Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

North West 200: What drives Michael Dunlop on

Supersport 600 Michael Dunlop rider pictured at the second practice on the North coast circuit at the Relentless International North West 200
North West 200: Michael Dunlop
Ballymena's Darren Gilpin pictured at the Relentless International North West 2010

North West hero Michael Dunlop has revealed what fires him on to seek faster speeds and more famous victories.

Family honour, not personal glory, is his driving force, he insisted ahead of today's north coast classic.

Sons of legend Robert, 21-year- old Michael and older brother William (25) are the direct flagbearers of the famed Dunlop Dynasty on the grid today.

They are joined by cousins Sam Dunlop, son of Joey's brother Jim, and Paul Robinson, son of the late Mervyn Robinson, who made up the original, revered Armoy Armada with Joey, Jim and the late Frank Kennedy.

That's a big biking pedigree to live up to, yet neither brother appears overwhelmed.

They just have different ways of going about their racing business.

For William, it is quiet determination.

With Michael, there's always a whiff of cordite.

In a dangerous game where nerve and machines are tested to the limit, there's an edge about Michael that sets him apart from even the most fearless.

What's more, he agrees.

“I do it for family,” he told me proudly, “because of who I am.

“I don't mean me, personally. It’s because I'm a Dunlop — and racing and winning are in our genes. We don't know any other way.

“This is not about proving something to people, that I'm the son of my father, or even proving something to myself.

“I do push myself and my bikes hard and I do feel a great deal of pressure, but all of it is self-imposed.

“When you claim one win, it has to be on to the next. There is so much more to achieve.”

Michael's motivation has never been in doubt.

It was reinforced two years ago this weekend when, just 48 hours after his father's loss on the same track, he powered to his now famous, belief-defying win in the opening 250 race.

All those who witnessed his skill and bravery considered it just about the most remarkable feat in any theatre of sport.

With typical Dunlop candour, he reflects: “It is pleasing that people thought that and I won't talk down what I achieved that day. I remember every moment of that race like no other.

“But I can't trade on that. Sooner or later it is going to run dry.

“When they call out the winners' names at today's North West, they won't be reading out a list from two years ago.

“My father always said to come second was to be first loser and I believe that, too.

“I've won here on a 250 and now I need to win on a bigger bike to keep the family name up there — my dad and Joey both recorded Superbike victories here.

“I'm entered in five races and need to take something from those.

“It doesn't bother me that we're a wee, home-grown team up against the big factory boys. I'm my own mechanic and build my own bikes so there's satisfaction in showing I'm as good as them, as I think I did in this week's two practice sessions.”

Injured Steve Plater would have been a major obstacle to Dunlop ambitions in the showpiece Superbike races.

But Michael still laments his rival's absence.

He insisted: “Steve would have been the main man and there's nothing the rest of us would like more than to beat him fair and square.

“We don't want anyone saying we won because someone else wasn't there and Steve would be exactly the same.”

Michael and William both go in five races today; Michael missing out the 125 and William only contesting one of the two Superbike races.

That means they go head to head in four, with William in pole in the 125, which he won last year, and Michael in Supersport 600 pole.

William, however, is battling a wrist injury, though he insisted: “Its not really a problem on the 125 or the 600, its more of a problem on the Superbike, so I can't really ride it to my full potential.

“Conditions in Thursday's practice were a bit iffy, as you were on dry roads one moment and the next thing on wet, so it was a bit of a lottery.

“I hope it stays dry for Race Day, albeit I have heard that there might be a few showers, so that could cause problems before and during the races. One can only try one's best.”

The Dunlop definition of best, you suspect, differs greatly from the Oxford English version.

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