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LAP OF THE GODS P


itting man and machine against the surroundings, whether on circuit, forestry stage or a favourite stretch of roadway, remains one of the true joys of the motoring enthusiast that no amount of legislation could ever tear asunder. However, unless you compete on a regular basis, the chances are that your ultimate driving experiences are going to have been carried out on public roads, during either the wee small hours, or where weather conditions, visibility and a completely guaranteed absence of other road-users will allow them. It is risky, though.


In the pre-70mph days, when there was significantly less traffic volume on our roads in any case, even ‘spirited’ driving was limited naturally by the oncoming risks associated with other drivers. In recent years, on a decreasing number of German autobahns, where a 130kph (80mph) advisory limit still exists, I have been able to ‘max out’ a number of different cars perfectly legally. Such opportunities simply do not exist in the UK. Yet, the omnipresent danger of a slower vehicle pulling into my chosen path still filled me with dread in Germany, as much as it does on a 70mph British motorway ‘cruise’.


Picture the scene on the Isle of Man, where speed limits exist only in towns and villages. It is little wonder that


motorcyclists catch the ‘steam packet’ ferry to the island in their droves, throughout the year. In the main, they do not visit Douglas, Peel, Ramsay or Kirk Michael for the sake of full-throttle thrills but, much like the typical 4x4 consumer, if the facility is available out of town, at least they have the chance to exploit it, at their leisure. Mind you, exceed the posted limits at any times other than during TT week and you will pay the price, which these days, fortunately, should not result in a birching. The point is, the IOM TT provides an unique setting, at a specific time of every year, when bikers can stretch their machines’ legs, while they hunch theirs, jockey-like, and attempt to set a phenomenally rapid lap time. The spectacle is enthralling. The excitement is all-enveloping. The atmosphere is electric.


CARS ON THE ISLAND


Motor racing on four wheels remains a passion of both Manx visitors and island inhabitants. Although the percentage of them owning Imprezas is moderately high, compared with most mainland counties, there is a predominance around the farming communities, for obvious seasonal and accessibility reasons. Out and about on the island, a number of Manx residents are also rally competitors and, while the annual traipse to contest the Manx National Rally, or the former Manx International


With its miles of derestricted roads and a welcoming attitude towards fans of both two and four-wheeled motorsports, the Isle of Man is the UK’s own little tax haven set into the Irish Sea, states Iain Robertson, which resounded during this year’s TT Races to the raucous bark of a mildly modified Impreza STi, as it established a new car lap record on the full race course.


event, is what most mainlanders know about, there is also a five- round Manx Championship that takes in forestry as well as the island’s fast tarmac stages (for which it is famous). In years past, the International date in the calendar was guaranteed to pack every hotel, guest house and B&B on the island, with a combination of factory and private team personnel, plus the many thousands of spectators that followed the Championship around at the time. However, classic cars, hillclimbers and sprint fans also have a good range of competitive dates in the average Manx motorsporting year. In fact, it was car racing that started the phenomenon in 1904, with the Gordon Bennett Eliminating Trial. Although today’s 37.8-miles course is somewhat shorter than in that halcyon period of the early 1900s, when the 52.15-miles were covered by Clifford Earl’s Napier, at an average speed of 33.9mph, the five-lap adventure took him no less than six hours and nine minutes to complete. Were Mr Earl to have witnessed island resident, Mark Higgins, on his most recent promotional task of conducting a near-standard, US-specification Impreza around the (albeit) shorter TT lap of today, he would have surely suffered from a dose of the vapours. Mark’s phenomenal, lightly practised, solo lap (he was accompanied by a journalist for one of the earlier unofficially- timed laps) was achieved in a record-trouncing 19 minutes and 37 seconds, which equates to an average speed of no less than 115mph.


MANX-


MAN MARK


Born on the Isle of Man, on the 21st May 1971, Mark Higgins has become one of the most skilled of race and rally drivers in the UK. His fascination with competition commenced at the age of nine years, when he stated karting. It was fortunate that both of his parents shared the enthusiasm, as did his elder brother and, as long as his children, Charlotte and Ben, follow in his footsteps, the Higgins’ dynasty looks set to continue for many years to come. By the age of 17 years, having competed in a range of disciplines, including trial bikes and karts, his talents were noticed by local businessman, Roy Dixon, who went on to support his endeavours. In fact, his early talents were honed in Sweden, learning at the hands of rallying veterans Timo Mäkinen and Anders Kulläng.


Although commencing his rally career at the wheel of a Suzuki Swift GTi, he soon gravitated to the ranks of professional driver, gaining a works contract from Dealer Team Vauxhall in 1992. He continued to build his experiences and became a popular face around the various rally schools in the UK, largely because of his cheery disposition and smart appearance. By the time he was 25 years old, he was already a highly skilled competitor and became the British Rally Champion, while driving for Nissan. It was a feat he achieved on no less than three separate occasions.


Having competed at the senior levels of the


World Rally Championship, campaigning both factory entered and privately sourced cars, he has been a team-mate to drivers as diverse as Colin McRae, Markko Martin and Carlos Sainz. He delivered a number of top ten performances on the WRC throughout that period. Renowned for his industriousness, Mark is often regarded as one of the busiest men in motorsport, which has not stopped him broadening his portfolio by becoming an accredited stunt driver. One of his key moments was driving the lead ‘baddy’s’ car in the James Bond 007 epic, ‘Quantum of Solace’, but he has also carried out rally commentating duties on television, as well as co-presenting a number of motoring-related TV programmes. Most recently, he has been competing in China and the various


IMAGES: KEVIN FURBAR


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