Michael Fernie profile picture Michael Fernie 6 years ago
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What It's Like Blasting Through Villages At 140mph In A Subaru WRX STI

I'd like to think I've had my fair share of full throttle passenger rides, but a flat-out lap of the Isle of Man TT course exposed me to a whole new level of speed, grip and adrenaline

Remind me later
What It's Like Blasting Through Villages At 140mph In A Subaru WRX STI - Blog

A 6am wakeup is never pleasant, especially after a long day of travelling down from Scotland to the ‘beautiful’ city of Coventry. But a private jet to the Isle of Man perks me up on what should be an incredible day of motorsport. CT is kindly shipping me off to the TT to witness Subaru attempting to smash its car lap record from 2014.

The Isle of Man is a lot more remote than I previously thought; it feels like it has been stuck in a time warp for the past fifty years, with its tiny airstrip and narrow country roads enclosed by tall hedgerows. Entering the main town of Douglas, the quaint fishing boats bob silently in the harbour and give off a sense of serenity about the place. And yet a few hundred metres up the main street, a potentially lethal combination of speed and bravery is culminating.

The TT is an annual motorbike event that takes place solely around a 37.7 mile course that covers the vast majority of the island. Coursing through a number of villages and up into the remote moorland in the north, the lap features many 200mph straights as well as tricky, unforgiving corners that have claimed many rider’s lives over the years. Cars are almost frowned upon considering how bike-biased the TT is, and yet Subaru is putting its neck on the line to see what it’s made of.

What It's Like Blasting Through Villages At 140mph In A Subaru WRX STI - Blog

The car in question? A heavily modified WRX STI, all orchestrated with Prodrive – a company synonymous with motorsport success. And stepping into Subaru’s paddock, the sheer presence of their creation is quite intimidating. Almost 600bhp, all-wheel drive, a pneumatic, DRS rear wing and a Nokia 6310…they haven’t held back on this one. Obviously, Subaru doesn’t want us journalists being thrown around the TT course in a couple of million pounds-worth of research and development. Instead, a professional driver will take us around the track in a standard WRX STI, a car that still shouldn’t be sniffed at.

Having just seen the 600cc bikes tearing past the grandstand at 170mph on what is essentially a village high street, I begin to get slightly apprehensive about being torn around the Isle of Man at full chat, considering the reputation of the course. And rolling through the fence and onto the track, it becomes plain that my driver either knows the course like the back of his hand or is out of his mind.

He wasn't hanging around...
He wasn't hanging around...

Accelerating as hard as possible down Bray Hill, all four tyres screech at their limit as we tear past a line of semi-detached housing. Approaching the first hairpin, I manage to sneak a peek at the speedometer; 155mph to 30 in a matter of seconds. Three hundred horsepower suddenly seems more than enough as we then sling out of the other side of the hairpin and take off west away from the start/finish line; there’s no going back now.

The Subaru WRX STI has unbelievable traction, even on a set of tyres that have been sitting cold in a paddock for days. The four-wheel drive gives the driver the confidence to put the power down nice and early from the corner exit, meaning that we carry some simply staggering speeds through the tight country roads.

As we enter a rural area of the course, the open expanses of green fields only seem dangerous once people begin to populate certain jumps, stretching their phones out into the road to get the perfect flyby. Forget Silverstone, forget Goodwood. If you want to get up close to the most extreme motorsport – potentially on the entire planet – the Isle of Man is your place.

Our driver, being the legend he is, holds back from the other press Subarus in front so that he can really give it some through his ‘favourite’ parts of the course, with one of these being the narrow-tarmacked village of Kirk Michael. Taking a full run-up, we enter the village streets at 100mph, four-wheel drifting onto the main street where white cottages produce a narrow corridor, ramping up the sense of speed to eleven.

I’ve been told by the boss to get some sick onboard footage so I choose Kirk Michael to try and capture the sheer pace that we are carrying through this quiet village. And the way that the locals seem to treat the TT is quite startling. We pass an elderly chap repairing his stone garden wall by a couple of feet and yet he seems to treat it like the norm; he isn’t letting anything disturb his DIY, especially not something with FOUR wheels. In fact, there seems to be a general lack of enthusiasm from the fans for the standard WRX STIs, with many onlookers seemingly uninterested as we fly past at ‘only’ 145mph. If it isn’t a bike and it isn’t wheelying every couple of seconds, they’re not interested.

As if in response to the haters, our driver then announces that he’s going to ‘hit this kerb like the sidecars do’ and promptly launches the Scooby onto just its two offside wheels. My face is mashed into the side of the bucket seat as the weight of the car shifts violently to one side and yet, as the car comes crashing back down, the all-wheel drive system keeps the Subaru stable and planted. Not once do I feel that the STI is being pushed past its limit, even considering that we’re averaging almost 100mph across the course.

This guy knew his stuff
This guy knew his stuff

Seeing as the driver is a local, I get the sense that this is his bread and butter. Across the Irish Sea in the mainland, the majority of youngsters grow up with football while back on this remote rock, everyone gets their first bike before their 10th birthday and sets about learning how to tinker with their carbs, suspension and - most important of all - hone their driving skill on the derestricted country roads.

I’ve had many high-calibre passenger rides; I’ve had my face torn off by a 600hp Nissan GTR, my bowels rearranged by a truly chaotic Ultima Can-Am. But the sheer commitment that is required to clip the grass verges of the upper moorland of the island is truly eye-opening. Again the tyres complain as we switch lanes through the final right-to-left sweeper at 140mph, with our driver not even close to lifting.

I manage to grab a quick snap from the top of the mountain, looking down to Kirk Michael
I manage to grab a quick snap from the top of the mountain, looking down to Kirk Michael

We exit the course through an opened fence and sit in a petrol station while the car is refuelled, giving me a chance to try and calm my heart rate and quantify the experience. Journalists have frequently shunned the WRX STI; it has always been made out to be a failure after the cult following of the Impreza, and a car that’s out-of-date compared to its numerous competitors. I for one have a whole new respect for the car, and it reaffirms my thoughts on the near unquantifiable limit of modern all-wheel drive performance cars. The car was planted for the entire twenty minutes of flat-out driving, never getting out of shape even at speeds that would have you jailed back on the mainland.

The Isle of Man is a beacon of unrestricted motoring just a thirty-minute flight from the UK and is a pilgrimage that all petrolheads should make. Even if bikes aren’t your thing, the sheer freedom that is given to the riders and in this case Subaru is completely unique outside of a trackday. Subaru go on to smash the lap record in the modified STI and considering the capabilities of the standard car not long after my passenger ride, I’m not in the slightest bit surprised. But the main thing I learned from the island hoon? I’ve spent too much time playing football.