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Top 12 Greatest Isle of Man TT Riders in History

| May 19, 2022 8:26 am PDT
le of Man TT logo in center with Michael Dunlop and Iain Hutchison to left and right

I believe that ranking the best Isle of Man TT riders would be akin to choosing my favorite finger. So, I settled for a list of the best isle of man racers instead. 

Considered one of the most dangerous sports events of all time, more than 150 deaths have been registered during official practices and races on the Snaefell Mountain Course. This number grows much higher if you factor in the lives lost during the Manx Grand Prix and Clubman TT events.

But despite the tragedy surrounding this event, it’s still one of the most exciting contests known to man. What has made it so special, and continues to do so, is the bravery and skill of the best Isle of Man racers willing to put it all on the line.

It probably doesn’t hurt that you can bet on who will win at online betting sites, either.

Of course, before you bet on anything, knowing the history is pretty important. In this breakdown, I’m going to introduce you to the greatest Isle of Man TT riders of all time in no particular order.

Phillip McCallen

Phillip McCallen
  • TT Victories: 11
  • First TT Win: 1992 Formula One TT
  • Last TT Win: 1997 Senior TT

Born in Portadown, Armagh, McCallen is the first name up on this list.

Widely considered one of the top Isle of Man racers of all time, few were prepared for him to carve out such a legacy when he won his first TT race back in 1992. But racing was in the young McCallen’s blood from day zero. 

The Armagh man entered the world just yards away from the Tandragee road racing circuit. The town, which translates to ‘backside to the wind’ from Irish to English, also holds a particularly amusing ode to the fact that this man was born to ride.

Widely known for his record of winning four races in just one week in 1996, McCallen was a popular face on the Manx circuit.

Sitting at fifth in the all-time winners’ list, I hope you will agree that he is also one of the best Isle of Man TT drivers of all time.

Stanley Woods

Stanley Woods
  • TT Victories: 10
  • First TT Win: 1923 Junior TT
  • Last TT Win: 1939 Junior TT

Born less than two hours down the east coast of Ireland in Dublin, Woods’ career started a long time before that of McCallen.

Those looking for where to bet on the Isle of Man TT will not find odds for Wood. He started his career in 1921, the same year that the island of Ireland was partitioned by the British.

This would have effectively meant that, had they both competed simultaneously, Woods and McCallen could have hypothetically raced under both the same and separate flags within a year.

The Dubliner is widely regarded as one of the greatest all-time Isle of Man TT riders. He started off on a Harley Davidson, making his debut at what was the new Snaefell Mountain Course at the time. An illustrious career followed for “The Irish Dasher,” who was voted the greatest Isle of Mann racer of all time in 1968. 

Woods had a set of postage stamps created in his honor by An Post, the Irish postal service, in 1996. He died at the grand age of 90 in County Down, Ireland, in 1993. 

A truly special man.

Giacomo Agostini

  • TT Victories: 10
  • First TT Win: 1966 Junior TT
  • Last TT Win: 1972 Senior TT
Giacomo Agostini

Although Irish and British riders dominate this prestigious event, Italy’s Agostini is one of its favorite sons. 

The Brescia-native is widely regarded as one of the best Isle of Man TT drivers in history. But you could also label him the greatest Grand Prix rider of all time. The man from Lombardy could seemingly do it all, and it’s not by happenstance that he appears on this list. 

Agostini competed under the Isle of Man TT banner from 1965 to 1972. Ask anyone who knows their stuff about this guy, and be prepared for a glowing assessment of his greatness. 

Simply one of the best to ever do it. 

Mike Hailwood

Mike Hailwood
  • TT Victories: 14
  • First TT Win: 1961 Lightweight 125 TT
  • Last TT Win: 1979 Senior TT

Known as “Mike the Bike,” Hailwood is up there with the best Isle of Man drivers of all time. Depending on who you ask, they might even tell you the Englishman was the best of them all.

And while I wouldn’t quite agree with that, there is an argument to be made in his favor. After all, I can understand why a rider with 14 TT wins and 19 podiums should deserve such an accolade.

Hailwood’s career started long before he took to the track. Having attended his first race as a ten-year-old with his father, he was apparently hooked. Six years later, he attended the Manx spectacle and knew his fate would lead him to compete at the TT. But he did more than make up the numbers.

An ever-popular name among TT die-hards, Hailwood deservedly makes this list of the top Isle of Man TT racers. I would imagine that the Oxford-native would also rank highly on most fans’ list of the most famous Isle of Mann TT riders, should such a thing exist. 

As previously stated, tragedy is deeply associated with this race. Hailwood lost his life in a road traffic accident at 40, just three years after winning the 1978 Isle of Man TT.

David Molyneux

David Molyneux
  • TT Victories: 17
  • First TT Win: 1989 Sidecar TT A race
  • Last TT Win: 2014 Sidecar TT B race

We have had Irish, British, and even an Italian on this list of the top Isle of Man TT drivers of all time. Now we have a native Manx rider.

Molyneux is, by some distance, the greatest sidecar racer in the history of the event. With 17 TT victories and 30 podiums, his record speaks for itself. As exciting as they come, the Douglas-born rider known as “Moly” is understandably a popular face in the world of racing.

Things didn’t exactly start off glorious for Molyneux. He started his career here in 1985 but failed to win his first race until 1989. But once he did, success quickly became a habit. As Molyneux’s confidence grew, so did his stature.

A right-hand bend on the Snaefell Mountain Course’s Cronk-y-Voddy Straight was named after the glorious son of the Island in 2013.

David Jefferies

  • TT Victories: 9
  • First TT Win: 1999 Formula One TT
  • Last TT Win: 2002 Senior TT
David Jefferies

Son of fellow TT winner Tony Jeffries and nephew of Nick Jeffries, racing was in the blood of the esteemed Yorkshireman. 

David Jeffries was an excellent rider who had both his legacy and, more importantly, his life cut short by the cruel mistress of this event. Although he never got to fulfill his true potential, I believe he deserves a spot on this list of the best Isle of Man TT riders. I’m sure most, if not all, will agree.

Despite losing his life in a crash during practice for the 2003 races at just 30, the talented rider still managed to put together quite the resume. A total of nine TT wins followed from his debut in 1996, and there would have certainly been more to come. 

A tragic loss and one that fans around the world will never forget.

Bruce Anstey

Bruce Anstey
  • TT Victories: 13
  • First TT Win: 2002 250cc TT
  • Last TT Win: Classic Lightweight 250cc TT 2019

Again, I can stress that drivers from Ireland and Britain have traditionally dominated these races. 

But alongside those are a few special riders that have come from overseas. One of them, New Zealand’s Anstey, has shown the world that those from outside of the two islands sitting on either side of the Isle of Man can do it. Quite often, even better than some of their Irish or British peers.

Anstey made his debut in 1996, which led to a successful cache of 13 TT victories. The Kiwi also broke the lap record at Snaefell in 2014 by registering a time of 17 minutes 6.682 seconds before another man subsequently beat it on this list. 

One of the best Isle of Man TT racers of all time? I think so.

Ian Lougher

Ian Lougher
  • TT Victories: 10
  • First TT Win: 1990 350cc Junior TT
  • Last TT Win: 2009 Lightweight TT

The first Welshman to appear on this list of the top Isle of Man TT drivers of all time is Cardiff’s own Ian Lougher.

With 139 TTs contested in a career that started in 1984, the South Walian has put in an incredible number of miles over the past five decades. With ten TT wins to his name, Lougher is up there with the most successful Isle of Man TT riders ever. 

Here’s his win list.

Year Race and Class Manufacturer
1990 Junior TT 250cc Yamaha
1997 Ultra-Lightweight TT 125cc Honda
1999 Ultra-Lightweight TT 125cc Honda
2002 Production TT 600cc Suzuki
2002 Ultra-Lightweight 125cc Honda
2005 Supersport Junior ‘A’ TT 600cc Honda
2008 Lightweight TT 250cc Honda
2009 Ultra-Lightweight TT 125cc #1 Honda
2009 Lightweight TT 250cc Honda

An excellent competitor, Lougher makes my list of the top drivers in the Isle of Man TT without hesitation. A hero in his own country, he’s also popular with fans from other nations. That’s always a good sign that you’re doing something right. 

Ian Hutchinson

Ian Hutchinson
  • TT Victories: 16
  • First TT Win: 2007 Supersport Junior TT
  • Last TT Win: 2017 Superstock TT

Another majorly influential Englishman on this list of the best Isle of Man riders of all time, Hutchison, is an icon to race fans.

Since winning his first TT race in 2007, he has gone on to achieve another 15 and make 29 total podiums. As he is still active at the time of writing, these numbers could grow even greater as time goes on.

Hutchinson hit his career peak in 2010, setting a record for most races in a single Isle of Man TT festival won with five solo victories. That is an incredible achievement and goes a long way toward his legacy.

His unexpected career resurgence in 2015, which culminated in three wins and several podiums, also helps his claim to be among the true greats.

He is, quite simply, one of the best drivers in Isle of Man TT history. 

Michael Dunlop

  • TT Victories: 19
  • First TT Win: 2009 Supersport TT Race 2
  • Last TT Win: 2019 Lightweight TT
Ian Hutchinson

Who is the best Isle of Man TT rider in history? That’s a question that gets asked quite a lot. And one of the most common answers will usually be “Dunlop.”

Not Michael, of course. Although already one of the best TT drivers in history, despite being younger than anyone else on this list, it’s another famous “Dunlop Dynasty” that many consider the greatest of all time. 

Still, Michael has time on his side. We could be discussing him as the best ever to do it in the future, and few would completely write that off. After all, he already has 19 victories under his belt and a style that is so fan-friendly.

As fiery as they come, Michael Dunlop is a man who lives, eats, and breathes racing. As the brother of William, son of Robert, and the nephew of someone very special to fans — one that I will cover a little later — that comes as no surprise.

An excellent rider, Michael deserves to be credited as one of the best Isle of Man TT racers of all time. Again, he’s not done yet.

John McGuinness

  • TT Victories: 23
  • First TT Win: 1999 Lightweight 250 TT
  • Last TT Win: 2019 Classic TT
John McGuinness

England’s John McGuinness is more than just one of the top Isle of Man drivers of all time. Some believe he is the best of them all.

As this list is almost complete, it’s hard to say that he isn’t one of a select few you could bump above most of the others. I purposefully wanted to avoid ranking the best Isle of Mann riders in history for that specific purpose, but I will say that this man was one of the first to come to mind.

While categorizing greatness might be subjective, achievements speak for themselves. In the case of McGuinness, a plethora of wins, podiums, and spectacular races mean he will forever be mentioned above most others. 

A superbly gifted racer.

Joey Dunlop

Joe Dunlap
  • TT Victories: 26
  • First TT Win: 1977 Jubilee Classic
  • Last TT Win: 2000 Ultra-Lightweight 125 TT

Although this list of the best Isle of Man TT riders was set in no particular order, I wanted to save this guy for last. 

If I had indeed decided to put together a list ranking the greatest Isle of Man TT racers in history, Dunlop would have topped it. There is absolutely no doubt that he was the best of the best, and his achievements only tell half the tale of his reverence.

Dunlop won his first TT in 1977, kickstarting a career that would bring multiple victories, accolades, and excellence. Highly revered, the incredible rider would amass a legion of fans on the track for his stylish and brave style.

Off the track, he was a dedicated humanitarian who was respected by both nationalist and unionist fans in the north of Ireland. 

Despite cheating death in a shipwreck in 1985, Dunlop’s fate would be tragic. Following years of greatness in TT events, he lost his life in a low-key race in Estonia. He was 48 years old. 

More than 50,000 mourners paid their respect to Dunlop at his funeral, traveling from around the world to County Antrim. They were there to honor the greatest Isle of Man TT driver and one of the best racers of all time. But also a man who gave much of his life to helping others.

There are some exceptional drivers on this list. But Dunlop is the G.O.A.T.

Assessing the Top Isle of Man TT Riders of All Time

That concludes my list of the best Isle of Man TT racers in history. If I missed anyone out, be sure to let me know in the comments section below.

This list is subjective, and we’re all entitled to our opinions. I’d happily welcome yours. So don’t hesitate to let me know who you would add or omit. Doing so could potentially see your suggestion added to an updated version of this list!

I hope you enjoyed this read. Be sure to check out our sports blog for more. 

Alternatively, if you intend to place bets on the Isle of Man TT, our betting guide recommends the best motorsports betting sites and for your next destination. 

Adam Haynes
Adam Haynes

Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA, boxing, and combat sports.

When Adam isn't writing about those, as well as politics, rugby, and Gaelic Games, he can be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.

For his troubles, Adam is a fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.

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