The speeds and secrets of the quickest corners on the Isle of Man TT course. Hold on tight…
The Isle of Man TT road races is the hardest and deadliest race meeting in the world. The track consists of 37 ¾ miles of public road that’s used by everyday traffic for 50 weeks of the year, then for two weeks in summer is converted into a race track. There is no run-off and no gravel-traps as riders race between lampposts, walls, houses, trees, and other road furniture at speeds of over 200mph. The outright lap record now stands at an average speed of 135.452mph, set by a BMW S1000RR-mounted Peter Hickman in 2018. Just think about that for a moment: top speeds of 200mph, average speeds of 135mph… around a demanding, dangerous 37¾-mile road course.
I’ve raced the TT several times and I’m still blown away by the speed of the top riders. To me, what they do is almost unimaginable and while there are 60 named corners on the Mountain Circuit, some of which are taken in first gear and slower than 40mph, there plenty more uncounted slight kinks, curves and crests. As a rider and TT fan, I wanted to know which are the fastest corners of all. And I’m looking for scary corners with knee-down, MotoGP levels of lean, not mere kinks. How much lean and at what speed are the ‘big-balls’ corners of the TT? Are they truly doing 150mph plus, knee down with only a stone wall on the exit? They can’t be, can they? And what are the riders thinking and feeling at that time?
Luckily, I raced the Isle of Man with the Bournemouth Kawasaki team in 2013 and 2014 as team-mate to James Hillier while in the SuperSport 600 class. The team is not only professional and successful, it’s rarely out of the top five either. Thankfully, they allowed me to look at James’ data on the Kawasaki ZX-10R Superbike from 2019 practice week. This way, with help from crew chief Phil Biggs, I could determine which TT corners were the fastest around the Isle of Man.
All data is taken from James Hillier’s Quatro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki ZX-10R Superbike from Monday practice. And remember, his actual race speed was even faster. We’ve also got input from 23-times TT winner, John McGuinness, and Australian ‘Davo’ Johnson who followed his first TT podium up in 2019 with a Classic Superbike win a couple of months later.
‘Ballascary’ gets its nickname not just because it’s deceptively fast but also blind, with only a stone wall for run-off. Guy Martin famously crashed here in 2010, creating a Honda fireball, and sadly this unforgiving corner claimed the life of New Zealander Paul Dobbs the same year.
The approach is flat out. You’re tucked in with your chin on the fuel tank all the way from Union Mills, past the campsite on your left, throttle pinned with occasional back brake to control the wheelies. On the approach the road dips… there is a 30mph zone sign, which is usually the braking point, and time to roll off the power. Ballagarey is one of the scariest on the track because you have time to think about it on the approach. You know you have to get it right and that the exit is lined with stone walls.
Looking at the data, Hillier approaches at 100% throttle, recording a true GPS speed of 179.3mph! He then flicks back to 5th gear, and by the time he turns towards the apex, he’s already back on the throttle. Apex speed is 131.8mph, with 45 degrees of lean. For context, most track day riders won’t even manage 45 degrees of lean on a ‘safe’ race track, never mind over a blind crest into 131mph right-hander with a stone wall as an exit.
Just after the apex, Hiller snaps the throttle to 100% and it’s head down to Crosby. On the downhill run to Crosby his ZX-10R reaches 185.7mph (in a 30mph zone) past houses, a church, and a shop. This is where Hillier had the famous ‘moment’...
Hillier says, “The approach depends on how brave I’m feeling. Just a tiny bit of brake and back a gear. Wait for the apex and fall in, then back on the power. It’s one of those corners where you think I could have gone a little bit faster.”
Johnson adds, “It doesn’t feel like a big-lean corner. I go back to 5th on the big bike but leave in top on the 600”.
After the demanding Greeba Castle and Greeba Bridge section, you run close to Harold’s wall and prepare for Gorse Lea, which is a blindingly fast right-hander with a late apex. This famous corner is popular with race fans, who line the outside of the road on the approach near the wall, unsurprising when you consider that some riders are actually knee-down here. Lap record holder, Peter Hickman, tells everyone to watch from here.
You must remember it’s a late apex. Go in too early and you run wide on the exit, which is a dense wood! Although this corner is fast, it’s not as frightening as Ballagarey as you don’t really have time to worry; instead you have to deal with the technical, physical section that precedes it.
Hillier approaches in 5th gear with a maximum speed of 166.3mph. He remains in 5th gear, rolls the throttle and ‘slows’ down to 131.4mph on the apex. Again, he’s already on the power before the apex, we know this because he continues to lean further over, but still on the throttle. At that late apex he hits 49 degrees of lean, a huge amount while carrying so much speed (in fact, we had to check the data several times to makes sure).
With an oak tree where the run-off should be, Hillier is using 100% throttle before the bike is upright ready for the straight down to Ballacraine. On this short straight he’s back up to 176mph, before jumping on the brakes for Ballacraine, a second gear right-hander.
McGuinness says, “I honestly didn’t think we were carrying that much lean! It’s a really important corner, and frustrating as you never get it perfect every lap, probably 1 in 5. You always come out thinking ‘I could have gone faster there’. It’s also in between gears, not flat in 6th, but too high in the revs for 5th. It’s a scary corner, and it always gives you a massive buzz when you get it perfect and get a good run on the exit.”
We are now half way around the lap and have Ballaugh Bridge already behind us. The entry into Quarry Bends is critical for a fast lap because you unless you get this complex just right you’ll be too slow onto the long (almost 1 mile) Sulby straight, the fastest part of the TT track.
On the approach after the jump at Ballacrye (see below), Hillier tops out at 184.7mph in 6th gear. Remember this is true GPS speed. On the entry to Quarry bends he taps back a gear and throws his ZX-10R to 49 degrees of lean, hitting the apex at a spine-tingling 136mph. Again, that is a huge amount of lean and speed to carry into a corner with, this time, a wildlife park as run-off. Yes, get this wrong and you end up in the local zoo! Through the first section, Hillier hovers the throttle at 40-50%. He then slows a little for the next 121mph left, and throws the bike to 49 degrees on the opposite side.
This section is physical, one of the hardest to get 100% right, and if you make a small mistake is can ruin the lap. Riders really notice the weight of their superbikes through this section of corners. Hillier hits 49 degrees of lean on each apex, apart from the last one which uses a mere 45.1 degrees of lean. The exit is crucial, and the Bournemouth Kawasaki tops out at 194.1mph down Sulby straight. Some bikes in this section are hitting 200mph. Again, it might be straight, but it’s bumpy, especially as you pass the pub in the left-hand side which is always packed with spectators.
Hiller: “I like that corner, but it’s hindered by the left after it. If it were just one corner it would be even quicker. You have to sacrifice the right to make the left. Back a gear, maybe a bit of brake and it’s actually knee down through there.
Johnson: “That’s a snick of the knee-down for me, just a little tap and back to 5th gear, she’s a fast one, and 5th on a 600. Sometimes I clip the curb or pavement with my knee slider on the next corner.
McGuinness: “Again it doesn’t feel like a big-lean corner, but I suppose you’re making the right tighter to make sure you get a good line for the next left. You don’t want to make the next left too tight, so you make the first part of the right last longer. It’s a really physical section on the big bike, but important to get right for the run down Sulby.”
(named after Mike Casey, a Manx rider and team-mate to TT rider liaison Milky Quayle who was killed at Ballagery in 1997. Some used to call it George’s Folly)
We are now up on the Mountain section of the TT. It’s not a very well-known corner and spectators rarely venture to this remote right-hander, which is two corners before Verandah. However, as a rider, it’s one of the corners that takes your breath away. Unlike the others, the corner is open, you can see through the bend, which means it’s not as ‘scary’ as some, but it is frighteningly quick. For me, it’s one of my favourite corners on the track. The corner is so fast, riders don’t stick out their knee, even on a Superbike, instead, they stay tucked-in, Moto3 style.
For Hillier, it’s another blisteringly quick, 6th gear approach, but this time he stays in 6th and simply rolls the throttle a fraction and hits the apex at 148.9mph! That is a true 150mph and 6th gear corner with a lean angle of 44.7 degrees. On the exit, he’s back to 100% throttle and back up to 158.4mph before knocking back two gears to 4th for the next left. Can you imagine being tucked in, knees against the fuel tank, nearly 45 degrees of lean at 150mph? Wow.
Hillier: “Where is that? Oh yeah, that is fast and there is a very fine line… you have to get that right. You could put your knee down but the wind would probably try to rip your leg off, so I stay tucked in.”
Johnson: “It’s a fast corner, I may roll a little but as it’s so fast I stay tucked in and don’t stick out my leg.”
McGuinness: “F*cking hell-fire, that is a proper corner that one. I stay tucked in not knee down, but I pop up a little and use my body as an air brake, taking some of the speed off. I roll a bit and get back on the power. You have to be careful and accurate here, and sometimes the side winds can throw you offline a little.”
We are up on the Mountain at Brandywell – at just under 2000 feet, the highest point on the TT course. It is approached by the long drive up Hailwood’s Rise. Before the left of Brandywell, which is taken in 3rd, there’s a right-hander which has to be hit with surgical precision, as you need to get to the right-hand side of the track for the approach to the left at Brandywell. This is a tricky section onto a fast right, then hit the brakes for the tight left which is Brandywell. As the approach up Hailwood’s Rise is fast and smooth, it’s another one of those corners you have too much time to think about.
Hillier hits 188.3mph on the approach, then closes the throttle to 7% and hits the apex at 155.4mph! As a former TT rider, I was unsure if this would count as a corner, but with 44.1 degrees of lean, it’s certainly a corner and not just a kink, that is knee down levels of lean. On the exit, Hillier gives the ZX-10R 100% throttle for 0.3 of a second, then jumps on the brakes and knocks back three gears for the actual Brandywell corner. I find this almost unbelievable, as I brake well before the kink, and certainly don’t accelerate again before Brandywell.
Hillier: “Try to carry the speed and stay in the bubble, you have to get the right line, which sets you for the next left-hander. It’s knee down for some, but I stay tucked in. It’s a really physical corner and section.”
Johnson: “I’m back to 5th and just rev the sh*t out of it. Ha ha, I just love to rev it! It’s fast as I’m on the limiter on the Fireblade superbike.
McGuinness: “It’s a bit like Quarry Bends as you’re smashing it right on the approach to open up the left of Brandywell. You have to get Brandywell correct, get the drive or you mess up the next fast section. I brake a bit early for this one, use less pressure, and try and be smooth rather than charging up to it.
The Creg-Ny-Baa is one of the most famous corners on the TT course, but following the Creg is fast downhill straight which leads to Brandish, a very fast left-hander, one of the longest corners at the TT. As it’s downhill after the Creg, it’s very fast, even on a 600. This is again one of my favourite corners: it’s fast and open, the lap is almost done, and on the last lap you’re nearly home!
On the approach, Hillier hits 188.8mph, goes back two gears to 4th gear, and hits the apex at 121mph and 14,100rpm. Some riders take Brandish in 5th but Hillier and lap record holder Peter Hickman both go down to 4th gear.
What makes Brandish unusual for the TT and a favourite amongst riders is the length of the corner and its lean angle, 49.5 degrees at the apex. That is enough lean to get an elbow down if you were crazy enough, and it takes six seconds from entry to exit. Most corners on the TT course only take a few seconds, or even less.
Hillier: “Last year I was just going down to 5th, but now I’m experimenting and going down to 4th. That corner is probably one of the fastest corners I’ve ever experienced on a motorbike. It’s so fast, the lean angle and speed send your eyes a bit funny. And you’re in the corner for a long time… it’s one of my favourites on the track.”
Johnson: “It’s 5th gear for me, but don’t tell anyone. I love it, it’s a mad corner with big lean, knee slider scraping on the ground… got to love it. It’s proper lean at proper speed.”
McGuinness: “It’s a proper corner this one. I’m in fifth, I’m sure I am. They changed the corner in 2007, but it seems to change each year, with more bumps and ripples. It’s always a little vague, the grip and feel aren’t there. James, Michael Rutter and lots of the lads are knee down for ages around here’ but I’m not. I hang off, leg out a bit, but not keen down. Again, I didn’t realise the lean, that’s proper.”
Around the TT course, the bikes leave the road and are airborne several times. Some are minor kicks, when the wheels momentarily leave the road, some are full-fat jumps with both wheels leaving the ground and big air obtained. Ballaugh Bridge is probably the most famous. Here bikes leap into the air but at relatively slow speeds of under 60mph.
While looking at the data I wanted to find the fastest jump when both wheels are off the ground, and that’s the very demanding Ballacrye. Personally, I love the jumps around the TT, but you have to be cautious and make sure both the take-off and landing are perfect. Interestingly, you have to take the jump on the right side as it’s steeper on the left. Hillier approaches the jump in 6th gear, closes the throttle for 0.7 seconds, and then gets back on the throttle at 100%. The GPS logs a take-off speed of 149.3mph and the jump lasting just over a second. While in the air, the rear wheel is spinning 16mph faster than the front wheel. From the data, we can also see both the forks and rear shock are fully extended, which means both wheels are in the air at 150mph! You wouldn’t get that in MotoGP.
McGuinness: “I’m in fifth over the jump, not top. I always seem to get the front much higher than the rest over the jump, landing on the back wheel first, then wheelie a little. Josh Brookes was the man over this. He loves a big jump does that man.”
John McGuinness 23 times TT winner, former lap record holder, and the first man to lap the TT averaging 130mph in 2007. His fastest lap is 132.701mph
James Hillier 14 TT podiums and one TT win to his credit. He’s also the 7th fastest ride ever around the TT course with an average speed of 132.414mph.
David Johnson Australian ‘Davo’ took his first TT podium in 2019, followed by a classic TT win in the Superbike class. His best lap is 131.595mph average.