Michael Dunlop to light up North West
Vauxhall North West 200 Race Director Mervyn Whyte fairly accelerated off the grid to ensure Michael Dunlop's first International appearance on his new BMWfactory machine will be on the north coast for this year's May 12-17 Race Week.
Whyte confirmed: "We have already agreed terms with Michael to ride at this year's North West and it will be exciting for fans to see him on the grid with the new BMWs.
"BMW have won races in World Superbikes and there is no doubt that with the new machine's speed and Michael's ability he will be challenging for North West wins come May."
The 24-year old Ballymoney rider had a phenomenal 2013 season starting at the rain-affected North West where he won the Supersport race, followed by a scintillating TT where he won four races with two new lap records before a somewhat low key Ulster Grand Prix where he had a solitary victory in the Superstock class.
His season long performances saw him acclaimed as IFS International and National road racer of the year at the Adelaide Awards in January, decreed a Freeman of Ballymoney and receive the Malcolm Brodie Award at the Belfast Telegraph Awards.
Yet the prospect of Michael turning his back on the racing game after his split with Honda was very real until BMW dangled a challenge he couldn't resist -- piloting their marque to only their second TT win in 75 years.
Michael commented: "BMW made it very clear that they want me to race for them and I am now highly motivated. I'm not scared of getting on a new bike and trying to win -- I have won on Yamahas, Hondas and Kawasakis in the past so why not BMW now?"
Of course this all leads to what should be a mighty Superbike TT confrontation between Dunlop and the might of Honda Britain with 19-time TT winner and Mountain Circuit outright lap record holder John McGuinness and their new signing Conor Cummins.
Also in there will be Bruce Anstey on Padgetts Hondas, Guy Martin and William Dunlop riding Tyco Suzukis, the return of Ian Hutchinson, the record five-time winner in 2010 following serious injury and 29 operations on an as yet unspecified machine and a host of other potential winners on proven machines with Dunlop the odd man out, as his BMW is an unknown quantity on the roads.
Honda have been the dominant force at the TT for many years and the question is can that strangle hold be broken by Michael and BMW?
"I know what I have to do to win and I'm willing to do what it takes," Michael affirmed. "Yes, it is a calculated gamble, but I believe in BMW and I'm more excited than ever about the challenge ahead. I certainly won't be going to the TT to finish second."
Tthe team go into road racing without any pre set-up details, but by the time Dunlop flashes down Bray Hill on his opening flying lap of practice all will become clearer as to how the machine will take to the rigours of the Mountain Circuit, a unique test of man and machine.
Dunlop has the talent, bravery and outright speed to take the BMW S 1000 RR Superbike to win number two for the German factory.
He will also have at his disposal a similar Superstock specification BMW that will run under his MD Racing Team banner while he anticipates running an as yet unspecified Supersport machine out of his own awning.
There is every possibility that Dunlop will have the Superstock BMW available for selected Irish national road races and selected BSB rounds.
Triumphant trailblazer Ernie inspired home made Grand Prix winner:
Motorcycle racing has lost one of its' pioneers with the death of Ernie Lyons just a month shy of his 100th birthday.
Lyons, from Kildare, had been the oldest surviving Manx Grand Prix winner having won the Senior Manx in 1946 riding a 'home modified' Triumph Tiger 100 twin to victory, despite a broken frame.
It was Triumph's first victory at the Manx Grand Prix, Ernie recording a fastest lap speed of 78.80mph. I wonder what he thought of today's speeds around the Mountain Circuit in excess of 130mph.
On the back of Lyons' success, Triumph decided to manufacture a racing model based on his 'home mods' and this machine, the Triumph Grand Prix, claimed many victories throughout Europe.
Locally Lyons won the 1939 500cc race at the North West and then in 1955 his brother Alan won the 250cc race at the North West, the first brothers to be successful at the event, the only others being Joey and Robert Dunlop, then William and Michael Dunlop.
* Newcomer training days for tarmac competitors begin on Saturday at Bishopscourt from 9am followed by two more sessions at Kirkistown on Sunday, February 23 and Sunday, March 2. Over 30 riders ranging from 12-50 years of age are expected to attend . For details contact Jim Cray on 02890813095 or mobile 07712644665.
* World Superbike contenders Eugene Laverty and Jonathan Rea are off to Australia for a two-day test at Philip Island next week ahead of the 2014 opening round on February 23.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki mounted Laverty, runner-up last year with Aprilia, will be looking to go one better, just losing out on the title to Tom Sykes despite 19 podiums including nine race wins.
Rea is hoping to bounce back from an injury hit 2013 again riding for Pata Honda on a completely different software package and engine modifications on the Fireblade.
* The popular Ballymoney Motorcycle Show returns to the Joey Dunlop Centre in the town on the weekend of Friday-Saturday, March 7-8.
A large display of racing bikes will be on display along with classic, vintage, mini moto and off road as well as a selection of trade stalls and top riders, past and present, in attendance. This year's charity partner is The Samaritans.
Belfast Telegraph Digital