Isle of Man TT course, Douglas, Isle of Man

This Great Road was initially published in issue 84 of Total 911.

For this latest online entry, our subject is not only a road, it is also a race circuit. For two weeks a year, thanks to a law passed by the Manx Parliament, a swarm of marshals block off a loop of roads around the Isle of Man and people race at up to 200mph to win the Tourist Trophy – or ‘TT’. At other times, the Tourist Trophy route is a Great Drive.

Admittedly, the TT racers use motorbikes, but fear not, for thanks to another quirk of the island laws, outside the TT season much of the route has no speed limit. Yes, in 2012, there are still roads where you can drive as fast as you wish. The Isle of Man is definitely a place all driving enthusiasts should visit. Where else would you see kerbstones painted in circuit apex fashion – black and white stripes – in sleepy towns and villages?

To reach it first requires catching a ferry – a criterion that straightaway makes for a great road trip. The TT as we know it traces its roots back to 1911, when the Snaefell Mountain Course was finalised as a route. The 37.7 miles is far from marble-smooth FIA Tarmac, though; small bridges, camber changes and every type of surface quality feature in a lap of the route, not to mention houses right on the road’s edge. You really do have to visit the island to experience how a race could be made to work in such conditions.

It is driveable either way, but most will take the traditional TT clockwise direction. In true circuit style the sections, corners and mile markers have evocative names; Bray Hill, Ballacraine, Alpine Cottage, Ramsey Hairpin, The Bungalow, Windy Corner and so on. If you really wanted, you could learn the route from watching a film from an onboard camera strapped to a superbike, but I guarantee you’ll soon feel dizzy from the speeds they reach on the straight sections.

Location: Douglas to Douglas, Isle of Man

Latitude: 54.1503 -4.4809, 37.7 miles

Points of interest:
Camera Obscura
Great Laxey Wheel and mines
Peel Castle
House of Manannan

Food and accommodation:

Ginger Hall Hotel: www.gingerhallhotel.com

Mount Murray Hotel: www.mountmurray.com

Although there are sections without a speed restriction, a few of the resurfaced areas now have 50mph limits, which some locals say ruin it. But, after the crammed mainland, even a steady arc between passing apices at 50mph is fun. The sections that are unlimited for speed do, in reality, have constraints, though. That myth of hitting 160mph over the Mountain mile is just that – a myth. Regular curves, other traffic, and weather conditions all play a part in stopping you touching speeds that would cause headlines in England. Never forget that for the racers, the roads are closed. If you’re caught driving in an unsafe manner, the local police will take offence – and rightly so.

Like the infamous Nürburgring, the Isle of Man TT Circuit is a Mecca for sports cars, and as equal a challenge. To drive it flat out is questionable, not only in terms of safety, but also because the location itself is worthy of attention. The island has the feel of a slightly different country; a mix of England, Wales and Ireland all rolled into one. Don’t ‘race’ the circuit, instead, take time to savour the atmosphere of driving in scenery that has constant reminders of motorsport. For that reason alone, even when you go slowly, you’ll never forget the drive.

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