Isle of Man—Subaru and three-time British Rally Champion driver Mark Higgins have accomplished what many manufacturers have wanted to do for a very long time: They've set a new lap record for a 4-wheeled vehicle around what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and perilous race circuits in current existence, the Isle of Man TT.
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The course covers over 37 miles of virtually unmodified public streets and mountain roads during a single lap and is traditionally contested by sportbikes of various power and prep levels, the only nontraditional motorcycles being the 3-wheel, 2-passenger sidecars. But on occasion in past years (this happens to be the centennial year for the bike races utilizing the current Mountain Course) there have been allowances for cars and their brave pilots to test their mettle on the narrow, hazard-lined roads that claim the lives of even seasoned professionals on a regular basis—seven people in fact have perished this year at the time of this writing.
The last time a 4-wheeler saw the circuit was back in 1990 when Isle of Man rally legend Tony Pond drove his V-6-powered Rover 827 Vitesse to a lap record of 22 minutes, 9.1 seconds at an average speed of 102 mph. The modified nature of the car still remains a bit nebulous today, though racing slicks were a contributing factor to the achievement.
Subaru, in an effort to showcase the capabilities of its current halo car, decided to take the course on with a predominantly stock U.S.-spec 4-door Impreza WRX STI. Modifications were made mainly in the interest of safety, with a rollcage, uprated springs and dampers (for high-speed stability), Mintex competition brake pads (stock calipers and rotors were retained), and a set of sticky but street-legal Pirelli tires. With the electronic speed limiter removed as well as the catalytic converters (the TT organizers requested the car be as LOUD as possible for spectators) and a full tank of race fuel, Higgins cracked off an astonishingly fleet "practice lap" of 19 minutes, 56.67 seconds at an average speed over 113 mph—his first complete lap ever driven at speed—which honestly proved a bit anticlimactic for an overjoyed Subaru team here.
Higgins, having grown up on the Isle of Man, is both elated and relieved over accomplishing what he holds as a life-long dream. As for the race stewards and spectators, they're eager to see what an official second or third lap might produce. We are too and we'll soon find out.