Gary Dunlop has backed John McGuinness as a fitting successor to take over from his legendary father Joey as the all-time record holder at the Isle of Man TT.
‘Morecambe Missile’ McGuinness needs three more wins around the iconic Mountain Course to match Ulster sporting hero Dunlop’s incredible haul of 26 victories.
The 43-year-old English star won the TT Zero and Senior races last June to increase his own tally to 23 island triumphs and admitted in a recent interview with Manx Radio that he was now beginning to think about the prospect of equalling the Ballymoney great’s longstanding benchmark.
McGuinness produced a record-breaking performance on the Honda Racing Fireblade SP to clinch his seventh Senior triumph in 2015, joining Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood on seven wins in the historic race and setting a blistering new outright lap record of 132.701mph as he reclaimed his ‘King of the Mountain’ mantle after an injury-hit year in 2014.
With Joey’s once seemingly unassailable record now firmly in his sights, it is entirely conceivable that McGuinness can draw level with ‘Yer Maun’ or perhaps even surpass his 26 wins.
And should he manage the feat, he will do so with the best wishes of Joey’s family and son Gary, who told the News Letter on Tuesday McGuinness is a worthy heir to the throne.
“It doesn’t bother me at all to be honest, whether John equals my dad’s record or even manages to beat it,” he said.
“John’s in the same situation that my dad was in when he was close to getting the record from Mike Hailwood; my dad wasn’t too keen on actually beating it and John’s in a similar position now.
“My dad wasn’t someone who got too hyped up about records and neither are we as a family: it doesn’t mean a great deal to us, although of course it is a great achievement to win 26 TTs.
“All records are going to come to an end someday and to be fair, John is a fitting rider to do it. Everything he has achieved at the TT, he has done it very respectfully and he has been unbelievable to us. Every time he has been in Ballymoney, he’s been in to the pub visiting us and seeing my mum and my sisters – he’s a gentleman,” Gary added.
“He’s won 23 TT races now and maybe he has taken some criticism for winning on the electric bike, but that’s not John’s fault – he’s paid to do a job and why wouldn’t he? He’s trying to make a living.”
Achieving one Isle of Man TT victory is a huge accomplishment in itself and although McGuinness would need to scale the top step four more times to set a new record of 27 successes, Dunlop believes he has the longevity to continue winning throughout his forties.
“There’s no guarantee of course that John will go on to equal the record or beat it, but John’s still got plenty left in him I believe.
“I was one of the people who still backed him in the last couple of years when people were saying he was finished and that Michael [Dunlop] had taken over the mantle.
“They did the same with my dad all those years ago but John McGuinness has too much experience at the TT and is too much of a class act to be finished yet on any bike.
“Nobody will be happier than us if John does it because we’re John McGuinness fans and he’s been great to us, not just since my dad died, but even beforehand John was pally with us,” Gary added. “He wouldn’t walk past us once and not speak to us.
“I think John can keep winning races in his forties because his style is perfect to let him ride as long as he wants. He doesn’t do a lot of moving around on the bike.
“My dad was a keen smoker and drinker for years although he worked hard towards the end of his career, but John has been about the BSB paddock for a long time and he’s a fit boy when it comes to riding bikes.”
In an interview broadcast on Manx Radio on Boxing Day, McGuinness talked about the possibility of drawing level with Joey’s milestone and predicted that Dunlop’s nephew Michael could one day push the record beyond 30 victories.
“The first person to congratulate me if I did do it would be Joey Dunlop if he was still here – I know he would. He’s not with us but he’d be looking down and I’m sure he’d be fine with it,” McGuinness said.
“Joey’s family are all fine with it, Linda and the kids, and I think they’d like to see me match it at least and go on to win more.
“Michael’s got 11 and he’s 26 years old, so he’s way ahead of wherever I was at that age, so if he keeps himself out of trouble and rides the way he is doing he could go on to win 30 or 35 TTs.”
Gary, meanwhile, revealed that Cullybackey’s Sam Wilson will continue to ride the Joey’s Bar 125cc and 250cc Honda machines in 2016 at the Irish National road races.
“Sam’s back on again this year and we have a 600 lined up as well, but at the minute we haven’t the funds to run it so we’re on the lookout for someone to possibly help us out with a bit of back-up for it,” he said.
“Sam’s an incredible rider and for me, he’s the most naturally talented rider I’ve seen since Michael. We’ll do all the Nationals again and we were hoping to do the Classic TT with the 250, but it’s looking like we’ll be priced out of it because of the cost of parts.
“There’s no point in going there without a fresh crank in the bike but it would cost £4,000 and it’s just too much to fork out for the one crank,” he said.
“We’re running another 125 this year and I’ve made an approach to someone and we’re just waiting for him to come back to us.”
The Mid-Antrim 150 is the first event on the 2016 calendar on April 2.