The legendary Isle of Man TT has attracted teams, riders and fans from around the world for more than 100 years. Here we take an in-depth look at some of the biggest international stars to take on the TT challenge.
Possibly one of the most famous riders in the history of the Isle of Man TT hails from Italy. GIACOMO AGOSTINI was an immensely skillful and courageous rider, and a real crowd pleaser with film star looks and enormous charm. He made his TT debut in the 1965 Junior on an MV 350 three cylinder, finishing third. The Italian star rode in just 16 TT races, winning ten and retiring just three times, finishing in the top three on the other occasions, all on MV Agustas. He completed a Senior/Junior double in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972 and won the 350 and the 500 Championships in 1972 bringing his total World titles to twelve. He won the 500 World title again in 1975 then retired at the end of the 1976 season. During his TT years Agostini gave the crowds many thrilling races and is especially remembered for the spectacular battles between himself and Mike Hailwood in the Diamond Jubilee Senior TT. Although Agostini retired with a broken chain on the fifth lap, it was a special and historic race, and one which saw all records smashed. During his TT career, he only rode for the illustrious MV Agusta team, following in the footsteps of fellow Italians, Carlo Ubbiali, Tarquinio Provini, along with the legendary Mike Hailwood, John Surtees, Gary Hocking who all enjoyed success on the Italian ‘Fire engines’.
CARLO UBBIALI achieved five TT wins during his career; four on the 10.79 mile Clypse Course and a final victory on the 37.73 mile Mountain Course. The Italian ‘maestro’ first two years on the Mountain Course, riding for the Mondial factory, saw him achieve two runner-up places in the Lightweight 125cc races, firstly behind Cromie McCandless, then Cecil Sandford. Changing camps to MV Agusta in ‘53 resulted in a ‘rare’ D.N.F. for the fiery rider from Bergamo. In the inaugural year of the Clypse Course, 1954, he was second again, this time to NSU mounted Ruppert Hollaus in the 125’s. Nineteen Fifty-five was to be the first of ‘his’ years on the Island, taking the chequered flag in the Lightweight 125 race. Double wins followed in 1956, on 125 and 250cc MV’s, against strong opposition from both NSU and Montesa. It was to be two years before he stood at the top of the podium again, in 1958, having once again taking the flag in the 125cc Race. In what was to be his final year of racing on the Clypse Course, Carlo gained another runner-up place in the 250cc and what he would describe as a ‘lowly’ fifth position in the 125cc class. With all racing held on the Mountain Course from 1960, the Italian’s swansong was to prove his racing expertise with yet another second place on the 250 MV behind his team mate Gary Hocking, setting a new lap record at 95.47 mph. His final TT – the Lightweight 125 gave him his fifth victory overall and first on the Mountain Course, setting new race and lap record during the 113.19-mile race.
TARQUINIO PROVINI only competed in twelve TT’s, between 1955 and 1965, winning four races all on the Clypse Course in consecutive years, 57, 58 & 59. Taking a coveted ‘double’ in 59. Riding Italian machines throughout, his first victory came on a 125cc Mondial in the Golden Jubilee Ultra Lightweight Race of 1957. Changing to MV Agusta machines in 1958 the fiery Italian took the chequered flag in that year’s Lightweight TT. Twelve months later Provini scored a unique double in the 125cc and 250cc classes – the last time the 10.79-mile course was used. Nineteen-Sixty saw Tarquinio move to another Italian team, Morini, chiefly because Count Agusta had withdrawn the smaller MV’s from competition. He brought home the single cylinder machine in third place. His last rides at the TT were in 1965 on the four-cylinder Benelli machines, gaining a fine fourth place in the Lightweight 250 TT of that year. DARIO AMBROSINI had three ambitions in his racing career: to win an Italian national championship, to gain a world championship and to win a TT race. The Italian achieved all three, winning the Italian 250cc title in 1947 and the other two 12 months later. Born in 1918, be began racing in 1937 on a 250 Benelli, the marque he was instrumental in putting on the ‘racing map’ in his brief career. Visiting the Pesaro factory in 1948, he was dismayed to learn that the only racing machines available were the 1939 models, but with his ambition and the renewed enthusiasm of the Benelli brothers, new models were produced for the start of the season, where a fairy-tale win was achieved at the first Grand Prix of the year. Ambrosini went on to be runner up in the ’48 championship. With new models for the 1949 world championships, the TT was included in the race programme. He approached his Island debut with his usual thoroughness and set off in the massed start race behind the Guzzi riders, which were his main opposition. In fifth place as he approached Governors Bridge at the end of the first of seven laps he dropped the red Benelli, injuring an arm which forced his retirement. He finished the season as runner-up in the 250cc world championship. Nineteen Fifty was to be the Italian’s year as the fruition of his dreams were realised. The Lightweight TT began again as a massed start and Ambrosini completed the first of the seven laps in 5th position a minute behind the race leaders. As the race progressed he upped the pace and pulled back lost time on leader Maurice Cann, starting the final lap a mere 15 seconds adrift. Timing his attack to perfection, he passed his rival on the descent of the Mountain to take the chequered flag by 0.2 second to become only the second Italian to win a Tourist Trophy Race. Dario went on to win the 1950 250cc World Championship. Three Grand Prix wins were achieved prior to the arrival in the Isle of Man for the 1951 TT, the second round of the ’51 Championships. The race had become a ‘traditional’ staggered start and over four laps of the Snaefell Course and was pipped at the post by Tommy Wood on the rival Guzzi make by 8.4 seconds. He completed the season in third place in the world title chase. Tragically, he was killed during official practice for the French Grand Prix at Albi. In the Sixties, RENZO PASOLINI was the master of road racing in Italy, on the street circuits of the cities in front of the Adriatic Sea, like Rimini, Riccione, Milano Marittima and Cesenatico. However, he only rode in seven TT Races, between 1965 and 1970, firstly on an Aermacchi, then the magnificent sounding Benelli. His best finish was second in both the Lightweight and Junior TT’s of 1968 when Bill Ivy finished ahead of him in the 250cc class, whilst his fellow countryman Giacomo Agostini beat him in the 350cc race. Renzo was tragically killed during the Italian Grand Prix.
ANGEL NIETO won a total of 13 World Championships, six in the 50cc class and seven in the 125cc category. Angel only competed in the Isle of Man TT Races once, in 1968, in the 50cc race; unfortunately, he failed to finish, his little Derbi expiring during the three-lap race. SANTIAGO HERRERO first competed in the Lightweight 250cc race of 1968 finishing in 7th position. The following year he got on to the winners rostrum with a third place finish, again in the Lightweight TT. Santiago’s promising career came to an abrupt end when he was fatally injured during the 1970 Lightweight race. Away from the TT, the Spaniard won four World Championship Grands Prix on his 250cc Ossa.
JACQUES DRION rode in two Sidecar TT’s, both on the 10.79-mile Clypse Course in 1954 and 1957 on his Norton outfit. He was one of the first Sidecar Drivers to have a female passenger as ballast. In Jacques case it was the attractive Inge Stoll-Laforge.
GEORG MEIER was the first German to win a TT Race, the Senior of 1939, on a works supercharged BMW. He only rode in the Isle of Man races twice, the first being a non-finisher in the Senior of 1938, when his BMW let him down. NSU’s WERNER HAAS rode in four TT races, in 1953 and 1954, three on the Mountain Course and once, in 54, on the newly introduced Clypse Course. Analysis of his results will show one retirement; two runner-up places and one win. Little known outside Germany before 1952, Werner’s arrived in the Isle of Man as part of the ‘works’ NSU team with the experienced Bill Lomas as teammate. All went well during practice until the final session, when Lomas came off at Sulby Bridge putting him out of that year’s TT. However, Haas did not disappoint in his debut year, finishing 41 seconds behind MV’s Les Graham and two seconds ahead of Cecil Sandford, Graham’s teammate. In the Lightweight Race, the German went into the lead in the massed start race, the NSU twin easily outpacing the single cylinder Guzzi of Fergus Anderson. By Ramsey the wily Scot was in the lead and, with mist on the Mountain, used his course knowledge to eventually lead the NSU rider home by some 17 seconds. In turn Werner was over four minutes ahead of Siegfried Wuensche on the DKW. If 1953 had been a fine introduction to the Mountain Course, 1954 was to prove the German’s ability as a master of the ‘Mountain’, taking victory in the Lightweight 250 TT from his team-mates from Ruppert Hollaus and Reg Armstrong third. His luck was to change in the Ultra Lightweight race, being held on the 10.79 mile Clypse Course for the first time, as he was forced to retire during the race with mechanical trouble. Werner Haas retired at the end of the 1954 season after NSU announced their withdrawal from Grand Prix racing. Having won the 125 and 250 world titles in 1953, he retained the 250 crown in 1954. Taking up flying as an interest, he sadly lost his life in an accident in November 1956. RUPPERT HOLLAUS only competed in the TT in 1954. Riding for the German NSU ‘works’ team he made an impressive debut in the Lightweight 250cc which was reduced to three laps of the Mountain Course. In what was a rare massed start race he came home runner-up to teammate Werner Haas who had led from start to finish. In the first event on the 10.79 Clypse Course, the Ultra Lightweight [125cc] proved to be a great success, despite there being only nine finishers in the ten lap race. Austrian Hollaus and Italian Carlo Ubbiali [MV] fought a real ‘short circuit’ battle throughout, with the NSU mounted rider taking the chequered flag by just four seconds. Such was the pace that third placed Cecil Sandford was nearly four and a half minutes adrift, while Haas crashed in his attempt to catch the two leaders. Hollaus was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, later that year, becoming the the first posthumous World Champion in 1954, in the 125cc class and was runner up to Werner Haas in the 250cc category. H-P (HAPPI) MULLER Born in Bielefeld, Müller started racing motorcycles in 1929 with a 500 cc Imperia, then changed to JAP for dirt track. In 1931 he joined the Victoria factory team where he became German Champion in the 600cc sidecar class in 1932. After Victoria stopped racing at the end of 1933, H.P. Müller raced as a privateer with his 350 cc Victoria with JAP engine during 1934 and early 1935 until Auto Union gave him a new 500 cc factory DKW. With this machine he became German Champion in the 500 cc class in 1936. The same year, he also won the Gold Medal in the six-day trial and in 1937 he was asked to join the Auto Union Grand Prix team as reserve driver. During these years, H.P. Müller the motorcycle racer changed to Hermann Müller, the grand prix driver, a name change, enforced by the head of the German Motor Sport Authority during the thirties. His first start was at the Eifel GP 1937 and he became works driver in 1938. His best results were third places at the 1937 Coppa Acerbo and sharing the drive with Rosemeyer at the Masaryk Circuit. He was wounded in a French GP crash 1938. In 1939, Müller came second to Lang in the Kahlenberg Mountain Climb where he beat Stuck in both runs. At the Grossglockner Mountain Climb, Müller again won the first heat by one second but in the second heat, he lost too much time in the fog, finishing third. He won the French Grand Prix and came second at the German Grand Prix. In the four races of the 1939 European Championship Müller outscored Lang and would under normal circumstances have been the 1939 European Champion, the equivalent of today’s World Champion. But after the conclusion of the series, the A.I.A.C.R. could not meet and the German ONS changed the existing rules to the favour of Lang and declared him the champion instead.
German sidecar pairing of FRITZ HILLEBRAND and Manfred Grunwald had a brief but impressive TT career on their BMW outfit. Competing in only three TT’s between 1954 and 1957, on the Clypse Course, their debut ride resulted in a 2nd place behind Eric Oliver/Les Nutt on the Norton. A Non Starter in 1955, the pair were in startling form in 1956 Sidecar race, as a three-way battle raged between them and fellow German’s Willi Schneider and Willi Noll. Schneider took an early lead, but dropped out on the third of the nine laps; Noll took over, but his engine started smoking, allowing former luftwaffe pilot Hillebrand to take the lead three laps from the flag, heading home an all British leader board of Norton outfits. Golden Jubilee year of the TT, 1957, again saw Fritz and Manfred demoralise the opposition smashing both race and lap records on their way to victory. By the end of the 1957, Hillebrand and Grunwald were world champions in the Sidecar class, only to become victims of a bad spill at an International meeting at Bilbao. Fritz losing his life – Manfred decided to retire. WALTER SCHNEIDER took three Sidecar race wins between his debut in 1954 and 1959. All his races were on the Clypse Course, his first victory in 1955. He and passenger Hans Strauss achieving back to back wins in 1958 and 1959. HELMUT FATH’S TT career was in two parts, 1958-1960 and 1967-1969. In both ‘parts’ he also managed to clinch a Sidecar World Championship. Fath together with passenger Alfred Wohlgemuth first competed on the Clypse Course in the Sidecar TT of 1958, retiring their BMW outfit during the 10-lap race. The following year the German pairing brought their outfit home in 4th place and collecting their first silver replicas. The Sidecar TT returned to the Mountain Course in 1960 – the first time since 1925 - and whilst it was expected to be a BMW benefit, the speculation regarding the winning crew created the interest. The 3-lap race concluded in Helmut & Alfred’s favour with a winning race speed of 84.10 mph and a fastest lap of 85.79mph. By winning a further three Grands Prix of the five that counted towards the 1960 world championship they were crowned three-wheel champions. A serious accident at Nurburgring in 1961 brought an end to a promising career. Wohlgemuth was killed and Fath spent many months in hospital convalescing before eventually to racing in 1967 on an outfit which he designed and constructed himself. Returning to the Isle of Man in 1967 with Wolfgang Kallaugh as passenger, as with Helmut’s debut in 1958, the pair retired from the race. The pair returned in 1968 and 1969 taking 4th place in ’68 and in their final outing a well-deserved 3rd podium place. Along the way Helmut and Wolfgang, with the unique URS outfit, took the world championship in 1968, finishing runners-up in ’69. MAX DEUBEL was perhaps the most famous of the many Germany competitors to race on the Isle of Man over the years. He commenced racing in May 1955 with work-mate Horst Hoehler in an ex-Walter Schneider sidecar outfit, competing in three races but failing to finish any of them. However, once they achieved their first win, in 1957, there was no stopping them, winning every race they started in the following seasons. In 1960 Deubel and Hoehler were offered another ex-Schneider BMW, this time from the BMW factory as a ‘works team’. Making their debut at the TT, on the Mountain Circuit, they failed to finish the race. Hoehler retired from the sport at the end of the season and Max was introduced to a new passenger – Emil Hoerner – who was to remain with him until the pair retired at the end of 1966. Winning their first Grand Prix together, the German, in 1961, Max and Emil followed that with a record breaking Sidecar victory in that year’s TT, increasing the race record by over 3.5 mph. At the end of the season they were world champions for the first time. 1962 was to be a milestone in the Sidecar TT, having set a record of 87.97 mph the previous year they went round the 37.73 mile course at 90.70 mph – the first 90+ sidecar lap! An engine problem forced their retirement of the final lap, letting Chris Vincent on his BSA twin through to win. The Germans however retained their world title for 1962. 1963 brought another championship, although their luck at the TT wasn’t always with them. Max and Emil crashed during practice. It was business as usual in 1964 and 1965 with back-to-back wins on the Snaefell Mountain Course, setting both new race and lap records each year. His last TT in 1966 was unusual in more than one way, firstly the meeting was held in August, instead of the ‘traditional’ June, and secondly, although Max and Emil were originally placed 2nd just 0.8 sec. behind rivals, Scheidegger and Robinson, they were promoted to first place when the ‘winners’ were excluded on a fuel technicality. Three months later on appeal Fritz Scheidegger and John Robinson were reinstated as TT winners, which also gave them the 1966 world championship. Max Deubel and Emil Hoerner both retired from the sport at the end of ’66. In 1968 Max returned to ‘his sport’ not as a competitor, but as an official of the governing body of the sport, the FIM. SIEGFRIED SCHAUZU is the most successful continental Sidecar driver in the TT’s history, having amassed a total of nine victories between 1967 and 1975 on immaculately prepared BMW outfits. It is a record number of wins he shares with fellow sidecar drivers, Dave Saville and Mick Boddice. “Sideways Sid” as he became known for his unique cornering style (at the time) not only conquered the 37.73 mile Mountain Course, but also took the German Championship no less than five times, although the Sidecar World Championship always eluded him. Six times World Sidecar Champions, KLAUS ENDERS and passenger Ralf Engelhardt also gained four Sidecar TT victories between their debut in 1966 and their final retirement in 1974. The bare statistics read as follows: 12 starts; 4 D.N.F.’s; 8 finishes and 4 wins, with four race record speeds and five fastest laps, four of which created new records. Oh and not forgetting 7 coveted silver replicas apiece! The German ‘team’ gained their first win in the 500cc Sidecar TT of 1969, setting a new race record speed of 92.48 mph and a fastest lap at 92.54 mph in the process. 1970 was to be a year of mixed fortunes. They failed to complete the course in the 750cc class, after having broken the lap record at 92.37 mph, but retained their 500cc laurels and lap speeds. Having won their third world championship in 1970, Enders decided to retire from the sport and try his luck on four-wheels. Twelve months later they were back on three wheels, having decided they preferred three to four wheel sport. Although they regained the world championship they relinquished in 1971, their return to the Mountain Course provided them with two non-finishes. Back on form in 1973 Klaus and Ralf completed the double, once again breaking all race and lap records. Their final TT in 1974 did not give them the send off they would have wished – a retirement. The pair however, ended the season as sidecar world champions, for the third successive year making them one of the most successful sidecar crews in the sport. It is interesting to note that they remained loyal to BMW throughout their racing careers on both three and four wheels. HANS-GEORG ANSCHEIDT rode in five TT races, all in the 50cc class on Kreidlet machines in 1962; ’63 and ’64. Changing to Suzuki machines for 65 & 66 he achieved his best finish in his fianl TT in 1966. Away from the Isle of Man, he won three world titles in 1966, 1967 and 1968, again in the 50cc category. He achived a total of 14 Grand Prix wins during his career.
DAVE ROPER is currently the only American to win a TT Race using conventional internal combustion engine power; the Historic TT of 1984. Riding a G50 Matchless he headed home the field in the only time this class of race has been run. Dave has also finished runner-up twice in the Senior Classic Manx Grand Prix, in 1988 and 1990. Mark Miller and the incredible looking MotoCzysz E1PC became the first American rider/bike combination to take the winner's laurels on the Mountain Course, claiming victory in the 2010 SES TT Zero challenge. The revolutionary zero-emissions bike took Miller to a then lap record of 96.82mph. Mark has been a stalwart of the TT Zero race, competing in the event every year it has been held to date (2015). Mark has also proved to be handy on more 'traditional' machinery - taking multiple top-twenty finishes, including 8th in the 2015 Bennett's Lightweight TT.
MITSUO ITO is so far the only Japanese rider to win a TT, the 50cc race in 1963 on a Suzuki machine. He rode in seven TT’s in total, all in the 50cc class. His only other Grand Prix victory was in the 1967 50cc Japanese Grand Prix. FUMIO ITO a works rider for Yamaha Fumio rode in three TT races, his best result being runner-up to Jim Redman in the 1963 Lightweight 250cc race. His only Grand Prix win was at the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix. Fumio died in March 1991. KUNIMITSU TAKAHASHI joined the Honda work's team during 1960. During that and subsequent years he competed in many Grand Prix, often gathering world championship points. His best results were winning the 250 cc class in the West Germany GP and the 125 cc class in the Ulster GP in 1961, and winning the 125 cc class in the Spanish and French GP in 1962. He was sacked by Honda during the 1964 season and later became a test driver for Nissan. Takahashi's Grand Prix racing analysis: 4 wins, 2 x 2nd, 6 x 3rd, 4 x 4th, 3 x 5th, 5 x 6th and 2 x 8th.
KEN KAVANAGH won the 1956 Junior TT, the first Australian to do so. In all he rode in 16 TT’s, retiring in no less than 11. Apart from his single victory, he also managed a second, third and fourth places. Riding Norton and Moto Guzzi machines he also gained victories at the Ulster Grand Prix, once on the Clady circuit and once on the Dundrod course which is still in use today. Hes also won in Belgium and Holland. KEITH CAMPBELL scored a second, fifth and seventh in his brief TT career. The popular Australian however scored three Grand Prix victories and took the 1957 350cc World Championship. He was tragically killed racing at Cadours in France on 13th July 1958. JACK AHEARN entered 19 TT races between 1954 and 1975, riding a variety of machinery, including Norton, Ducati. Honda and Yamaha. He had a brief spell as a works rider for Suzuki in the 1960’s. However his best TT finish was fourth in the 1966 Junior on a Norton. Jack had one Grand Prix victory at Imatra, Finland in the 500cc race 1964. JACK FINDLAY won the 1973 Senior TT on a Suzuki. In all he rode in 40 Isle of Man races, altyhough only finished in 15. Basing himself in France for many years, Jack also won the Ulster and Austrian Grands Prix during his racing career. GRAEME CROSBY won three TT’s, the first being the 1980 Senior, followed by two wins in a week the following year, taking the chequered flag in both the Formula One TT and the Classic. Another three times winner, BARRY WOODLAND scored a hattrick of wins on a Loctite-Yamaha in the Production race of 1986, 1987 and 1988. In all he rode in 31 Isle of Man races. In only his second year of competing in the TT, CAMERON DONALD was only just ‘pipped to the post’ in the Senior TT by 11 times winner John McGuinness. In seven races, his lowest finish is 16th. The likable rider, has claimed a 5th; 11th and 13th positions, all within Silver Replica time. After injury prevented Cameron from taking part in the 07 races Cameron returned with style winning the 08 Superbike race and finishing runner-up to John McGuinness in the Senior TT.
New Zealander HUGH ANDERSON had an inauspicious start to his TT career in 1960, retiring in both races in which he competed. The following year he returned, this time a ‘team captain’ of the Suzuki squad, where he showed the Japanese confidence in him was merited with a fine 10th place in the Lightweight Race. The first of his two victories on the Suzuki’s came in the 1963 Ultra Lightweight TT, which he followed up with a second victory twelve months later in the 50cc TT on the amazing little machine. DENIS IRELAND left Dunedin in 1976 to pursue a motorcycle road-racing career in Europe, which offered more financial opportunities than New Zealand. In 1978, Mr Ireland hit the headlines for the first time by winning the Race of Aces in England, beating then world champion Barry Sheene by 4sec. A year later, Mr Ireland was voted New Zealand motorcycle sportsman of the year. During two decades of mainly European events, he raced beside - and sometimes beat - some of the greats in motorcycle racing. He won the Belgian Grand Prix in 1979 and the 1982 Isle of Man Classic TT, the feature event, plus a brace of impressive placings from around the highly competitive European circuit. However, in 1979 after winning the grand prix, while contracted to the Suzuki Great Britain team, a publicity photo-shoot went "wildly wrong" and he crashed his motorcycle into a concrete post. He spent five months in hospital and had 11 operations on his leg, ankle, foot, and tendons. While in hospital, he met his future wife, Angela, a nurse. The couple now have three teenage daughters. Weeks after the birth of his first daughter, Mr Ireland retired and became involved in the heavy commercial transport industry in England. He returned to Dunedin with his family and now runs a successful motorcycle business. New Zealand rider BRUCE ANSTEY had just one ambition at the TT and that was just to finish a race. In 1999 he achieved this ambition and finished seventh in the Lightweight 250 Race. In 2000 he finished again this time deservedly stepping onto the position in second place in the Lightweight 250 Race behind the master himself Joey Dunlop and 9.1 seconds in front of Ian Lougher. Since then he has gone on to win a total of 5 TTs, all with the Ulster based TAS Suzuki Racing Team.