Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Speed king Michael Dunlop is in hot pursuit of uncle Joey's incredible TT record

Family affair: Michael Dunlop with his racing legend dad Robert
Family affair: Michael Dunlop with his racing legend dad Robert

A nostalgia-laden documentary airs on ITV4 tonight at 10pm, entitled Joey Dunlop: The Man Who Conquered the TT.

A must-watch for bike fans and admirers of the legendary Ballymoney racer and pub landlord, it tells the dramatic story of Joey's record 26 wins in the iconic Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races, 30 years on from his first victory on the Honda bikes he rode so brilliantly and breathtakingly.

We may not have to wait so long for the sequel with the family name once again to the forefront of sporting achievement.

This week, nephew Michael Dunlop, son of Joey's brother Robert, has been carving his name with pride alongside those of his late, great dad and uncle in the annals of TT history.

Winner of all four races on the island this week, for a career total of seven, 24-year-old Michael has shattered records on and off the track. First he equalled and then overtook Robert's five wins and now he is in hot pursuit of Joey's 26.

At his age, and in his current form on his aptly named Honda TT Legends bikes, few would bet against him.

There is no more popular winner in road racing, both here and on the sport's spiritual island home, than a Dunlop. The name is synonymous with road racing, and winning... a dynasty with a destiny.

In much the same way as ancient legend decrees the monarchy to be safe as long as the ravens in residence circle the Tower of London, so bike fans look to the current Dunlop generation of Michael and his elder brother William as evidence of continuity in a threatened and often cruel sport... no family knows that harsh truth better than the Dunlops.

Racing is in the DNA of their menfolk, all of whom have been racers at some level. It would have been easier for Michael to have chosen a different path. He was just 11 years old when Joey was killed in a freak accident racing in the woods of Estonia in the year 2000. Eight years later he was on the track when his dad Robert was tragically taken in a crash in North West 200 practice.

As rival New Zealand rider Bruce Anstey observed as Michael passed Robert's TT total: "His dad would be so proud." Proud but not surprised.

There is a fierce determination about Michael in sharp contrast to the equally competitive but more reserved William.

The most courageous performance I have witnessed in any sporting contest came two days after the death of Robert when an emotionally charged Michael, aged just 19, sensationally won the North West opening race to transform what had begun as a requiem into a celebration of his late father's racing life.

In the three years that followed, even his most committed fans feared he was riding more like a man possessed than to a plan.

I once asked him why he rode so relentlessly, to which he replied: "Because I'm a Dunlop. I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself."

Fast forward to this year and an ugly duckling-like metamorphosis, forged in the gym and fuelled by a healthy eating regime, saw Michael emerge toned and tuned in to the legacy he was born to uphold.

In motorcyle racing, sometimes it is the rider and sometimes the machine that delivers the edge that wins the day. With Michael and his new Honda bikes in harmony, all the planets are aligned and the result is a match made in heaven.

Tomorrow he bids to become only the second rider, after Yorkshireman Ian Hutchinson three years ago, to win five races in TT week. His feats already this week have been awesome.

The TT is the most dangerous motorcycle race in the world. Over 230 have died trying to conquer the 37-and-three-quarter-mile circuit, regarded as the ultimate thrill ride for any racer. Robert and Joey Dunlop succeeded. Now Michael has joined them on the pantheon of road racing greats.

Latest Sport News

Stats Centre