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The edge of history

Michael_Dunlop_Qualifying

With three races remaining at this year’s Isle of Man TT Races, there’s pretty much only one question being asked by the fans, media and fellow competitors: ‘can Michael do it?’.

Michael Dunlop has been in sensational form at this year’s event, winning all but one of the five solo races he’s started and looking as lean and hungry as ever. The often monosyllabic Ulsterman has been complex and sometimes controversial character since making his TT debut in 2007. He went on to win 2009’s second Supersport TT as a 20-year-old, and goes into this weekend’s final races with a total tally of 25 wins – just one behind the all-time record holder, his uncle Joey.

Michael won his first ‘big’ TT in 2013, taking the week opening six-lap Superbike race from Cameron Donald, and while he’s excelled in the smaller bike classes, where he prefers to run his own ‘MD Racing’ team, he’s often struggled to fit in at the bigger teams who can provide the budget and material to win the showcase Superbike and Senior TTs. He famously split with the Milwaukee Yamaha TT during 2015 practice week and, in general, his spells with big corporate teams like Tyco BMW and Honda Racing have looked like a poor fit with the fiercely independent Dunlop.

But ‘Mickey D’ has continued to win throughout the years, winning at least one TT a year since 2009 – with the exception of 2010 and the problematic 2015 campaign, where he split with his team at the last minute. He’s excelled in the smaller classes, Supersport and Supertwins (formerly Lightweight) but his tie in with Hawk Racing appears to be giving him the environment to thrive in the big bike classes too. The Mallory Park based squad are one of the most experienced teams in British superbikes, but their tight family nature seems to get the best out of Dunlop. They’ve run him on BMW and Suzuki machinery in the past, including a last minute deal where he switched from Yamaha in 2015, and this year they’ve given him a Honda Fireblade capable of setting an unofficial lap record in practice week, and to take down the six-lap Superbike TT with relative ease.

 

Dunlop_SS

 

Breaking all the records?

While the headlines may well be about the total career wins Dunlop leaves the island with, there’s plenty more for the now 34-year-old to go at. Ian Hutchinson holds the record for the most TTs won in a week, when he won all five of the solo TTs held that year, and while Dunlop can’t go through the card after being bested by Peter Hickman in the first Superstock TT, the expanded race programme means he’s still on for a potential seven successes  – with two more wins making him not only the winningest rider around the ferocious 37.73-mile mountain course, but also the first man to win six TTs in a week.

And then there are the lap records. Fine weather has seen a week of super fast lap times on the island and Dunlop has already made history by setting the first 130mph lap on a 600cc bike, in the second Supersport TT, and he’s also been under the outright and (his own) Supertwin records in practice. Dunlop posted a staggering 135.531mph lap in final qualifying, and the question now is can he do it again in Saturday’s Senior TT?

 

 

Dunlop_130

 

Dunlop dynasty

Michael Dunlop was born to race motorcycles. He is the son of five-time TT winner Robert Dunlop, who in turn is the younger brother of the late, great, Joey Dunlop – whose record of 26 Isle of Man TT wins could be broken this weekend. Michael is one of Robert’s three sons, with brother William also a TT racer until his death at the Skerries 100 races in 2018, and it is fair to say that the family from Ballymoney in Northern Ireland are road racing royalty.

Michael made his first appearance at the TT in 2007 and really came to the public’s attention the following year, when he won the 250cc race at the North West 200 just days after his father was killed in practice for the same race. A year later he won his first TT and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Joey Dunlop remains one of the most iconic and beloved road racers of all time, there could be no more fitting rider to break his records. There are lots of parallels between the two racers, from their introverted natures to their philosophy of preparing their own bikes and of course their incredible ability to take on and beat the most challenging race track in the world.

Joey was 50-years-old when he won his final three TTs in 2000 (he died at a race in Estonia a month later) completing a fairytale career that spanned four decades. His win in that year’s Formula One TT remains one of the all-time great TT comeback stories. At just 34-years-old, a relative youngster in TT terms, and with 15 years’ experience of the island course, who knows how many more pages Michael will fill in the record books.

And when asked, the man himself gives the most Joey of answers “I’m just enjoying my riding. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.” It’s fair to say he does his talking on the Mountain course. Quite a bit of talking, as it happens.

Dates with destiny

Dunlop can equal his uncle Joey’s record in tomorrow’s RL360 Superstock TT, with the Carole Nash Supertwin TT held later in the day and the showcase Milwaukee Senior TT closing race week on Saturday afternoon. He needs at least one win to equal the record of 26 wins, with two or more seeing him extend it.

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