IOM St John's Course
An early variant of the road racing course for motorcycles, the St John's Course was the short-live original home of the famous Tourist Trophy.
Running from St John's to Ballacraine, Kirk Michael, Peel and back to St John's, the course was used for three editions of the TT only, before racing switched to now ubiquitous Mountain Course.
With the full Mountain Course proving too tough for the machinery of the day, motorcycle trials had previously been held on a shortened course linking Douglas with Castletown and Peel. However, in 1907 it was decided that a new course from St John's to Ballacraine, Kirk Michael, Peel and back to St John's should stage the first two-wheeled Tourist Trophy. Again the public roads were closed by Act of Tynwald (the parliament of the Isle of Man).
The time-trial format that is still familiar today was soon settled upon, with two races organised, one for single-cylinder machines and another for twins. Both would require the winner to cover 10 laps of the St John's Short Course in their road-legal touring motor-cycles, complete with exhaust silencers, saddles, pedals and mud-guards.
The startline was situated in the village of St John's itself, heading out on the A1 Douglas to Peel road, then the A3 Castletown to Ramsey road and the primary A4 Peel to Kirk Michael Coast Road. The highest point of the course is at St John's Chapel situated on the Cronk-y-Voddy straight, some 780 ft above sea level.
The road was dusty and unaltered from its normal daily usage, save for the curious decision to spray the Ballacraine to Kirk Michael section of the course with acid to try and contain the plumes of dust which emerged whenever the riders went over. It had no discernible effect, except for burning holes in the riders' leathers...
Amidst these humble beginnings, at 10am on Tuesday 28 May 1907, 25 riders set off in pairs, with 17 in the single cylinder-class (Class One) and another eight in the twin cylinder class (Class Two). The Class one machines were allowed one gallon (4.5 litres) of petrol for every 90 miles, while the twins could use one every 75 miles.
Frank Hulbert and Jack Marshall spluttered away from the line on their Triumphs to begin what was to be more than 100 years of tradition. Marshall took the lead when his teammate Hulbert stopped to change a plug, but fell on the second lap. He continued with a twisted ankle. Charles R. Collier assumed the lead on his pedal-assisted Matchless and rode on to victory in Class One after a gruelling 4 hours, 8 minutes and 8 seconds at an average race speed of 38.21 mph.
The win was not without controversy; with the help of his pedals, Collier completed the race at an average of 94. 5 miles to the gallon. The Triumph of Marshall, without assistance, averaged 114 mpg, and it was argued that Marshall would have won if he'd fitted pedals. The easiest means of avoiding such disputes was adopted the following year when pedals were banned.
The Twin-Cylinder class was just as eventful, with Rem Fowler on a Norton taking the initial lead, before hitting problems with drive belts and ignition. Worse was to come when a burst tyre pitched him off at 60mph at the 'Devil's Elbow'. He almost gave up until informed by a spectator that he was actually still in the lead by some 30 minutes! He duly continued on to the win at an average race speed of 36.22mph, setting an overall fastest lap at an average 42.1 mph. His problems meant that he came in 13 minutes behind Collier.
For the 1908 race the fuel consumption was raised to 100 mpg for single-cylinder machines and 80 mpg for twins, while volunteers to act as course marshals were called for for the first time. The previous year's race endured multiple brushes with local traffic and sheep, so the Manx Government came up with the clever plan to of enrolling marshals as special constables, a tradition that has continued until the present day.
The race was won by Jack Marshall on a Triumph, overcoming a crash at Kirk Michael on the first lap to beat Collier by two minutes, at an average speed of 40.49mph. Harry Reed won the twin class on his Peugeot-engined DOT after early leader Fowler was forced to retire. Once again the average speed of the winning twin was slower than that of the smaller capacity single.
For the 1909 event the fuel consumption regulations were abandoned along with the use of exhaust silencers, while the two class system was also ditched in favour of a straight race. The single-cylinder machines were limited to a capacity of 500cc and the twin-cylinder machines to a 750cc engine capacity, prompting many to switch to twins. The ACU also did away with compulsory silencers but, to keep the 'tourist' tradition alive, still insisted on mudguards and saddles.
Marshall was first away on the single-cylinder Triumph, but was soon caught by the new twin of Harry Collier and American Lee Evans, riding a vee-twin Indian. Collier led the American after the halfway break, but the ever-determined Marshall fought back to second, only to drop out when his Triumph hit terminal valve problems. Collier went on to win, with Evans second and Billy Newsome a brilliant third on a single-cylinder Triumph.
Due to the concern over increasing lap-speed, the 1910 event saw the capacity of the twin-cylinder machines reduced to 670cc. However, Harry Bowen riding a BAT twin-cylinder motor-cycle increased the lap record to an average speed of 53.15 mph, later crashing-out of the event on the wooden banking at Ballacraine. The Collier brothers and their twin-cylinder Matchless machines proved the pick of the field, with Charlie winning at a record-breaking 50.63 mph, and Harry coming in second in front of the single-cylinder Triumph of Billy Creyton.
Following the 1910 event it was decided to switch racing to the Mountain Course as used by the automobile TT races. There it has remained ever since.
This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.
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The start of the original St John’s Course was at in the village of St John's itself, heading out on the A1 Douglas to Peel road, then the A3 Castletown to Ramsey road and the primary A4 Peel to Kirk Michael Coast Road. The highest point of the course is at St John's Chapel situated on the Cronk-y-Voddy straight. The paddock was next to the old stonewall at the Tynwald Inn, while the blackboard from the nearby schoolhouse served as a scoreboard.
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