13 time TT win­ner adamant it’s all about the team, not the bike, when it comes to the TT

Motorcycle News (UK) - - TT 2017 PREVIEW - By Oli Rushby SPORT REPORTER

Hav­ing won four out of the last six Su­per­bike and Se­nior TT races, Michael Dunlop is the man when it comes to the Isle of Man. Nephew of the late, great Joey Dunlop and son of Robert, Michael laid down the marker in 2016 to oblit­er­ate the lap record with an av­er­age speed of 133.962mph.

This time around he has set him­self a new chal­lenge, switch­ing from his trusty BMW to Suzuki’s new GSX-R1000. And while some ri­vals, most no­tably Ian Hutchin­son, have sug­gested he made the switch be­cause he had no other op­tions than to re­main with the Hawk Rac­ing team, the Ul­ster­man laughs this off.

“Peo­ple seem to think I stayed with Hawk be­cause I didn’t have any other choice but that’s not true,” Dunlop says with a wry smile. “I had op­tions but over the last few years I’ve got on re­ally well with Steve Hicken at Hawk.

“Some­times I’m not the eas­i­est to work with but if you prom­ise me you’ll do some­thing and you do it, we’ve noth­ing to fall out about – but if you tell me you’re go­ing to do some­thing and you don’t, that’s when we’ve got is­sues. He knows that the ef­fort I put in is 110% and I know it’s the same from him, so it just works.”

It’s not just his re­la­tion­ship with the Hick­ens that led to Dunlop stay­ing with Hawk. “The new bike was a good trig­ger for me,” he ex­plained. “I wanted some­thing that no­body else had, just to see if we can do it. Ev­ery­body has a BMW now, and yes last year it was the fastest bike but you get to the stage where you’re win­ning on some­thing that ev­ery­body’s rid­ing and you lose the buzz for it. I like try­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Dunlop has sought a sim­i­lar chal­lenge be­fore, of course, sign­ing for the Mil­wau­kee Yamaha team in 2015 to ride the then new YZF-R1. It’s fair to say things didn’t go well, with the Ul­ster­man walk­ing out on the team dur­ing prac­tice week at the TT.

“Peo­ple al­ways talk about the last time I rode a brand new bike but they for­get that the year be­fore I was on a new bike that had never re­ally done the TT be­fore and I won. The dif­fer­ence be­tween this year and 2015 is we’ve got work­ers be­hind it. The cracks were clear to be seen from day one in 2015, the out­fit was very much a fi­nan­cial thing more than it was about want­ing to win. That’s my opin­ion any­way and that wasn’t my cup of tea.

“Sure we’re go­ing to hit hur­dles, but if things need chang­ing we’ll change them and we’ve got the fa­cil­i­ties to do that with Hawk. There’s lots of scope and we’ve got smart peo­ple.”

And proof of such hur­dles came at their first real road rac­ing test of the GSX-R at the North West 200, where Dunlop strug­gled as the squad looked to dial in the GSX-R in both Su­per­stock and Su­per­bike trim. How­ever, a break­through ahead of the fi­nal Su­per­bike race saw him fight through to a promis­ing fourth.

Dunlop said: “It’s just not pos­si­ble to know how good a bike will be at the TT un­til you get out at the TT. You never get that chance or feel­ing of what’s gonna be or where it’s go­ing to go. That be­ing said, I don’t think we’re a mil­lion miles away.

“A rider can of­ten over­come a lot of the hur­dles. Ev­ery­body is on the BMW on the roads now, maybe I had some­thing to do with that! But, the last load of Su­per­bike/se­nior wins at the TT have been me, so it’s fair enough say­ing the BMW is good on the roads but it’s been me tak­ing the wins! I’ve won all the big stuff on it and then ev­ery­one climbed on and got one. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see what all the new bikes do this year and I don’t just mean ours.”

For Dunlop, it seems to be much less about the bike than about those he’s work­ing with. Since 2014, he’s built up such a re­la­tion­ship with Hawk own­ers, Steve and Stu­art Hicken he trusts them to take him to the TT on a com­pletely un­proven pack­age.

“Given the right peo­ple, I think I could win on any­thing. I mean, ob­vi­ously you can’t get a dead horse to run, but you can get a knack­ered one go­ing again!”

While Dunlop has dom­i­nated the Su­per­bike/ Se­nior races in re­cent years, arch ri­val Ian Hutchin­son has got the bet­ter of him in the Su­per­stock and Su­per­sport classes – some­thing he’s de­ter­mined to change this year as he looks to match Hutchin­son’s five in a week.

“I’ve strug­gled in the last cou­ple of years for speed with my 600, but I’m still the lap record holder!” Dunlop says. “The last cou­ple of years in Su­per­sport has been slow pace with fast bikes, but we’ve put a bit of ef­fort into get­ting it right this year. Win­ning five races prop­erly is pos­si­ble. It needs me to be on top form, the boys be­ing on it and ev­ery­one be­ing at 100%. I feel it’s pos­si­ble in my mind, any­way.”


Dunlop di­alling in his new GSX-R dur­ing prac­tice at the North West 200 Hands-on at Hawk HQ in Mal­lory 2016 Su­per­bike TT: Dunlop’s joy, Hutchy’s mis­ery

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