Ballymoney’s William Dunlop will spearhead former British Superbike team Halsall Racing’s maiden international road racing venture in 2017, the News Letter can reveal.
Dunlop will be the Bolton-based outfit’s sole rider next season, with the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix taking top priority.
Today’s announcement ends significant speculation over team owner Martin Halsall’s future plans following his decision to quit the British Superbike paddock.
The Lancashire entrepreneur had run Suzuki’s official BSB effort under the Bennetts banner with Tommy Bridewell and Ryuichi Kiyonari.
However, Halsall pulled the plug on the project, claiming the high costs involved in running the Suzuki team ‘did not equate to factory support in my opinion’.
Instead, he has committed to a new challenge on the roads next year and Ulsterman Dunlop says the opportunity has put the fire back in his belly following a difficult few seasons.
“I’m glad to have a deal sorted before Christmas because it’s official now and I can start and plan for next year,” Dunlop told the News Letter in an exclusive interview.
“The agreement is that I’ll be riding for Martin in 2017 at the international road races and we’ll make a decision together on what machinery we will run. The beauty about it is that Martin isn’t tied to any one manufacturer, so we can pick the bikes that will suit us best.
“The option is there to do a number of the Irish National road races next year but that is something that we’ll discuss later. I’d like to do a bit of circuit racing as well and we’ll be aiming to get a lot of pre-season testing done so we can get to the North West 200 feeling sharp.”
Dunlop was left on the back foot this year after parting company from CD Racing before the North West 200.
With the backing of loyal sponsors Ivan Curran and Eugene McManus, he assembled his own team but had to wait until the TT to take delivery of his new Yamaha R1 Superbike.
Unfortunately, the 31-year-old crashed during practice, sustaining back and hand injuries that ultimately ended his prospects of challenging for the podium.
It was his third crash in successive years at the TT and Dunlop admits his confidence took a huge hit.
“I missed the TT in 2015 due to a silly crash on the BMW and to be honest I was in a really bad place after another crash this year.
“I felt down about racing motorbikes and I just felt it wasn’t going to happen for me, but after Eugene and Ivan and the lads stepped in to help me this year, it picked me up again. This deal for next year with Martin has given me the excitement back.
“I’ve got to thank Eugene McManus and Ivan Curran because they were prepared to back me again with bikes for next season. When the opportunity came up with Martin, they were fully supportive of me and I’m very grateful for that. It’s nice to know that they’re behind me,” he added.
“We’ll be learning a lot as a new team next year but Martin runs a professional set-up and I’ll be looking to get some big results.”
Team owner Halsall, meanwhile, said he was relishing the chance to fulfil a long-held ambition of tackling the international road races for the very first time.
“This has certainly been a personal ambition of mine to make a move towards this discipline of the sport.
“This will be a challenge for sure, but I am optimistic about our potential prospects,” said Halsall.
“With our proven ability to operate a leading race team, coupled with William’s extensive roads knowledge, we can make this very successful. I know how to build a team and we will be recruiting key individuals with unparalleled experience in road racing to ensure that our package is the best.
“Our focus and attention will be on William and on him alone,” he added.
“He will have the right infrastructure around him and it will be dedicated to ensuring he has everything he needs to be successful.”
An announcement on the team’s choice of machinery is expected in January and Halsall said he was exploring a number of options in conjunction with Dunlop.
“With no ties to any one manufacturer, this offers the flexibility for us as a privateer team to select the right tools for the job and choose the most suitable bikes for each discipline – bike that William feels can give him the best opportunity across each of the classes,” he said.
“He will have whatever he needs for Superbike, Superstock and Supersport. We are being guided by his experience and choice of manufacturer. Our aim is to confirm this fully in the coming weeks and months.”
Dunlop will contest a select number of Irish National road races and is set to undertake an extensive programme of pre-season testing in Spain and the UK.