Why is the abandoned Clypse Course a forgotten sidecar racing gem?
With the Isle of Man TT playing host to some of the greatest moments in sidecar racing history, it is hard to believe that the Sidecar TT wasn't always held on the Snaefell Mountain Course. In fact, between the years 1954-1959 the event took place on a smaller road course named the Clypse Course. Although it was dubbed the ‘Baby TT circuit’, this course packed a punch, and here's why.
For some background context; before 1954 sidecars last graced the TT in 1925. In-between those years motor car racing took place on the Isle of Man, but its popularity amongst locals and international racing enthusiasts alike, diminished over time. This prompted the Tynwald Race Committee (the committee responsible for car racing in the IoM) to vote on bringing back sidecars as a replacement for 1954.
An astounding £1500 was contributed by the Tynwald Race Committee in support of the sidecar event. As the Snaefell Mountain Course was too long, and hence lost its world championship status, the Clypse course - a course of 10.79 miles (17.36 km) named after the Clypse reservoir that it encloses - would be the circuit to race on. The race attracted 24 entries, 7 of which were foreign, and would run as part of the TT races.
For me, one of the key distinctive features about the Clypse Course was the significant elevation between the highest and lowest parts of the circuit. Around 666ft separated the peak of the course at Ballacarrooin Hill to the bottom in Onchan. This not only tested the reliability of the sidecars and the endurance of the competitors, but as there was no other course with such an elevation change on the Sidecar World Championship, it also tested the competitors adaptability as well.
In addition, the section of the course from the Creg-Ny-Baar to Hall Corner (which featured the Creg-Ny-Baar backroads), demonstrated the risks competitors took when racing on the Clypse Course. This part was as tight and twisty as a purpose built circuit, but the usual luxury of run-off zones and gravel traps, were replaced with hedges and trees that are accustomed to road courses - making it a daring section for all competitors.
Another important characteristic about the Clypse Course was its mix of rural/urban sections. The contrast in scenery between the hilly backdrop on the ascent and descent from the Creg-Ny-Baar compared to the urban areas of Onchan and Douglas striked emotion into the Clypse Course.
From a spectating point of view, sidecar racing on the Clypse Course was as good as any other circuit. The racing was always a mass start, which was very different to the usual TT time trial format. Acceleration points out of Willaston Corner, Brandish, and Manx Arms allowed spectators to enjoy the sheer power of sidecars and determination of riders/passengers.
Although the Clypse Course is no longer in use as a Sidecar circuit, its legacy is palpable. This course re-introduced sidecar racing to the Isle of Man, with sidecars having been a mainstay on the TT calendar ever since: albeit now on the Snaefell Mountain Course.
Furthermore, 1954’s edition introduced the first female competitor to compete in the TT, she was named Inge Stoll. This has paved the way for future female superstars such as Maria Costello and Jenny Tinmouth.
Amazingly, much of the roads that formed the Clypse Course are still in use today by the public - so any TT enthusiast can relive yesteryear of Sidecar racing.
Would you like to see the Clypse Course return?
Words by Luke Sherwood-Walker