‘I CAN WIN ON ANYTHING’
13 time TT winner adamant it’s all about the team, not the bike, when it comes to the TT
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.”
‘IT’S FAIR ENOUGH SAYING THE BMW IS GOOD ON THE ROADS BUT IT’S BEEN ME TAKING THE WINS!’