I caught air in a record-setting Isle of Man TT Subaru WRX STI

Ben Woodworth

Even if you’ve seen it before, please stop what you’re doing and watch Mark Higgins in a Subaru WRX STI set an Isle of Man TT Mountain Course record in 2016. For my money it is some of the bravest, wildest driving ever recorded.

Mr. Higgins beat the previous lap record—also held by him—by almost 2 full minutes, clocking in at 17 minutes 35 seconds. His average speed? A blistering 128.73 mph. The man has won the British Rally Championship three times, he’s been a stunt driver alongside Top Gear’s “Stig,” as well as for the James Bond films Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre and No Time to Die.

I met Higgins during a visit to the U.K. for the 2023 Goodwood Festival of Speed. While there I got to drive the Prodrive P25 and the Prodrive-modified 2023 Subaru WRX, but one of the absolute highlights of the trip was riding alongside this ace hot-shoe in his old WRX STI Time Attack car around a section of track at the Millbrook Proving Ground.

I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, although my typical outlets for adventure involve skiing steep and snowy mountains, riding sketchy trails on my mountain bike, and embarking on various rock and ice climbing adventures. Instead of a climbing harness it was instead a race suit, fireproof balaclava, and helmet. I stepped into the Prodrive-prepped Subaru, strapped in, and away we went.

2023 Subaru WRX STI ProDrive front

Though this car is fundamentally a last-generation WRX STI, it’s closer to a purpose-built time-trial weapon than a stock Subaru. The WRC-like performance numbers remain impressive: roughly 600 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four engine that revs to 8500 rpm. Thanks to the kind of weight savings one expects from a race car—no carpet, door panels, lightweight bucket seats, and a roll cage in place of the rear bench—the total curb weight is about 2645 pounds. That power-t0-weight ratio is comparable to that of a GT3-class race car.

As we navigated through Millbrook to make our way to a reserved section of track, I was giddy with excitement. Amid Gordon Murray Automotive T.50 and T.33 prototypes, as well as various McLaren and Jaguar camouflaged test mules, I was about to join the fray and zip around a track in highly practiced hands. Which reminded me to ask something of Higgins.

“Mark, when did you last drive this car?”

“Not since 2016 when we set the record.”


The course marshal gave the thumbs up, and as if Rihanna’s “Work” was still blasting out of every radio speaker, Higgins put down the hammer on this 2016 rally machine. Perhaps it’s because I was having an out-of-body experience, the STI seemed an extension of Higgins’ own body. His calm demeanor, laser focus, and unflappable confidence suggested he could have done the whole circuit blindfolded.

I was smiling ear to ear for the entire thrill ride. Neither words, nor video (although I did include some video below) can fully express the feeling of what those 90 seconds were like. On one section of the track, Mark was going flat out up a hill. At the crest of the hill, all I could see was sky through the windshield.Would we keep going? End up in orbit somehow? As earth came back into view, the track cut hard to the left. If one had no knowledge of what was on the other side of that crest, at the speeds we were doing, it would soon turn into a dangerous and impromptu rally ride on grass and dirt. But Mark knew the track as well as the car, went hard on the brakes the moment we landed, and perfectly navigated the tight turn with plenty of cushion to spare.

2023 Subaru WRX STI ProDrive front three quarter

In that instant, my perception of what people and cars were capable of changed. As if that last maneuver was utter business as usual, we come out of a left turn, accelerate flat-out on a downhill section, go hard on the brakes to set up for a sharp right, then push through the apex into another short straight. Higgins’ technical prowess is playing out through the windshield and under my butt faster than my brain can process it. Through the supercharged mental fog I notice a decent-sized hump in the upcoming straight. Yes please! Mark hammers the throttle and, for a brief moment, we’re airborne, all 4 wheels off the ground. Even if was for less than a second, we were flying.

2023 Subaru WRX STI ProDrive rear


No matter how many YouTube clips of rally racing and trophy trucks I’ve watched over the years, I am always blown away by the suspension systems that allow these vehicles to settle on the ground after taking flight. It’s all the more astonishing to me given the violent bounce and shudder I experienced in the 1974 Saab Sonett I launched as a very dumb teenager back in the late ’90s. The experience was, for better and mostly worse, astonishing.

There was absolutely no impact upon our landing. The suspension seemed to suck the car down to the pavement, hugging the road surface as if it missed it and didn’t want to let go.

higgins subaru ride along catching air loop rear three quarter
Ben Woodworth

The sensation was addicting, and I would opted to pass out before voluntarily disembarking from the TT-winning WRX. But there ride was over after a few hard runs, so I shook Mark’s hand, thanked him repeatedly, and climbed out of the car. My whole body tingled for several minutes, the insane ride over as quick as it happened.




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    I like adrenalin too and am very curious if this would be too much for me or if i could handle it. Good story!

    The gif of happy Subaru’s leaping makes me laugh. Oh to get a ride in that car with that driver. Amazing.

    In my case, it was a ’68 SAAB Sonett and I jumped a table-top on a back country road, having no idea of what might be waiting hidden on the other side. Yes, the landing was pretty hard, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Amazing that we are still alive!

    Hahaha! Fantastic! Mine was a railroad crossing, which I’m sure is culprit for many teenage car jump shenanigans (both intentional and not!). Glad we’re both still around to chat about it! 😂

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