History of the Manx Grand Prix
The Manx Grand Prix first took place in 1923, 16 years after the first Isle of Man TT Races, although the initial request for a race for young motorcycling amateurs and private entrants was put forward by the Manx Motor Cycle Club in 1921. This was dismissed out of hand by the ACU but two years later it finally got off the ground.
One of the problems they faced then was how to actually define an amateur rider and long and complicated rules were eventually drawn up. Indeed, the rules were extensive and open to various interpretations but it formed the basis for the races to go ahead on the Mountain Course on 20th September 1923.
In that first year, and up until 1929, there was just one class – 500cc – with a special award going to the best performance by a rider on a 350cc machine. Five laps had to be covered, one less than the TT, with the 1923-1929 races going under the title of the ‘Manx Amateur Motor Cycle Road Race Championships.”
New rules and regulations
It was in 1930 that the birth of the Manx Grand Prix took place with new regulations being drawn up. It was no longer a race for amateurs but one where experts were banned. The rules included the following statement:
‘All entrants, who shall be the drivers, must be British or Irish subjects resident in the British Isles or the Irish Free State, and must hold competition licenses. They must not, since 1920, have been entered as a competitor in any International road race or have held any world motorcycling world record. The race is to be machines for 350cc and 500cc and to be over six laps of the TT course. The meeting is to be known as the Manx Grand Prix.’
The races have been going ever since, continuing to be held in their traditional dates, usually spanning the end of August and early September. The ‘MGP’ or ‘Manx’ (as it is more commonly known) is considered to be the amateur rider’s alternative to the Isle of Man TT Races, also acting as a stepping stone for those who eventually want to compete at the TT.
Having initially started out as a one-race meeting, by the mid-1950s, the established format saw races for the Senior (500cc), Junior (350cc) and Lightweight (250cc) classes. This remained until 1978 when the same races were introduced for newcomers to the Mountain Circuit. A newcomer has always been allowed to go straight to the TT, and many have including the likes of Mike Hailwood, Joey Dunlop, John McGuinness, Giacomo Agostini and Bruce Anstey but the only opportunity for a newcomer to have their own race is at the Manx.
The Newcomers races are the only opportunity for newcomers to race the circuit in competition and since 1978, many riders who have competed in the races have gone on to bigger and better things at the TT including Steve Hislop, Carl Fogarty, Phil Mellor, Rob McElnea, Ian Simpson and Jason Griffiths. It was particularly popular with Irish riders and Phillip McCallen, Robert Dunlop, Norman Brown, Adrian Archibald, Ryan Farquhar, James Courtney, Martin Finnegan and Richard Britton are others who have progressed to the TT via this route.
In general, many riders who achieved success at the Manx GP moved on to the TT and from the mid-1950s, up until the late 2000s, a rule was in place that a Manx GP race winner had to automatically move on to the TT. Amongst this list are legendary names like Freddie Frith, Geoff Duke and Phil Read.
Once a rider had won a Manx Grand Prix, regulations prevented them from re-entering too unless they wished to do so on Classic machinery, something that numerous riders took advantage of. The only loophole in this rule was that riders could contest the TT and continue to race in the modern classes at the Manx as long as they’d only compete in the Production TT classes.
From the Manx to the TT
However, towards the end of the 2000s, these rules were relaxed and riders who moved from the Manx to the TT could re-enter the September event, even former race winners, as long as they hadn’t finished in the top twenty at the TT or won a silver replica. This was done to safeguard the Manx as in the last two decades its survival has continued to be threatened due to spiralling costs and a lack of visitors to the island.
Indeed, the event was changed considerably in 2013 when it was split into two halves. The Classic TT was introduced, incorporating Classic races for Superbike, 500cc, 350cc and 250cc machines on the middle Saturday of the fortnight and Monday of race week with the races being organised by the same people who run the TT. The Manx Motor Cycle Club, who had been running the Manx GP since 1923, would then take over for the remainder of race week with the Manx races taking place on Wednesday and Friday.
This wasn’t a popular decision with the Manx Motor Cycle Club expressing considerable disappointment but the Isle of Man Government have been more than vindicated by their decision with visitor figures having risen from circa 9000 in 2012 to more than 15,000 in 2016. With all the top TT riders contesting the Classic TT races, along with numerous parades and displays including great riders from the past, the costs of closing the Mountain Course for another two-week period have been offset by the revenue generated by the higher attendance.
Welcoming the Classic TT
The Classic TT is now considered to be the best event of its kind in the world and whilst the Manx GP doesn’t quite have the status it once did – when race winners could move on to the TT and be immediately challenging for leaderboard places – it remains the pinnacle for many club racers around the UK.
The number of races and classes at the Manx has changed over the years but one area where it has always differed from the TT is that it has never catered for sidecars. At present, the event consists of a four-lap race for Newcomers (split over two classes), a four-lap Junior race, a four-lap Supertwin and Lightweight race, and a four-lap Senior race.
The Classic TT also has four races, all of which are again over four laps. The Senior and Lightweight Classic TT races take place on Saturday with the Junior and Superbike races held on Monday.
Various awards are given at the Manx GP each year. The Manx Motorcycle Club relies exclusively on entry fees and donations to fund the awards. Many trophies and cups have been donated in the past and range from ‘Fastest Lap of the meeting’ to ‘Most meritorious performance by a newcomer.’
Always a crowd for the Classic TT…
All riders completing a race receive a Finisher’s Medal, and any who finish a race within a certain percentage of the winner’s overall time are given a ‘Replica.’ Replicas are either silver or bronze depending on how far behind the winner each rider finishes. Team awards are also raced for although they are not always awarded every year. Such awards are not only aimed at riders competing for the same sponsor but also riders from the same motorcycle club. In total there are about 42 separate awards and the list will doubtless continue to grow.
The Manx has always been viewed as having a more relaxed atmosphere to that of the TT and this remains to this day even if the Classic TT has swelled crowds and media coverage. Throughout the duration of the races there are various club meetings (particularly of classic machines) and there is also a Classic Parade on closed roads. Various entertainments include visiting and local music acts and the Manx 3-day Trial whilst the Jurby Festival of Motorcycling has become an integral part of the fortnight since 2013.
1923: The first ever Manx Amateur Road Races take place. A five lap ‘Amateur’ race sees 35 entries and is won by Len Randles.
1926: The race distance is increased from five laps to six.
1928: The meeting expands from one race to two with separate races for the Junior and Senior classes.
1930: The event is renamed the Manx Grand Prix. The rules are changed meaning the Manx was no longer a race for amateurs but a race with experts barred. A competitor must not have competed in an International road race or held a motorcycling world record.
1933: The Lightweight Trophy was included for the first time, the award going to the highest placed 250cc rider in the Junior race.
1934: A separate race is held for 250cc machines and is run concurrently with the Junior race.
1935: Filming for George Formby’s pending film ‘No Limit’ takes place during the Manx GP.
1936: Denis Parkinson wins his first Manx GP with victory in the Lightweight race.
1936: Austin Munks becomes the first rider to win the Junior and Senior races in the same week.
1939-1945: Racing is suspended due to the outbreak of the Second World War.
1947: Austin Munks victory on a Moto Guzzi in the Lightweight race is the first by a foreign machine.
1948: The Manx GP celebrates its Silver Jubilee. 350cc machines are barred from the Senior race Isle of Man TT.
1948: The Lightweight is run as a separate race.
1949: The Lightweight race is dropped from the programme. Geoff Duke wins the Senior.
1952: Bob McIntyre – who, in 1957 would set the first ever 100mph lap of the Mountain Course – wins the Junior.
1953: Denis Parkinson wins his fifth Manx GP race, which, at the time, was more than any other rider.
1954: Derek Ennett wins the Junior race, the first Manxman to win a Manx Grand Prix race. Two days later, fellow Manxman George Costain wins the Senior.
1958: The organising club added a four lap ‘Snaefell Race’ for newcomers on both 350cc and 500cc machines.
1959: The meeting reverted back to two races, for the Junior and Senior events.
1960: A change in the regulations prevents winners from entering the Manx Grand Prix again. Phil Read wins the Senior.
1962: Streamlining was allowed for the first time.
1964: The Manx returned to a three-race meeting with the re-introduction of the Lightweight race, held over four laps.
1971: Charlie Williams wins the Lightweight race. Nigel Rollason becomes the first rider to win the Senior on a two-stroke machine – he would go on to win on three wheels too, with victory in the 1986 Sidecar ‘B’ race.
1973: The races celebrate their Golden Jubilee and Phil Haslam sets the first ever 100mph lap on his way to winning the Junior race.
1978: Three Newcomers races are added to the programme for 500cc, 350cc and 250cc machines and held over four laps – Dave Ashton, Rob Brew and Phil Mellor are the first winners.
1979: The Millennium Year in the Isle of Man sees the capacity for the Junior increased to 500c and the Senior to 750cc.
1983: The Manx Grand Prix celebrates its Diamond Jubilee and the first Classic races are held.
1983: Robert Dunlop wins the Junior Newcomers race with Steve Hislop in second and Ian Lougher in third. The trio would go on to win a combined total of 26 TT races.
1983: Joey Dunlop uses his works Formula One Honda machine during practice in filming for ‘V-4 Victory.
1985: Carl Fogarty wins the Lightweight Newcomers race.
1986: Mike Seward sets the first ever 110mph lap. The first father and son wins are recorded with Ralph Sutcliffe winning the Lightweight, 17 years after his father, Roger, won the Senior.
1988: The Classic 500c race is held on its own with the 350cc race incorporating a 250cc class. The meeting moved to a Monday, Wednesday and Friday format.
1988: Phillip McCallen takes a double winning the Lightweight Newcomers and Lightweight races, both in record time. Local rider Phil Hogg becomes the first rider to lap in under twenty minutes – 19m51.2s, 114.02mph – but fellow Manxman Paul Hunt wins the race.
1989: Gloria Clark becomes the first female competitor at the Manx GP.
1989: Richard Swallow becomes just the third rider to complete a hat-trick of wins at the Manx Grand Prix.
1989: Nigel Barton becomes the first rider to make a scheduled rear wheel change at his pit stop. The Cumbrian won the Senior race.
1990: Richard Swallow becomes the first rider to win the same race four wins in succession with another victory in the Junior Classic race.
1991: Tom Knight sets the first 115mph+ lap. The Junior race is reduced to four laps.
1992: Bob Heath wins the Senior Classic by 0.02s from Bill Swallow, the closest ever Manx GP race.
1993: The Senior is reduced to four laps. Joey Dunlop makes his first racing appearance at the Manx, contesting the Lightweight Classic.
1994: Bob Heath becomes the first rider to take a Classic double, the Junior and Senior, and with six wins in total becomes the most successful rider ever at the Manx.
1996: Irish riders Adrian Archibald and Ricky Mitchell both lap in excess of 117mph.
2001: The event fails to take place due to the Foot and Mouth epidemic.
2002: Mick Skene becomes the first rider to lap at more than 119mph.
2004: Tommy Clucas sets the first ever 120mph lap.
2005: Alan Jackson jnr sets a new outright lap record of 122.208mph.
2007: Weather conditions prevent the Senior race from taking place, the first time in its history it fails to be held.
2008: Local rider Dan Kneen becomes the first person to win three races in a week with victories in the Newcomers, Lightweight and Junior races.
2009: Carolyn Sells becomes the first female to win a race on the Mountain Course with a victory in the Ultra-Lightweight 400cc race.
2009: The Post-Classic races are introduced for four-stroke and two-stroke classes.
2013: The event is split and rebranded with the introduction of the Classic TT. Races take place on Saturday and Monday with the Manx GP races on Wednesday and Friday.
2015: Bruce Anstey (500cc Yamaha) sets the fastest ever lap on a two-stroke machine around the Mountain Course at 126.261mph.
2015: Malachi Mitchell-Thomas breaks Alan Jackson’s ten-year old outright lap record with a speed of 122.221mph
2016: Bruce Anstey sets the fastest ever lap on a 250cc machine on the Mountain Course during the Lightweight Classic TT race at 118.744mph.
2017: Anstey goes quicker still and records the first ever 120mph lap of the Mountain Course on a 250cc machine with a speed of 120.475mph. He also sets a new lap record in the Superbike Classic race with a lap of 127.496mph but Dean Harrison wins the race. Josh Brookes claims his first Mountain Course win with victory in the Senior Classic race.
2017: Manxman Michael Evans sets a new outright lap record of 122.866mph and wins both the Senior and Junior races. Brad Vicars wins the Newcomers race with a new lap record of 118.786mph.
2018: John McGuinness wins the Senior Classic after being out injured for 18 months whilst Dean Harrison takes his fourth Classic TT victory after winning the Superbike Classic TT race. Dominic Herbertson takes the Junior Classic race with Lee Johnston winning the Lightweight.
2018: Matt Stevenson, a newcomer in 2017, crashes whilst leading the Junior Manx Grand Prix but makes amends by winning the Senior with a near 121mph lap. Ten years after making his debut, Andy Farrell wins both Supertwins races with fellow Southern Irishman James Chawke taking the Junior.
2019: Bruce Anstey makes an emotional return to the Mountain Course and wins the Lightweight Classic TT whilst fellow veteran John McGuinness wins the Senior Class for the third time in four years. Jamie Coward and David Johnson take their first ever wins with victory in the Junior and Superbike races respectively.
2019: Nathan Harrison takes a Junior-Senior Manx Grand Prix double whilst 19-year old James Hind sets a new Junior lap record at almost 122mph; he also wins both Lightweight races as Frenchman Pierre Yves Bian and Lancelot Unissart claim the honours in the Newcomers and Ultra-lightweight races.
Up next, read all about the impressive records and stats set at the Manx Grand Prix.
Words by Phil Wain.