Speed is in the genes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am


It's perhaps fitting that after 21 years, the name Dunlop will rise from the ashes like a phoenix and take its rightful place at next month's 45th Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix.

Fearless brothers William and Michael Dunlop will be competing alongside each other as they make their Macau debut on November 19 in a race that has a more poignant look to it this time.

What is significant is that William, 26, and younger brother Michael, 23, are the sons of the late Robert Dunlop and nephews of the late Joey Dunlop, two of Northern Ireland's greatest riders who died tragically as their careers were winding down.

Now, the two younger Dunlops are trying to step into their father and uncle's racing boots.

Robert Dunlop was one of the biggest names in motorcycle racing in an earlier era. He was also a winner of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix in 1989. Elder brother Joey, probably the most famous and best loved of all the Dunlops, also competed in Macau. In fact, both Robert and Joey raced in Macau together in 1990, with Robert finishing fourth and Joey taking ninth position.

Now a second generation of Dunlops will be out to keep up the good family name as the two brothers attempt to emulate the exploits of their famous father and uncle.

'We take a lot of pleasure in adding our names to the winners of trophies that our family has already won. As my dad would say, it's all about writing the name Dunlop into the history books,' said William Dunlop.

William started racing after the death of his uncle Joey, who was killed in a crash in Estonia in 2000, when aged 48. William's father, Robert, met the same tragic fate, dying in a crash during practice for the North West 200 (in Northern Ireland) in 2008. He was 47.

So great was their contribution to motorcycling, Robert and Joey were conferred posthumous honorary degrees by the University of Ulster in 2006. Joey was voted the third greatest Irish sportsman ever in 2009. Their deaths were mourned by the whole country, but not long after, William decided that racing was his calling, too.

'The reason why I started racing was because of the death of Joey ... I don't know why but it's the reason,' said William. 'I had no interest in bikes before that but the following year [after Joey's death], I started racing.

'I'm glad I did. What I get from road racing, words can't describe it, and from there it just snowballed ... people wanted to help from my first race. It was hard when I lost my father but he taught us both well, and I never once felt bad about his death as I know how much the sport meant to him and I know he would have wanted me that way. I understand it as I have that love for it and as long as I can physically ride a bike, I'll be doing it. It's all I know.'

William, who has won races at the North West 200, will be aboard a Wilson Craig Honda 1000cc for Macau and he's looking forward to negotiating the tricky 3.8 mile Guia circuit that has become a favourite among bikers.

Michael, too, is making a name for himself. The youngster won the 2009 Supersport TT at the Isle of Man TT course and is the fastest of the Dunlops around that circuit. He will compete in Macau with the Kawasaki Racing Team. But it is the mature and methodical William who could be the wild card at the Macau race.

'I have never raced a street circuit before so I'm not so sure if it will suit me. All road races that suit me are the fast ones as I have a flowing style,' explained. William.

'I'm a fast learner of new circuits and I have a good bike. I look forward to something new and hopefully Michael and I will do the name proud,' he added.

'To be honest, I'm not putting a result in my head. I know I'm a top-10 rider no problem, even as a newcomer. I believe I've the best machinery with the Wilson Craig Honda but all I want to do is enjoy the experience.

'All the people that go [to Macau] say it's something else and it's a 'must go', so I treat it as a holiday but as always I want to do my best and so will Michael.'

Robert - and especially Joey - reached the pinnacle of the sport as true greats at the Isle of Man TT circuit and are legends at the North West 200. Macau will never forget them either. William admitted he would face stiff competition in an ultra-competitive Macau field that includes six-time winner Michael Rutter.

'Robert never mentioned Macau to us ... well not in a way of racing it although the people in Ireland always talk about his Macau [1989] win. It was something special to him I think because it's something he won and Joey never won it, which is weird as Joey won just about everything there was to win.

'I don't know why it has taken this long [to come to Macau]. I've always wanted to do it but never asked. I would have loved to compete in the 600 [Supersport] race first but having said that I'm with a team now with good machinery and my confidence on the Honda bike is very high so now is the best year for me to go.'

William knows Macau will be another great memory, perhaps on par with his tilt at the 250cc grand prix (now Moto2) in Valencia in 2009.

'It was a great experience to take part in the last ever 250 race. We did it on a shoestring budget and had it not been for a friend, Mark Kelly, helping me raise the funds, I'd never have been there, although I didn't think we let ourselves down.

'We qualified within the time to race and did not finish last. The race itself was horrible as after five laps the tyre completely went and to ride round another 15 laps with a tyre sliding about was not nice.

'But it was our fault as we accidentally put a soft tyre on for the race. The slow-down lap was something special. Never again will I see people coming out of the grandstands waving. I had a group that I stopped for a burn out for, and then all of a sudden I was surrounded by people shouting and waving flags.

'I think it might have been the helmet I was using as it's was my dad's design and he copied Angelo Nieto's design, a superstar [multi-time grand prix world champion] in Spain.'

Even now, the legacy of Robert and Joey Dunlop lives on and the young Dunlop brothers know the memory of their father and uncle will be remembered forever. Now it's their turn to become legends ... beginning in Macau.