Every year, motorcycle racers and fans flock to the Isle of Man for the annual TT race. But, it’s not often that just anyone sets out to break the 4-wheel record on the 37.73 mile course. Over the past 5 years, Mark Higgins, in partnership with Subaru of America, has done just that on three separate occasions. This year he was able to absolutely destroy his previous record with a time of 17:35 (-1 minute 40 seconds) at a mind-blowing average speed of 128.73 miles per hour.
DirtFish is extremely proud to have been a part of of this monumental event, partnering with Mark to help him achieve the new record. With DirtFish’s connection to Subaru of America, the partnership made sense and provided a very intriguing opportunity to align with a unique and possibly historic event.
In 2011, Mark drove a mostly stock Subaru WRX STI sedan with the goal of obtaining a new record around the island. The previous record for a car was set twenty-one years earlier in 1990, with Tony Pond behind the wheel of a Rover 827 Vitesse. He established a record time of 22:09 with an average speed of 102.195 miles per hour. Mark smashed Pond’s time by over two minutes to become the new record holder!
Mark and the Subaru team returned to the Isle of Man again in 2014 to break his record set in 2011. With his return, Mark drove the new 2015 WRX STI to help promote the global launch of the updated version of the model, which was again a mostly production-based car with upgraded suspension to handle the bumpy roads of Manx. He surpassed his previous record by over 40 seconds, with a total time of 19:15.88 at an average speed of 117.51 miles per hour. This was fifteen mph faster and nearly three minutes quicker than Tony Pond’s 1990 record.
This year, Subaru of America decided to step up the engineering of the car (huge understatement). For the first time since dropping out of the World Rally Championship, Subaru teamed up with world-renowned Prodrive to attempt the 2016 record. Prodrive has built some of the most iconic and competitive Subaru WRC cars of all time, driven by the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg, all of whom went on to win World Rally Championship titles driving these cars.
In collaboration with Subaru Tecnica International (STI), Prodrive was tasked with preparing a 2016 Subaru WRX STI for this year’s running. Deemed the “WRX STI Time Attack”, the car was engineered and designed specifically to break the Isle of Man record. Prodrive has a history of building extremely successful rally and road racing cars. With a wide range of successful engineering and technological expertise, Prodrive built the incredible Time Attack car. First off, the car is powered by a 2.0-litre boxer engine that is based off of the engine that Prodrive used in their WRC cars. The major difference between the two engines is where each reaches the redline. The Time Attack car will rev to 8,500 rpm, where as the WRC engine topped-out around 6,500 rpm. While the WRC cars already have an impressive amount of torque, Prodrive opted to equip the new car with a larger turbo and different engine mapping, literally giving it nearly 600 horsepower and roughly 400 lb/ft of torque.
Since there are few rules and regulations governing limitations on a car [at the TT], Prodrive was able to throw nearly every piece of technology they had at the car. For the quickest shifts possible, the car was given the same paddle shift gearbox as the World Rally cars. They did however make some changes to the gearing; there is a lot of time spent flat-out on the TT course, therefore the gears above 3rd are meant to give the car higher top speeds, while 1st, 2nd and 3rd are there to help accelerate out of the corners as quickly as possible. Mark believes the top speed is what was limiting him from breaking through that 130 mph average speed on his first run and getting even closer to the record of the superbikes. “I think we could have achieved it  on Friday, as there was a small sensor that failed on the first run that reduced power, and there is always a few seconds to come from myself and the circuit” said Mark. In addition to help with the balance between enough downforce in the turns and too much drag on the high speed sections, Prodrive equipped the car with a drag reduction system (DRS), which Mark was able to control with the push of a button. This changes the angle of the rear wing giving him more or less downforce depending on what is needed based on varying conditions of the road.
The Isle of Man TT course is a completely tarmac circuit. You might think that Prodrive would just take everything they have developed for their Aston Martin GT cars and put it into the Subaru. You would be half correct in your thinking – yes, the car would be able to go through the corners faster. However, since the TT course is on public roads it is far from the smooth perfection found on racetracks. With bumps scattered throughout the 37-mile course, the decision was made to use Exe-TC suspension with a similar setup to what is found on tarmac rally cars. The previous two attempts were done on street legal tires. For this go-round, the team opted to use a medium compound Dunlop Sport Maxx racing slick, giving the car much more traction through the corners. All of this added engineering and technology helped Mark corner the car faster and reach higher top speeds than cars in the past.
Due to the unfortunate loss of one of the Senior TT during their final race, Mark and the team were unable to complete their final attempt last Friday. So, until the next attempt (could it be next year?) the record will remain at 17:35 and 128.73 mph.
Just as amazing as the record for a car, Mark is only about 5 miles per hour off the superbike record that was set this year by Michael Dunlop at an average speed of 133.96. Considering that bikes are reaching speeds well over 200 miles per hour in the fast sections, shows you how much time Mark is able to gain on the bikes through the corners. If the car had more top speed, Mark is confident he would be able to get very close to Dunlop’s superbike record.
Keep checking back over the next couple of weeks for the official onboard video of the full lap!
Check out the videos below from Mark’s two 2016 runs put together by Autocar.
Article by Trevor Wert (DirtFish)