mike Hailwood became the first man in the history of the Isle of Man TT to win three races in one week - the 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc categories. Hailwood's battles with Giacomo Agostini were to become features of the TT for years to come. In 1967, he set a lap record of 108.77 mph, riding his infamous Honda 500-4. That record would stand for the next 8 years.
In 1970, a race-prepared Triumph Trident nicknamed 'Slippery Sam' took fourth place in its first year in the Production TT, and won first place in the next five consecutive races (1971 to 1975) with several different riders.
Mike Hailwood continued his impressive streak through the 1970's. After an 11-year hiatus from motorcycling, Hailwood, at 38-years-old, won the TT again in 1978, this time on a Ducati 900SS. In 1979, he returned once more to win his 14th and final TT.
The 1980's were dominated by rider Joey Dunlop. By now, the TT had a new focus with its association with the British Grand Prix over and the dominance of superbikes from the likes of Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda. Dunlop enjoyed great duels with Carl Fogarty in the 1990's. At age 48, Dunlop won his final victory in 2000. Truly a thrilling spectacle, the Isle of Man TT continues to be the most exciting motorcycle racing event in the world.
During the 1960's, NSU marketed several cars named after the Isle Of Man race, such as the 1000 TT and TTS. In 1969, the company was taken over by Volkswagen Group, who merged NSU with Auto Union. The new company was named Audi NSU Auto Union AG, known today simply as Audi. Since 1998, Audi has produced several TT models, honoring the Isle Of Man racing tradition.