Column: Can Michael Dunlop make the new R1 a TT winner?

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I was reminded of a famous tale told about Joey Dunlop last week. I was in Spain to watch Joey’s nephew, Michael, have his first ride on the new Milwaukee YZF R1 Yamaha at Alcarras that he hopes will help him add to his tally of 11 TT victories.

Thirty years ago Brian Coll, a well known Irish entertainer at the time and the latest sponsorship recruit to Joey’s team arrived in the great man’s TT garage. Coll, having forked out a hefty sum in support of his hero, felt sure that he would receive a warm welcome from Joey. Instead he found himself completely ignored as the Ballymoney man worked in silence on his race bikes. After two days a bewildered Coll mentioned the matter to Joey’s race manager, Davy Wood.

“Don’t worry about it Brian’” Wood reassured him.

“I’ve been here a week and he hasn’t spoken a word to me yet either!”

Michael Dunlop wasn’t totally silent as he went about his business with the new Yamaha last week; there were occasional exchanges with his crew chief and mechanics and the odd snippet of conversation with his new teammates, Josh Brookes and Broc Parkes.  But aside from these brief engagements, Dunlop was mostly unsmiling, his face a mask of determination as he tried to eke some small advantage from every moment of the test.

“You have to push and push and push.” he let slip at one point, as reluctant to engage with the press as anyone else.

“You can’t let there be frustration or you will be beat.”   

To prevent frustration creeping in Dunlop was very much hands on in Spain, a driven character relying on his own intuition and race craft to find his way around the new bike. Where Brookes and Parkes simply provided their mechanics with feedback to make alterations, Dunlop was on the tools himself.

From filling the fuel tank

first thing each morning to changing wheels and helping make the dozens of suspension adjustments, Michael was in the thick of it. Tucked away at the back of the garage on his unliveried bike, he watched carefully as each adjustment was made, testing a bolt for tightness or checking a tyre pressure.

As the mechanics started to load the bikes into the team’s transporter on the final night, Dunlop delved into his bag for a black ledger and meticulously recorded every setting on his R1 for future reference.

Were it not for the ECU graphs flashing from the computer screens or the Monster claw logos embossed on the baseball hats you could have been forgiven for thinking you had stumbled across a scene from another era.

Dunlop’s actions intended no slight to any of the hardworking men around him. It is simply that he cannot afford to rely too much on anyone else to deliver something he wants so badly.

In the season that lies ahead Michael knows that he will face another massive fight with McGuinness, Martin and Co for TT supremacy.

The Ballymoney man will inspire and draw on the Milwaukee team’s enthusiastic backing to try to turn the new Yamaha into a TT winning machine. In 2014 that task fell to the BMW team, the year before it was Honda but for this season the challenge is of a different order altogether. Where the Honda was already a proven winner and the BMW had an established racing pedigree, the Yamaha is a brand new motorcycle; untried, untested and completely unknown. Making it a winner will be a new mountain to climb for Dunlop but he says he relishes the challenge.

He knows that if he can pull it off there won’t be any doubt that it is the talent of the man rather than the machine that offers the key to winning on the Mountain course.

And there will be very few who will doubt that he is capable of proving his point.

Stephen Davison

By Stephen Davison

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