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He ain’t heavy: We profile Michael and William Dunlop

Michael and William Dunlop
Michael and William Dunlop

By Paul Lindsay

One is mercurial and hard-charging, the other mild-mannered and sedate. But in spite of their different personalities, Michael and William Dunlop are proof that, when push comes to shove, blood is thicker than water.

The Dunlop name in Northern Ireland is synonymous with sport and, of course, the popular discipline of pure road racing, which over the years has become a big part of our heritage, with the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix our flagship events.

In spite of their passing, George Best and Alex Higgins have remained household names through many generations, but the late, great, Joey Dunlop, with his record breaking 26 TT wins, five consecutive F1 world titles and that famous yellow helmet, brought the sport of road racing into the limelight.

Joey's brother, Robert, who is also sadly no longer with us - killed in a crash at the North West 200 in 2008 - left his indelible mark on the sport and still holds the record number of wins at the North West 200, but it's his sons, William and Michael, who have been handed the task of keeping the Dunlop dynasty to the fore.

It has to be said, to date, they are doing their father and uncle Joey very proud indeed and, in spite of their chalk-and-cheese personalities and a spat at last year's North West 200, blood is certainly thicker than water, as has been proved at this year's TT.

Michael Dunlop, at 26, is the Isle of Man TT's leading light and since his debut in 2007, the youngest of the Dunlop brothers now has 11 career wins. Back-to-back four times in 2013 and 2014 made the world sit up and take notice of the hard-charging Co Antrim man, who is never far from the spotlight.

Controversy and jubilation seem to take centre-stage in Michael's career and they often overlap, as we saw in 2014 North West 200 when he finished second to brother William in the opening Superbike race.

His blind fury at being beaten by his more sedate and mild-mannered brother were captured by the world's media; causing a rift than has yet to be fully healed, but when faced with adversity, Dunlop Jnr has shown his softer side, at times.

Just a few weeks later, William came to grief in the Senior TT, crashing out on the mountain section of the circuit at more than 100mph on his Tyco Suzuki. Michael rode through the wreckage and was tangibly distraught when he inquired of his big brother during the pit stop.

But, showing his single-minded approach and obvious talent on a motorcycle, he went on to take the victory in the blue riband class, completing his back-to-back four timers.

In his post-race interviews, he used some unsavory language to describe how the media had over-hyped his rift with William, but that's Michael and part of the fabric that makes him so successful.

Then, just last week, Michael again came across an incident on the TT circuit involving William in the stone-wall lined Glen Helen section of mountain circuit. Michael immediately dismounted and was the first on the scene. He assisted paramedics and marshals and one of the most poignant pictures from this year's event was of Michael carrying his brother on a stretcher to the waiting air ambulance.

In spite of being injured himself, eyewitnesses said he took control of the situation, showing a level of maturity and unconditional love for his brother that was talked about for the duration of the event.

Michael is already a more accomplished TT racer than his ultra-talented father, Robert, who was vocal about his dislike of the mountain circuit. Small in stature, Robert's five wins came in the 125cc and 600cc classes at the TT, but it's a case of what might have been had Robert's back wheel on his RC45 not collapsed during the 1994 Formula 1 race.

Until Thursday, Michael was without a win at this year's TT Races, but as we have come to expect, he was commanding the lion's share of the headlines. A high-profile move from BMW to Yamaha for this season - probably aided by his brother William's TAS Racing team securing the BMW Motorrad contract - gave Michael the determination he needed to sign a factory deal with Yamaha.

The Japanese manufacturer was launching what was being touted as a world-beating new 1000cc machine and Dunlop Jnr was cock-a-hoop at the prospect of getting one over on BMW and his big brother. There's no doubt he had visions of a TT clean-sweep.

Unfortunately, things didn't go quite to plan and, in the middle of practice week on the Isle of Man, he unceremoniously dumped his Milwaukee Yamaha squad to jump back on BMW and Honda machinery.

It wasn't the best preparation for the world's toughest race, with just a handful of laps to readjust, but if anyone was able to do it, it would be Micky D and his burning desire for success.

In a bitter twist of fate, a crash in last Sunday's six-lap TT Superbike race, just two miles from the chequered flag while on lap-record pace on his BMW, left Michael battered and bruised. And, if we add to that mental trauma from seeing his brother lying on the road for the second year in succession at the TT, he told one of his crew: "The job's screwed."

William Dunlop is certainly a more mild-mannered version of Michael, but when it comes to his racing career, he's equally as determined and talented, but possibly not just as headstrong and confident in his approach.

William, at times, comes across as a reluctant road racer and, having shown flashes of brilliance on the short circuit scene throughout his career, one wonders would he have been more suited to a British Championship career had be have been afforded an early opportunity.

Granted, the elder of the brothers has 11 international road racing victories on his CV thus far, but he will be bitterly disappointed to have missed out on riding in this year's Supersport races on the Isle of Man, having returned home for treatment to his injuries.

Michael Dunlop had one more opportunity in yesterday's blue riband six-lap Senior TT race, but the question has to be, where does he go from here?

Like his uncle Joey, Michael is a free-spirited racer and, in spite of William's demeanour being more like their famous uncle, Michael is the one more likely to close in on his record tally of 26 TT victories.

Both men will be back in local action at the Armoy Road Races next month (July 24-25) and the Ulster Grand Prix in August (3-8). If you haven't seen the boys in action, or witnessed the matchless adrenalin buzz of pure road racing, then put the dates in your diary.

A life so far

Michael Dunlop

Date of birth: 10/12/1989

Hometown: Ballymoney

Career highlights:

11 Isle of Man TT wins

4 North West 200 wins

6 Ulster Grand Prix wins

William Dunlop

Date of birth: 23/7/1985

Hometown: Ballymoney

Career highlights:

4 North West 200 wins

7 Ulster Grand Prix wins

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