CAN DUNLOP MAKE HISTORY AT TT 2023
Some people thought Michael Dunlop was finished as a big-bike rider at the Isle of Man TT Races. The last time he won a 1000cc TT was half a decade ago, way back in 2018, when he took Superbike victory, after rival Dean Harrison had stopped with technical problems.
Since then Dunlop only seemed to have TT-winning speed on smaller bikes. Perhaps his best years on the Isle of Man were past him?
Saturday’s sun-blessed RST Superbike TT Race turned that theory on its head though. Dunlop was sublime and in a class of his own, even if runner-up Peter Hickman had bike issues.
Dunlop last 1000cc TT win was the 2018 Superbike Race
And Dunlop made history too. His 23rd TT victory – 14 years after his first, the second Supersport race of 2009 – puts him equal second in the all-time winners list with former King of the Mountain John McGuinness, who finished the race an excellent sixth. And more importantly he now stands just three wins behind Uncle Joey, the TT’s most successful exponent of all time.
Thus in the space of one hour 43 minutes and two seconds the 34-year-old transformed himself from potential spent force to potential history maker. There are six races to go this week and Dunlop was mega-fast in every class during qualifying, so there’s every chance he may have surpassed his uncle when the chequered flag falls at the end of Saturday’s Milwaukee Senior TT Race.
Michael unofficially broke the lap record in the final qualifying session of TT 2023
Dunlop is a man of few words and many wins. He doesn’t get emotional, which is the way to be if you’re an Isle of Man TT racer, because you need ice flowing through your veins to lap the Mountain course at over 130 miles an hour.
However, if he does better Joey we can expect a few tears, maybe not in public, because this will be a momentous happening for the Dunlop dynasty, something of which he is deeply aware of, even if he rarely shows it.
The Dunlop family has been a major part of TT history for almost half a century, ever since Joey scored his first Island success in 1977. The 25-year-old won that race in typically gritty style, now a family hallmark, by holding on to a loose oversize fuel tank with his knees!
Joey Dunlop achieved his history making 26th Win in the 2000 Lightweight TT Race
Yer Maun, as he became known, achieved his 26th TT victory 23 years later, in June 2000, at the age of 48. Michael Dunlop is just 34, which offers us a glimpse of what he might go on to achieve, if he keeps racing for as long as his uncle.
Dunlop looks like a new man this year. He never talks about what he’s been up to, but he seems fitter than ever. He’s also found that all-important consistency, staying with the same team and racing Honda Fireblades in the RST Superbike, RL360 Superstock and Milwaukee Senior TT Races. Last year he had planned to race a Ducati Panigale V4, but that fell through, so he made a last-minute switch to a Suzuki GSX-R1000, run by his former employers Hawk Racing.
Upsets and team splits have been a feature of Dunlop’s career – he likes things to be exactly how he wants them to be and he brooks no compromise – and perhaps he’s finally found what’s he’s looking for in Hawk Racing, run by Steve and Stuart Hicken. Knowing your team and trusting your team means everything in racing and nowhere more so than at the TT, so sticking with Hawk has surely helped his 2023 campaign. It’s a huge psychological benefit, no doubt.
Michael Dunlop claimed his first TT victory in the 2009 Supersport TT Race
And if Dunlop does end 2023 race week as the most successful TT rider of all time, what then? What does that achievement mean in the greater world of motorcycle racing?
The TT is totally different from MotoGP, World Superbikes, British Superbikes and everything else. There is nothing else like it, absolutely nothing, not even the North West 200, Dundrod or Macau. Some MotoGP and Superbike riders think TT riders are crazy; others treat them with a certain awe, aware that they are doing something very different with the skills they have to ride a motorcycle to the very edge of control.
Clever MotoGP riders understand they have an historic affiliation with the TT, because they know that TT riders are doing what GP riders did few decades ago – they thread the eye of the needle between the Manx walls and hedges, without enjoying the luxury of being able to make a mistake and walk away from it.
Michael Dunlop has every chance to make history in the next few days. But you know that won’t be the dominant thought in his mind: just focus on finishing races, on winning races and the records will look after themselves.