HIGGINS GUNNING FOR TT LAP RECORD
SET FOR NEW TT RECORD RUN
Mark Higgins will return to the Isle of Man next week, when he starts testing a Prodrive-prepared Subaru WRX STI for another TT course lap record.
The Manxman’s attempt was announced at a press conference in Douglas last week.
Higgins broke Tony Pond’s 21-year-old lap record in 2011. He then returned to best his own time three years later.
Now James Bond’s stunt driver and Subaru America have their eyes on a 120mph average for the 37.75 miles. They’ll get three flying laps between May 28-June 11 to give it a go.
Pond became the first driver to take a car around the circuit at an average speed of more than 100mph – the late rally star managed 102.195mph in a production-based Rover 827 Vitesse in 1990. Higgins lowered Pondy’s 22m09s to 19m37s in 2011 before going 22 seconds faster in 2014. The record stands at 117.510mph.
Higgins will be looking at the first sub-19-minute lap on four wheels if he is going to stand any chance of getting near a 120mph average.
Fortunately, he is coming with a slightly different car to the nearstandard Subaru he used previously.
“The cars I drove for the last two attempts were fantastic,” Higgins told MN. “With just a little bit of work on the suspension and safety equipment, it was great to achieve the lap times with what was pretty much a standard road car. But this time the Subaru is based on a World Rally Car.”
Subaru America has retained sixtime World Rally champion Prodrive to work on the car, with additional input from STI, Subaru’s own motorsport department in Japan.
The best Subaru brains in the world have come together to produce the ultimate WRX for the ultimate lap of arguably the ultimate track. So far, Higgins has driven the car on two airfields: Turweston and Bruntingthorpe – but next week he is heading home to the Isle of Man, to test on Manx roads for the first time. The team will close a 2.5-mile section of the island’s Round Table stage.
“The systems checks I’ve done in the car have given me a rough idea of how the car may perform,” said Higgins, “but it’s only next week that we’ll really know what sort of performance is possible. The road we are using is a really good stretch of rally stage with some really high-speed corners, we’ll see what’s what then.”
After that, the next time the triple British Rally champion will drive the car in anger will be as he heads across the start-finish straight in Douglas, bound for Bray Hill at more than 160mph in early June.
Out on the faster sections of the lap, Higgins previously maxed out at 164mph – he could be north of 170mph this time around.
“We should be looking at getting a bit more out of this year’s car,” said Higgins, “but at the same time, we’re doing this without taking unnecessary risks.”
And that means a lift at the bottom of Bray Hill, a place where Higgins’ heart beats just a little faster following his 150mph moment in 2011.
“Even before that moment I knew Bray Hill would be one of the trickiest parts of the lap,” Higgins said. “You drive down there at 30 or 40mph and nothing prepares you for what it’s going to be like at 160. It’s flat on a bike, so I thought it would be the same in the car. Turns out I was wrong! It’s definitely a lift now – we’re going to be sensible.”
Higgins won’t know exactly when he can drive his laps, that’s in the hands of the weather.
He added: “It’s quite tricky not knowing exactly when you’re going to get to go – but that’s what it’s like every year for the boys on the bikes, so you just have to get on with it. I’ll probably do a few practice laps on a bike myself, just to remind myself what the roads are looking like. Trouble is, the circuit’s a living thing and it’s changing all the time – you never get two laps identical and with it being so long with hundreds of corners, the perfect lap is pretty much impossible. But we’ll give it a go.”
Higgins’ deference to the bikes is understandable. Impressive as his 117mph average is, John Mcguinness still holds the outright record at 132.701mph – that’s 17m03.567s for 37.75 miles on a Honda CBR1000RR last year.
Officials at Rally Argentina are confident they can deliver the kind of safe event needed to keep the South American event on the World Rally Championship calendar next year.
Argentina and Rally Poland received a formal warning for spectator control from the FIA last year – similar issues this time around will result in the rallies being ejected from the calendar.
Six fans were injured when Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon rolled his i20 WRC on the Capilla del Monte to San Marcos stage in Argentina last season.
WRC safety delegate Michele Mouton inspected the Rally Argentina route last month and forced a complete rethink of the leg two stages.
General coordinator of the event David Eli said: “We had to make a compromise with this year’s rally, but we have to recover. We will implement areas closed to the public this year and we will inform spectators of precise locations.”
Dr Jorge Rosales, president of Automobile Club Argentina added: “We are working hard with all parties to improve security this year. We worked with Michele Mouton to ensure that people enjoy this event and the event continues for many years.”