Kyle White: Michael Dunlop's place in Isle of Man TT history books is already assured
With 18 victories to his name, Michael Dunlop’s place in the Isle of Man TT history books is already assured.
Yet, the Ballymoney man has no intention of resting on his laurels as he prepares to stake his claim for more silverware on the biggest road racing stage of all.
At only 29 years of age, Dunlop became the third most successful rider ever at the legendary event in 2018, when he notched a treble with victories in the Superbike, Supersport and Lightweight classes.
English riders Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison grabbed plenty of headlines as they shattered the absolute lap record around the Mountain Course, upping the ante in a blazing Senior duel held over six furious laps in perfect Manx weather.
At the conclusion, the record went to Hickman at 135.452mph – giving the Smiths Racing BMW rider the title of the world’s fastest road racer.
It was a climatic finale to the two-week racing festival and the spotlight shone brightly on both men after a memorable duel, but Ulsterman Dunlop also left the island with plenty to be satisfied about as he increased his TT tally to 18 victories.
Only his uncle Joey (26 wins) and John McGuinness (23) have stood on the top step of the rostrum more times than Dunlop, who looks the rider most likely to set a new record of TT triumphs.
Still only 30, Dunlop has proven his versatility time and again across the full range of solo classes, bagging wins in the Superbike, Superstock, Supersport and Lightweight categories.
He will have six more chances this year to enhance his record, with Dunlop riding the Tyco BMW in the Superbike and Senior races, plus his MD Racing Honda and BMW machines in the Supersport and Superstock classes and the SC-Project Reparto Corse Paton in the Lightweight event.
Going into the TT, Hickman and Harrison have been talked up as the favourites in the wake of their blistering lap speeds in 2018.
However, that won’t faze Dunlop in the slightest, whose belief in his own ability is resolute.
Compared to his main rivals, the Northern Ireland rider doesn’t have the benefit of the same level of racing mileage, but Dunlop is vastly experienced around the 37.73-mile TT course and he was quickly out of the traps in Sunday’s opening practice session, ending the day second quickest in the Supersport and Lightweight classes.
Prior to the rain-hit North West 200, Dunlop’s last road racing laps were in the 2018 Senior TT.
Sadly, he took time out from the sport to contemplate his future following the tragic death of his brother, William, in a crash during practice at the Skerries 100 near Dublin last July.
However, on his roads return at the North West, it seemed as though he had never been away, with Dunlop looking as sharp as ever as he completed the opening qualifying session second fastest in the Superbike session, third quickest on his Superstock machine and fourth fastest in the Supersport times.
He clinched a podium in the Thursday evening Superstock race behind Peter Hickman and Glenn Irwin, but inclement weather on the main Saturday race day put a dampener on the event, with many riders opting to err on the side of caution.
The weather has already caused problems at the TT, with Monday night’s session called off due to heavy rain.
That could play into the hands of Dean Harrison, who knows his Silicone Engineering Kawasaki inside-out and is expected to hit the ground running when the Superbike machines take to the course for the first time on Tuesday evening.
It will be more of a headache for Dunlop and Hickman, who are adjusting to their new 2019 BMW machines and need as much dry practice time as possible ahead of Saturday’s six-lap RST Superbike race.
It all points to Harrison setting off as the race favourite from Glencrutchery road this weekend, but Dunlop and Hickman will have other ideas.
Much has been made of the 134mph and 135mph lap speeds recorded last June, with some questioning whether or not Dunlop can match that pace.
He came within a whisker of a 134mph lap as he won the Senior in 2016, clocking 133.962mph on the Hawk BMW when he already had the race in the bag.
Last year, a 134mph lap on his Superstock machine looked a certainty until he was caught behind slower riders twice on the final run over the Mountain.
Conditions may not be conducive to those speeds this year, but whatever unfolds, Dunlop will be determined to add another win or two to his impressive record and only a fool would bet against him doing just that.