Wil­liam Dun­lop talks to Tara Brady about the thrilling new doc­u­men­tary Road,

They had big biker boots to fill. Wil­liam Dun­lop, of thrilling new doc­u­men­tary Road, tells Tara Brady how he and his brother, Michael, fol­lowed their late dad Robert and un­cle Joey onto the open road

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

At the an­nual In­ter­na­tional Isle of Man TT (Tourist Tro­phy), mo­tor­cy­cles reach speeds of about 200 mph on twist­ing, nar­row open roads. The fes­ti­val, which is of­ten called the most dan­ger­ous sport­ing event in the world, has claimed the lives of more than 200 rid­ers. At the time of writ­ing, two mo­tor­cy­clists – Bob Price and Karl Har­ris – have died rid­ing in the 2014 TT fix­tures.

The sta­tis­tics do noth­ing to de­ter Wil­liam Dun­lop; this week marks the North­ern Ir­ish­man’s eighth ap­pear­ance at an event that many folks re­gard as nine kinds of crazy.

“Lots of people think it looks dan­ger­ous,” he tells me. “And lots of people say ‘Well, that’s just in­sane’. But horse-rac­ing has as many deaths as road rac­ing. People as­sume bikes are more dan­ger­ous be­cause they look more dan­ger­ous. But when you look at the odds it’s not too bad.”

He couldn’t sound less afraid. But the people who en­joy base-jump­ing and bull-run­ning and heli-sk­ing prob­a­bly say some­thing sim­i­lar. When Wil­liam sees other ex­treme sports, does he recog­nise the dan­gers? Or is he an all-round dare­devil?

“It’s a bit weird, like,” he laughs. “I would never jump out of an aero­plane with a para­chute or any­thing like that. I couldn’t do it. It looks in­sane. But ev­ery­one to their own.”

You have to feel tick­led by the con­tra­dic­tion: Wil­liam has re­cently taken up Mixed Mar­tial Arts train­ing but doesn’t want to fight bouts “be­cause it looks a bit sore”.

Is there a method to the TT other than ‘hang on’?

“At the Isle of Man you go as quick as you can right from the start. You need it for your con­fi­dence. It’s just the way of the race.”

Wil­liam and his brother Michael are the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of Dun­lops to ex­cel at the sport. Their late fa­ther, Robert, en­joyed five TT wins and a record-break­ing 15 North West 200 wins. Their un­cle, Joey, was five times World Mo­tor­cy­cle Cham­pion with 24 Ul­ster Grand Prix wins, 13 North West 200 wins and 26 Isle of Man TT wins. Both died in rac­ing ac­ci­dents.

Quick trans­la­tion for the road rac­ing il­lit­er­ate: they are all awe­some mo­tor­cy­clists. Was there ever a chance that Wil­liam would do some­thing else?

“Well, I was very late to start,” he says. “I was maybe 18 which is a good old age to start at this. I would love to have played foot­ball or some­thing. But I just wasn’t good enough. So I thought I’d give the bikes a try.”

But those are some mighty big shoes to fill. It can’t have been easy to gear up for the first time with that sur­name at­tached, can it?

“It wasn’t too bad at the start. It wasn’t a both- er be­cause you’re learn­ing as you go. And you’re learn­ing a lot. There’s far more pres­sure now.”

The two gen­er­a­tions of Dun­lop broth­ers – Wil­liam and Michael, Robert and Joey – are the sub­ject of Road, a thrilling new film writ­ten, pro­duced and di­rected by Diar­muid Lav­ery and Michael He­witt.

There’s a lovely con­trary alchemy about the project. The quiet, pro­fes­sional Dun­lop fam­ily are all about keep­ing their heads down, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. They are un­likely to ever be con­fused with the Kar­dashi­ans. I won­der what the co-di­rec­tors did to coax Wil­liam and Michael in front of a cam­era?

“We didn’t think it wasn’t go­ing to be the film it is now,” ad­mits Wil­liam. “We just thought they were go­ing to fol­low us for a year. We thought it was just about the bikes. They went down a dif­fer­ent route with the film. But I think they did a great job.”

Road ar­rives in cin­e­mas with ev­ery­thing one could ask from a sports doc­u­men­tary. Mark Gar­rett’s splen­did cine­matog­ra­phy brings the viewer elec­tri­fy­ing close to the tar­mac. Bikes trill be­tween snatches of Mark Gor­don and Richard Hill’s com­pelling score and Liam Nee­son’s nar­ra­tion. Joey and Michael Dun­lop’s ex­tra­or­di­nary rise from the back roads of Bal­ly­money, Co Antrim, to world dom­i­na­tion in their field makes for an en­gag­ing sport­ing un­der­dog nar­ra­tive.

But the Dun­lop story is de­fined by tragedy as well as suc­cess. Road re­counts grue­some in­juries and fa­tal­i­ties, in­clud­ing the deaths of Joey, who died in Es­to­nia in 2000 while leading a 125cc race, and of Robert, who died at the North West 200 in 2008. Griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing Wil­liam, pro­vide poignant, sor­row­ful tes­ti­monies.

“There were some things I wish they hadn’t

Pho­to­graphs: Stephen Dav­i­son

Michael, dad Robert and Wil­liam Dun­lop af­ter win­ning a race apiece in the Mid Antrim 150 in 2007. Op­po­site page: Joey and Robert at the North West 200 in 2000.

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