The classic cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s you want to save from extinction the most
Subaru vs the Isle of Man
Grip: "the ability of something to maintain a firm contact with a surface." That's how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term at least, and boy am I glad the Subaru WRX STi 320R I'm driving round the 37 (and three-quarter) mile Isle of Man TT mountain course has plenty of it.
I'm following three-time British Rally Champion Mark Higgins - a Manx man that knows the roads around here like the back of his proverbial. He's also the current world record holder for the quickest production car lap record at the island, with an average lap speed of 115.356mph.
To put it into perspective, the lap record for a specially prepared sidecar on slick tyres is 116.667mph average. He's fast.
We've got two days round the Island to pitch a brace of Subarus against the harsh mistress of a small rock in the middle of the Irish Sea. It's going to be fun.
What I didn't expect, though, is for it to be quite this scary. There's no special road surface here - it's simply your run of the mill tarmac complete with manhole covers, drains, cat's eyes and white lines.
It's over three times the Nürburgring's length
At the point where I notice the true proximity of the roadside furniture, I'm travelling in excess of 100mph through the bottom of Bray Hill, a slight right at the foot of a serious depression where Higgins had his self-proclaimed "biggest moment of my life".
At these speeds it feels more than slight - try doing it at 150mph like the pro. Gulp. The mountain course is a scarily intricate piece of track that would take countless laps to learn and requires a rather large pair of certain organs to attack.
It's over three times the length of the Nürburgring (if you think that track has zero run-off, think again), so what it must be like on a 230hp superbike -standard fare in TT week - capable of over 200mph boggles the brain.
Higgins backs this up with candid honesty: "There's a few scary parts of the track. Even before my big moment I've always found the bottom of Bray Hill intimidating. Having nearly lost it through there last year, I'm even more mindful taking it.
The Subaru is an almost ideal weapon on the circuit
"I was flat out in the car and the compression on the right followed by a bump on the exit meant the suspension bottomed out and the wheel arch kissed the tyre sending us sideways.
"I was lock-to-lock with my hands off the wheel to catch it - if we'd hit anything it would have been a huge crash."
Thankfully, for my two tours of the mountain course, Higgins is lapping at a more sedate pace, even if it still feels quick to me.
The 320hp Subaru WRX STi 320R I'm driving is an almost ideal weapon for an assault on the circuit. There's plenty of grip afforded by the car's four-wheel drive system and the degree of roll from the suspension means the tyres can get on with the job of keying into the road.
It's stiff enough, but through high-speed direction changes you sense the car's mass trying to drag it off line - with zero margin for error and only two lanes worth of asphalt to use, you need to be precise.
Which is why the slight initial inaccuracy in the car's steering is a little disconcerting. But drive round it, trust the chassis and utilise the 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four motor's 332lb ft of torque on the multitude of blind corner exits and you can begin to string the turns together.
Until you realise you don't know which way the course actually goes, that is. Once I lose sight of Higgins, I'm blind. There are so many complexes and kinks that don't have names and it's difficult to read which direction you need to head next. It's a reminder to never get cocky round here.
Higgins is a racer and it shows...his car control is simply jaw dropping
But with two successful laps completed, taking in the technical Laurel Bank and Glen Helen sections, the fearsomely fast run up the mountain and back down the other side and putting a significant amount of daylight between the Subaru's tyres and Ballaugh Bridge, I can go to sleep happy.
Day one was a leisurely run round the TT course by Higgins' standards, but day two is a chance for us to experience what a professional rally driver's office looks like.
We're out on a closed stretch of Manx road that Higgins describes as "probably the most bumpy piece of road on the island" and strapping myself in, I'm keen to see how quickly a WRC competitor can pilot Subaru's car of the moment, the BRZ, down a narrow section of rutted tarmac.
His BRZ isn't exactly standard however. It's been lightly modified and sports some trick three-way adjustable motorsport dampers, new wheels and tyres (to get rid of the OE Toyota Prius rubber), a full roll cage and a gutted interior.
The weather isn't favourable and the bumpy, greasy narrow stage is testing, so when we set off down the streaming wet stage Higgins' comment of "I only usually crash in fifth or sixth gear anyway" over dinner the night before is resonating loudly in my tightly secured helmet.
To an uninitiated co-driver like me, it feels quick - Higgins is a racer and it shows. His car control is simply jaw dropping. Even with the additional parts, the BRZ isn't set up for this sort of terrain, yet its performance is impressive.
No matter how good your car is - always respect the track
Only a few harsh clonks occur over the stretch and the grip the chassis generates is eye widening, especially when you're approaching a tight 180-degree downhill right that amounts to little more than a sheep trail exceeding the national speed limit.
The British Champion has been tweaking the car's setup all day, and even from the passenger seat, the effects are noticeable. After a few runs in the car, you can feel the BRZ is more compliant and reacts better over the bumps.
The rear wheels are no longer overcoming the force of gravity and becoming airborne, while the full travel of the car's dampers isn't being used either - together it's asking a little less of Higgins' sensational ability behind the wheel.
He's not all that taxed, though: "I presume this feels pretty slow to you?" I ask him. "Yeah," he replies. "All you need now is another 200hp," I quip when I undo my six-point harness. "Always" comes the deadpan reply.
The Isle of Man: a review
In truth, to race around the TT course proves an anachronism in the modern health and safety conscious world, but it's for that reason that it should be celebrated and never stopped.
It's a mightily frightening place to go for a maximum attack lap and in pitting a car against the track, there's only one real winner. The Subaru was a faithful and capable companion, but you can go as hard as you like, you'll never beat the course - be it the TT lap or any of the rally special stages that litter the island.
As Higgins nearly found out to his detriment and is patently obvious from scoping out only a few miles of the circuit, no matter how good your car - or bike for the unhinged racers that test themselves around here - always respect the track.
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
On the road with the landmark Lambos for special golden anniversary drive.
Date 13/05/13, Duration 4:26, Views 8617