Top 10 greatest TT races

The greatest ever clashes from the greatest show on Earth

IT'S not just how close the final race-winning margin is that makes for a great TT race -  it's the background stories of the riders and the bikes that set up the drama in the first place. Comebacks from injury and retirement, youth versus experience, personal animosity and rivalries are the things that determine great races. As the 2014 TT gets in full swing, we look at 10 of the greatest TT races of all time and marvel at the skill and bravery that crosses generations and unites the best road racers. These are the men who have pushed motorcycles to their limits on ordinary roads in ways most of us can't even begin to imagine.

10. 1984 Senior: Rob McElnea vs Joey Dunlop

In a class of their own all week, McElnea and Dunlop were regularly 8mph faster than the rest of the field through the speed traps and were setting new outright lap records on practically every lap. The pair had already had two monumental duels in the Formula 1 and Premier Classic races with one win apiece, so the Senior race would be the decider. Such was the pace, Dunlop set a new lap record on every one of the opening five laps before his bike stopped on the final circuit. Some say it was a broken crank but the official line was that he ran out of fuel. Either way, it was pressure from McElnea that caused it and the big man wrapped up his third and final TT with a victory.

9. 1990 Junior TT: Ian Lougher vs Steve Hislop

Few people could live with Steve Hislop's pace around the TT course when he was in his prime but Ian Lougher was one of them. In one of the most astonishing TT laps ever posted, the Welshman broke the lap record by 20 seconds on his TZ250 Yamaha to beat Hizzy by just 1.8 seconds. His record stood for nine years and Hizzy never did win a Junior TT - his biggest regret in racing. He also admitted he had never ridden the course so hard, and yet he was still unable to beat the Welsh wizard.

8. 1980 Classic: Joey Dunlop vs Mick Grant

This was the race that made Joey Dunlop. Not only did he outride TT legend Mick Grant's factory Honda on his dog-eared bitsa TZ750 Yamaha, he also outwitted the Honda squad by making an outsized fuel tank (within the rules) the night before the race. The tank straps broke early on and Dunlop rode the race holding the tank in place with his knees, but he only needed one fuel stop to Honda's two and won the race with an outright lap record of 115.22mph. Honda were not amused.

7. 2013 Senior TT: John McGuinness vs Michael Dunlop

After Michael Dunlop had taken four wins earlier in the week, it looked like John McGuinness' time as King of the Mountain was up. Dunlop had raised the bar and it seemed no-one could match his raw aggression and sheer speed around the TT. Even McGuinness had been astonished at the Irishman's pace throughout the week. But you don't win 20 TTs without being a bit special and McGuinness put in the greatest ride of his career to batter Dunlop into submission in the biggest race of the week - the Senior TT. The look on Dunlop's face after the race said it all “Where did that old f*cker pull that one out from?” Even McGuinness didn't seem to know the answer, but that's what makes champions.

6. 1995 Ultra-lightweight: Mark Baldwin vs Mick Lofthouse

You may not have heard of Mark Baldwin but he just stole the verdict in what was the closest finish in the history of the TT. Throughout practice week he had slowed at the end of each lap so as not to show rivals his real pace. In the race itself, Mick Lofthouse was so far ahead on the last lap that he began premature victory celebrations which may have cost him vital fractions. Baldwin, meanwhile, rode a lap of the gods on that final circuit and as Lofthouse was telling friends of his victory on his mobile phone, Baldwin crossed the line to steal it from him by six-tenths of a second.

5. 2000 Formula 1 TT: Joey Dunlop vs David Jefferies

Almost 50 and completely grey-haired, Joey Dunlop had not won a Formula 1 TT for 12 years and few believed he would ever win another, especially against the new breed of young, aggressive riders like David Jefferies. But the greatest pure roads racer of all time still had some magic left in the tank as his F1 victory in 2000 proved. Dunlop won another two races in what was to be his final TT - he was killed in an obscure race in Estonia the following month.

4. 1935 Senior TT: Stanley Woods vs Jimmy Guthrie

The Rossi and Marquez of their day, Woods and Guthrie were fierce rivals as well as good friends. Woods had been leading the Senior TT the year before when he ran out of fuel but decided to take another fuel gamble this time around. Trailing Guthrie on the factory Norton by 26 seconds going into the last lap, Woods was so far behind that Guthrie was hailed as the winner when he pulled into parc ferme. But no-one imagined that Woods would skip his fuel stop and then raise the lap record by 3mph on his final circuit to sneak the win by just four seconds.

3. 1978 Formula 1 TT: Mike Hailwood vs Phil Read

Even now, 36 years later, it seems impossible that Mike Hailwood could return from an 11-year retirement and win the TT first time out. He was so out of touch with racing in the modern era that he had to ask who his rivals were likely to be. After fending off Phil Read, he proceeded to beat them all, despite being overweight and partially crippled. And as if to prove the fairies had arranged the whole thing, Hailwood's Ducati broke down as it crossed the finish line and would not have made another mile.

2. 1992 Senior TT: Steve Hislop vs Carl Fogarty

Even Steve Hislop laughed at the notion that he might be able to win a TT race on the under-funded and unfancied Norton. After all, the firm hadn't won a TT since 1961 - 31 years previously. But Hislop rode like a demon against his nemesis, Carl Fogarty, and made the fairy tale come true. The pair were never separated by more than six seconds over six laps and 226 racing miles and Fogarty set a new outright lap record that would stand for eight years in his pursuit of Hislop. Riding the bike so hard that it literally fell apart (and was swiftly wheeled away by his team boss to avoid embarrassment), Fogarty's best was still not good enough and Hizzy won the race by 4.4 seconds.

1. 1967 Senior TT: Mike Hailwood vs Giacomo Agostini

The two greatest riders in the world, the two greatest bikes in the world, and the 500cc world championship at stake. There simply couldn't have been any more to play for when Ago faced off Hailwood in the '67 Senior. Even Hailwood admitted the ferocity of the battle had been 'terrifying' and Ago ended the race with whitewash all over his leathers from scuffing walls. Ago's chain snapped on the fifth lap, handing the victory to Mike but Hailwood gracefully admitted he didn't think he would have won otherwise. Then he took Ago out on the piss to celebrate the Italian's 25th birthday. Pure class.