• May 30, 2017
    Last updated 1 minute ago

motorsport

‘It’s the one thing I can be in control of’

TT rider Michael Dunlop explains why he stills races despite losing dad and uncle to lethal sport

Ashley HammondStaff Reporter
22:07 May 19, 2017

Dubai: Why stay in a sport with the worst death rates after it has already claimed the lives of your father and uncle?

Not the easiest opening gambit to an interview, and perhaps the reason why Michael Dunlop has decided to pen his autobiography, Road Racer: It’s In My Blood, to end the litany of questions from journalists asking the same.

Unless we are sat on the bike ourselves we may never know why he still does it; and in a typically blunt no-nonsense email interview, he doesn’t care if his answers fully satisfy our understanding of him or not.

“It’s something that I’ve been raised in,” he tells Gulf News. “It’s all I know really. The risks are high but so is my love for the sport. I keep going because I enjoy it.”

The 28-year-old from Ballymoney, Country Antrim in Northern Ireland, is the nephew to legend Joey Dunlop, who holds the record for most wins in the Olympics of their sport - the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - with 26 victories.

Joey died following a crash in a race in Estonia in 2000, at the age of 48.

Eight years later, Joey’s younger brother Robert, Michael’s father, was also killed in an accident during practice at the North West 200 race in Northern Ireland, aged 47.

Michael, then 19, was competing, following closely behind his father, and not only dealt with the immediate aftermath of his dad’s death on the Thursday, but also went on to win the race on the Saturday, dedicating the victory to his late father, after going against steward’s advice not to race.

“It was as if somebody had just lifted all the weight off my shoulders,” he says of getting back on the bike following his dad’s death, in an extract from his book, which was released earlier this month. “It’s the first time I’ve known where I was, really, in 48 hours.

“I needed to race, I realised that now. It’s the one thing I can be in control of. I couldn’t control my dad’s life or his death. I couldn’t control the media or anyone who came to visit our house [for the wake on the Friday]. But I could point that bike where I wanted it and I could make it sing.”

Fast forward nine years and Michael is, along with his older brother William, 31, upholding the Dunlop family name in road racing.

Michael not only holds the lap record for the fastest time around the Isle of Man circuit at 16 minutes, 53 seconds, set last year at an average speed of 215-kmph, but he is also fifth in the all-time most wins tally with 13 victories, 13 off his uncle Joey.

He will be competing in his ninth Isle of Man TT starting next week from May 27 to June 9, in an event that has claimed 251 lives in its 110-year history, five fatalities of which occurred just last year, taking the average to just over two deaths a year since its 1907 inception.

Is he scared? “Nope”, and has his family begged him to stop? “No they haven’t.”

Surely though he must have considered eventually getting out of the sport on his own terms?

“I just want to keep riding motorbikes until the day I feel like I don’t want to anymore and then I won’t. When I decide I’ve had enough then that will be it. Nobody knows when that day will come, not even me.”

At the end of 2013 he almost quit after a battle with depression as the bailiffs moved in on his late father’s estate.

“When I was racing I was doing so well that the real world didn’t touch me,” he says in his book. “The debt collector was ringing every day but while I was on the track he couldn’t touch me.

“He couldn’t get into my helmet. There was no phone in there. But at the end of the year, when I took the helmet off, it felt like the floodgates had opened.”

But, then he returned: “I certainly didn’t go back for the finances, that’s one sure thing,” he tells us of his motivation. “More money goes into this sport than comes out. My team wouldn’t function without the generous support of sponsors. I love riding my bike and that’s it in a nutshell.”

Asked if part of his need to return came from a pressure to live up to the Dunlop name, and whether that pressure in turn pushed him closer to the edge, he replies: “No it doesn’t, I do what I want to do and any pressure that’s given is self-inflicted.”

Of catching Joey’s record, he adds: “I just want to keep trying to win as much as I can, it’s nice adding to the tally but that’s my job.”

His late father Robert had five Isle of Man wins, and at the time of his death he held the record for North West 200 wins at 15, two more than Joey.

“On plenty of tracks he was every bit as good as Joey, and maybe on some days even better,” he says of his dad in his book. “I’m not saying that to disrespect Joey in any way, because he was the undisputed king of the roads. He was The Man. Our entire family owes everything to that boy, as does our town. But I think if my dad had come to racing earlier in his life he might have made more of a name for himself.”

And of his own name, as a precocious, if unapologetically frank, talent, Michael adds: “I speak my mind because I don’t like [expletives]. I don’t have time for them, I don’t need to have time for them. That will never change, I am what I am. I do this for myself, nobody else.”