Becoming a dad made William Dunlop realise there's more to life than motorbikes
William Dunlop has had a tough year, but the new father can't wait for 2017
William Dunlop is enjoying spending as much time as possible with his beautiful five-month-old daughter Ella. Looking forward to her first Christmas, the motorcycling star is feeling relaxed, healthy and happy.
Part of the famous Dunlop dynasty, the Ballymoney man's contented mood is a far cry from the stress and pressure he was experiencing earlier in 2016 when his 'heart rate was going through the roof' as he struggled to cope with the difficulties that come with running your own team.
Today he is surrounded by a warm glow less than a month after signing for Lancashire entrepreneur Martin Halsall's former British Superbike team for 2017. It's a deal that offers security and behind-the-scenes expertise leaving time for Dunlop to focus on his racing and to get to know little girl Ella.
William is every inch the doting dad. His face lights up when talking about Ella and the fun he and partner Janine are having as new parents.
"It is the best thing that has ever happened to us. We're starting to see her wee character now and it's just great," says the proud 31-year-old.
"I didn't think being a dad would change the way I thought, but it has. It makes you realise there is more to life than motorbikes and winning.
"It's a few weeks since I did the deal with Martin to ride next year. The stress is off. I don't have to worry about where I'm going to get my bikes from and who is going to do this and who is going to do that.
"I'm at home enjoying the whole Christmas thing and it's nice to be here with Ella for her first Christmas."
Becoming a dad has inevitably led to William thinking more about his own father Robert, who was tragically killed in an accident during North West 200 practice in 2008.
Poignantly William says: "Before I was wishing my dad would have been there with us at the bikes, but now with Ella coming along I know there is more to life than that and I wish he was around to see his granddaughter. That's how your mind changes. I would hope dad is proud of me."
Years ago the public were fascinated by the relationship between the legendary Robert and his iconic brother Joey, who died in 2000 while racing in Estonia.
Today the story of William and younger sibling Michael - they have another brother Daniel who is not involved in bikes - is equally compelling.
Michael (27) is viewed as the single-minded, shoot from the hip character never afraid to stir up controversy with his comments.
William is considered more mild mannered, though as we chat it's evident he is a straight talker too. What they also have in common is an incredible ability to race on two wheels at remarkable speeds.
Rivals on the road for the last decade, their relationship has not been the same since William defeated an angry Michael in a thrilling Superbike race at the North West 200 two years ago.
The older brother suggests that perhaps when the helmets have been hung up in the future, they may get back on track.
"I don't see too much of Michael. We do our separate things. Since the North West a couple of years ago we haven't really been on good terms," says William.
"In racing I would be a better 600 rider and he would be a better Superbike rider, but we always cross paths somewhere. There is always going to be rivalry with everyone in races and it exists with us as well.
"We maybe treat each other worse than other riders. Michael is that obsessed if he isn't going to win a race he doesn't want you to win it either!
"We get on as brothers, but the actual racing side of things is hard. There are other brothers in motorcycling who get on very well, but they don't race against each other.
"I think it will be a lot better for me and Michael when we both finish racing."
William started out when he was 17. Since then he has won multiple times at major meetings like the North West 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix, as well as savouring hundreds of triumphs elsewhere.
It has been a successful career but he tells me when he parted company with CD Racing, run by Chris Dowd, before the North West this year and set up his own team, off road issues proved to be a real test.
"There was quite a lot of stress doing it that way to be honest," he says.
"Everyone thought it was my own team and it was in a way but somebody owned my Superbike, somebody owned my 600, someone owned by Superstock and I had a couple of sponsors. You had to look after everyone and make sure everything was done right.
"With the baby arriving as well it was getting too much. It was really stressful.
"When I was riding for Chris Dowd he was looking after everything, then when we split up I had completely nothing. Most teams have all winter to get their bikes sorted. I was going to the North West with no bike a week before. There were things like organising the awning, tools and mechanics and it just got too much for me and results weren't great at times.
"I don't like making excuses, but everything got on top of us. My heart rate was going through the roof and I felt stressed.
"In the winter I wanted to sort things out and when Martin asked me if I would be interested I thought it would take the stress off sponsors and myself, especially now that we have a baby.
"I don't want to have to come home and answer lots of phone calls. I want to come home and spend time with my daughter and go racing at the weekend, so when Martin came and basically offered me everything that I could want I couldn't say no. He has his own workshop and full-time mechanics. It's perfect.
"Martin has left the BSB (British Superbikes) paddock to go down the road racing route and I want to do well for him as well as myself.
"It's Martin's first time going into road racing so it will be hard for him to adjust, so doing it with one rider will suit us both. I obviously have experience on the roads and I think we have ticked each other's boxes."
Asked if he still gets the buzz from the sport that he had as a teenager, William's answer is both refreshingly candid and revealing.
Without hesitation, the affable Co Antrim native replies: "No, I don't. I haven't enjoyed it probably since what happened to my dad. He always looked after things for us. I have been on my own since really and haven't had anyone with me the whole way through.
"When I began, it was all about the racing. You went and raced, you didn't really care where you finished and my dad was always there to sort any problems.
"After my dad died, I started to win a few races like my first North West, and then I won my first Ulster Grand Prix and then you become competitive and once that happened the fun went out of it for me.
"Racing has turned into a business. It's not like throwing a bike in the back of a van now."
Even so he is ready to go next year and would love to shine at the Isle of Man TT, where he has suffered serious crashes.
Dunlop, who revels in playing as a striker for Clough Rangers in the Ballymena & Provincial League, says: "The TT is the biggest road race in the world and it is important to put on a good show.
"I still want to win loads more races at the North West and Ulster Grand Prix, but the TT is the big one for me in 2017. I haven't won there which is probably why all my efforts and emphasis is on the TT.
"When I started off as a young lad and my dad had the record number of wins at the North West, the North West was the one where I wanted to win most and then when you win at that meeting, your emphasis changes. When you don't have something you want it. I don't know what way you want to put it - it's like a girl you can't get.
"For some reason the TT hasn't happened for me yet. I've had the worst luck ever at the Isle of Man. You couldn't write the stories over the last three or four years. It has been ridiculous.
"I've had crashes but they haven't been my fault. I crashed upright twice. It wasn't down to rider error. Crashes never really affected me though the one this year definitely knocked me as it was out of my control which was hard to take.
"I feel good now. Signing with Martin is like a weight has been lifted off me shoulders.
"Life is good again.
"I'm looking forward to racing in 2017 and Janine and me are enjoying being parents to Ella."