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Car and Driver: Isle of Man Record-Holder Mark Higgins Thinks He Can Go Even Faster

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We’re seated in the back of of a 2016 Subaru WRX STI, and Mark Higgins is giving us a tour of the full 200-plus turn Isle of Man TT circuit. With the speedometer sitting pretty at approximately 100 mph through most of our run, Higgins shouts out the braking points, apexes, and gear position he’ll need to be in to successfully tackle the course at an average speed of 130 mph in his purpose-built Prodrive Subaru Isle of Man Challenge 3 WRX STI.

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The native-born professional rally car driver has already obliterated his previous record around the course, shaving nearly 2 minutes and adding more than 12 mph by clocking with a run of 17 minutes, 35 seconds at an average pace of 128.73 mph. Of course, he did so by switching from a predominantly stock 2015 Subaru WRX STI last time, to a purpose-built, 600-hp WRX STI developed with the aid of Prodrive.

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Higgins calls the car “almost an extension of [my] body. You almost think the car through the corner rather than turning it,” and reckons it’s capable of getting him around the course’s pockmarked pavement and narrow public roads at an average speed of 130 mph if conditions are right. That would cut the lap time down to approximately 17 minutes and 24 seconds, putting him within 6 mph and 25 seconds of Michael Dunlop’s recently achieved overall course record.

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“If somebody had said to me before we came here, that we’d be anywhere near 130, I would have categorically said, ‘you’re having a laugh,’” Higgins quipps. “Everything has come from the chassis, the aero…we just go around the corners so much faster.”

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But going this fast around the deadly circuit isn’t without its dangers. No automobile has ever traveled at these speeds around the more-than-37-mile long course, which starts in the island’s crowded capital city of Douglas, heads north to the open fields surrounding Snaefell mountain, and eventually snakes back into Douglas. Higgins’ father, Tony, a former rally car driver himself, will be following him as closely as possible in a stock Subaru WRX STI equipped with life-saving equipment should something go wrong during the run. With little-to-no runoff room in the city sections, and a distinct lack of guardrails to protect contestants from sliding off the roads that meander around Snaefell mountain’s edges, death is all too common.

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“You’re risking your [life] when you go out and do this every time,” Higgins acknowledged.

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The point is further driven home when Higgins’ final attempt to break his own record is canceled at the last minute due to a fatal accident during the event’s premiere race—the Senior TT. Mortality is a common theme at the TT, but it doesn’t seem to stop Higgins from wanting to see his name in the Isle’s record books as the only individual to successfully lap a car through the circuit’s undulating straightaways and blind apexes at an average clip of 130 mph.

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“Records are meant to be beaten,” the Manxman conceded, “so it’d be nice to set a record that stands for a long time.”

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