If you count the St Johns Course, three versions of the Mountain Course and the Clypse, Billown is now the sixth public roads circuit to be used for Isle of Man TT races. But there is nothing very new about it. The first Southern 100 race meeting was first held there in 1955 – only one year after the Clypse came into existence.
Billown may be new to the TT but it’s actually been in business for 53 years and certainly shouldn’t be viewed as some low-rent clubman’s circuit. Some of the greatest names in motorcycle sport have raced here. Sure, the original Southern 100 meeting had ‘Open to Centre’ status but it became a National event in 1958 and a British Championship round in 1969. More recently it has joined the Irish roads championship and has European venue status.
As for the stars at Billown, from its earliest days it attracted riders of the calibre of Bob McIntyre – the first man do a 100mph-plus lap on the Mountain Course at the TT – Phil Read, John Hartle, Charlie Williams and Tom Herron. In fact many of the names that figure high up the TT role of honour also always rode in July’s Southern 100. Mancunian Dave Chadwick, who won the inaugural 250cc race at the first Southern 100 in 1955, had actually come fifth in the Lightweight TT on the Clypse Course only a month before.
Most notable has to be the man who still holds the ‘King of Billown’ title with 31 wins in the Southern 100 race programme and 42 victories overall on the circuit – none other than the late Joey Dunlop. But another veteran TT stalwart, Ian Lougher, is now catching him with a current tally of 29 Southern 100 wins. And although Billown is tighter and therefore slower than the Mountain Course, it’s not that slow. Brian Reid put in the first 100mph lap on a RG500 Suzuki 25 years ago and four riders have now bested 110mph – Jason Griffiths, Guy Martin, Cameron Donald and Ian Lougher – with the latter holding the outright record of 111.883mph.
Besides the Southern 100, Billown has hosted two more meetings for many years – the Pre-TT Classic Races held over three days at the start of TT practice week and the Isle of Man Steam Packet National Road Races held on the Saturday after the Senior TT. It is effectively this meeting which has now been incorporated fully into the TT, with 125 and 250 TT events plus a support race.
Besides his TT exploits, retired Taffie race star Jason Griffiths was a regular performer at Billown – and now he can’t get away from the place. Griffiths, who quit his native Wales to take up residence on the Isle of Man some time ago, recently took over the former S&S motorcycle dealership in Castletown, just down the road from and in sight of Castletown Corner on the circuit. Rechristened Jason Griffiths Motorcycles, this splendid emporium is a purveyor of the Triumph, BMW and Ducati marques.
TT-relevant lap records on the 4.25-mile (6.84km) Billown circuit are, unsurprisingly, held by riders who will be front-ranking contenders in the Lightweight and Ultra-Lightweight TT return this year.
Six-times TT winner Ian Lougher holds the 250cc lap record of 103.378mph, set at the 2002 Southern 100 meeting. In the same race he posted the fastest average speed too, of 102.068mph. However, this was over ten laps. (The TT events have 12 laps each.)
Robert Dunlop, who has five TT victories to his credit – four of them in the 125cc Ultra-Lightweight class – holds the Billown 125cc lap record of 97.019mph, also set at the Southern 100 in 2002. Similarly, he got the fastest race average as well with 95.386mph – but this was over only six laps.
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