Michael Dunlop: The waiting is finally over

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The annual winter event of wondering what 11 times TT winner Michael Dunlop will be riding in the new season has been brought to a close with the announcement from Germany on Thursday that he will ride factory supported Yamahas on the roads in 2015.

After weeks of rumours and counter rumours, the Ballymoney man appears to have succumbed to the lure of the brand new R1.

Ever since he announced in October that he had lost his ride with BMW as a result of the German company’s switch to the TAS team for 2015, the sport’s top star has been at the centre of a fierce scramble for his signature.  

Initially the hot tip had been that he would join Kawasaki with GBMoto. But when the 25 year old showed little interest in a return to the ZX10 he last rode in 2011 that ride went to Gary Johnson instead. Jack Valentine is also known to have been interested in recruiting the TT’s top star to his Halsall Suzuki squad. Most intriguingly of all, Stuart Hicken revealed that if Dunlop had any desire to stay put on his Hawk BMWs for another season the German factory would provide the necessary backing.

Unconvinced by any of these offers, Dunlop has chosen the Yamaha way and it is a big gamble. Although that may be something that the Ballymoney man has more than a passing familiarity with, his latest punt is of a different order to any bet he has laid before.

The new R1 is just that, brand spanking new- untried, untested and completely unknown as a race bike. Some might say that that was where Dunlop was with the BMW last year. But, as John McGuinness has pointed out recently, although the S1000RR might not have done much on the roads before Dunlop threw his leg over it last May, it already had lots of racing pedigree in WSB and BSB.

 The R1 does not have any of that so Dunlop will be starting from scratch this year. He will be dependent upon his team’s ability to develop the bike and set it up for his requirements. Shaun Muir’s squad may be vastly experienced with Yamahas but their focus has undoubtedly been on the short circuits of the BSB championship. When it comes to the roads the team’s performance has been patchy to say the least. Ian Hutchinson, Conor Cummins and William Dunlop all complained about set up as they struggled to make the Milwaukee Yamahas consistent winners on the roads over the past few seasons.

No doubt Dunlop is well aware of the challenges ahead and he will have had his own wishlist written into his contract. As with BMW last year, when he dumped the team’s preferred suspension and tyres in favour of his own choices, the Ballymoney man will know what is needed to win. 

But, above all else, Michael Dunlop’s greatest strength in his new and uncharted venture will be his motivation. Often cast as road racing’s ‘angry young man’, the 25 year old seems to feel permanently slighted by the world he lives in and he relishes the feeling of his back being jammed against the wall, of having to do things the hard way.

He is the proverbial ‘man on a mission’ and for Dunlop that mission is clear in 2015. His satisfaction at walking away from the factory Honda team in 2013 and then beating them on the BMWs was immense. To do the same to the Germans, after what he regards as their betrayal of him last October, will be Dunlop’s unrelenting goal in the season ahead.

Stephen Davison

By Stephen Davison

Biographer of John McGuinness & road racing's foremost writer & photographer