When Michael Dunlop won the lightweight Supertwins race at the 2019 Isle of Man TT he marked a remarkable milestone in the Dunlop family’s success story at the world’s most famous road racing event.
The name Dunlop has been synonymous with competing – and winning – at the Isle of Man TT for four and a half decades, and that victory brought their success tally to 50.
The late and legendary great Joey Dunlop achieved a record 26 triumphs on the difficult and treacherous 37.73 mile mountain course, with his late brother Robert claiming five wins and Robert’s son Michael having amassed 19 wins to date.
Michael is third on the all-time winners list, with Morecambe legend John McGuinness second on the honor roll with 23.
With the TT canceled for the second year in a row, we thought it was a good time to look back on the achievements of the Dunlop Dynasty and hear from 11-time TT winner Phillip McCallen and Steve Plater, who won two victories on the Cours de Montagne.
“Such a special person and a rider with so much knowledge on the course”
The first indication that Joey Dunlop would become the most successful rider in TT history came when he outperformed the factory teams by securing his first victory as a “private” over the 750cc Rea Racing Yamaha in the Jubilee TT of 1977 in just his second year of competing at the event.
Three years later, the humble Ballymoney man went on to win the Classic TT on the machine backed by Rea, then went on to achieve six straight wins in Formula 1, the traditional curtain raiser of the race week, between 1983 and 1988.
Two of those victories put him on the path to hat tricks at the event in 1985 and 1988 as Dunlop became the flag bearer of the powerful Honda factory team.
In 2000, then 48, the hugely popular Northern Irishman turned the years back by winning his third hat-trick, starting with a superlative to claim Formula 1 racing honors for the first time in 12 years.
In total, Dunlop’s exceptional tally is as follows: Formula 1 (seven wins), Senior TT (four), Lightweight TT (five), Ultra-light (five), Junior TT (three), Classic TT and Jubilee TT.
A turn at the 26th point of the TT course was named “Joey’s” in recognition of his accomplishments.
The five-time Formula 1 world champion competed in 102 TT over a 25-year period between 1976 and 2000, reaching the podium 40 times, before his untimely death in Estonia in 2000. His legacy lives on, however.
Steve Plater says: “For a family to win 50 TT races is amazing and it all started with Joey. He was such a special person, and a racer, so loving to all the fans and so humble.
“His knowledge of the Isle of Man course was encyclopedic and he was so accomplished in the TT time trial format.
“He had many victories on the lighter bikes at the end of his career, but riding as fast as he did on the big bike in his last TT in 2000 was amazing.”
Phillip McCallen says: “Joey was just a natural cyclist and a natural road racer. He was so laid back and took the TT right away and made it easy, which of course he didn’t.
“His flowing style meant he didn’t even seem like he was trying or going particularly fast. He was the master, the undisputed ‘king of the mountain’.
“He had a really good memory for the corners, knew every camber and every turn. His knowledge of the circuit was such that he was always on the perfect line every lap.”
“A naturally gifted and so courageous rider”
Among his many career achievements, Robert Dunlop racked up a record 15 North West 200 wins, nine at the Ulster Grand Prix, a 125cc British Championship success, a second position in the British Supercup, the precursor of the current British Superbike. Championship, and a Macau Grand Prix Triumph.
His five Isle of Man TT wins all came on smaller capacity machines, wins in the 125cc ultralight in 1989, 1990 and 1991, then heroically again in 1998 after overcoming fatal injuries in a horror accident on the Mountain Stage in 1994.
1991 turned out to be his most successful year at the event as he added a Junior 250cc triumph to his 125cc victory. Sadly, Robert was killed in a 2008 North West 200 training accident.
Tackle: “Although Robert is best known for his success on small bikes at TT, he also won a few podiums on bigger bikes.
“He was a runner who was unsuccessful given his skill level because of the injuries he picked up. Come back from the injuries he suffered and win again with the changes he made to his bike was remarkable. “
McCallen: “Robert was a naturally gifted runner who had a different style than his brother and was so brave to come back from the injuries he suffered.
“Coming back and racing on the island again was a feat in itself. Winning again in the 125cc was mind blowing.”
‘Determination and versatility’
Michael Dunlop has proven to be a worthy successor to the legacy bequeathed by his uncle and father, registering 19 wins over an 11-year span to bring the family grand total to a historic half-century.
His first step on the top step of the podium came in 2009 when he won the second Supersport event, raced in changing conditions and on greasy roads.
In 2019, the Ballymoney man’s honor roll includes four wins in the Superbike class, three in the senior “blue ribbon” race, seven in the Supersport class, three in Superstocks and two in Supertwins.
Dunlop is proud to have won its victories on a wide variety of machines – six on Honda and BMW, three on Yamaha, two on Paton and one on Kawasaki and a Suzuki.
The 32-year-old outspoken is renowned for his unwavering determination to win and made history by becoming the first rider to record an under 17-minute lap of the Mountain Course in the 2016 Superbike race.
He holds the current lap record for the Supersport and Lightweight categories and recorded memorable quads at the event in 2013 and 2014.
He has won several of his victories on machines prepared by his own MD Racing team, with the support of personal sponsors.
Tackle: “Michael’s got a lot of talent – you can’t argue with 19 wins – and he’s still a young boy, so he should have a lot more in him.
“Deep down I think he really wants more TT wins to get Joey’s record and I really believe he can.
“He can ride any type of machine to his full potential in all the different classes and looks looser on the track than he does.
“He had a reputation for being a bit reckless early in his career, but I don’t think he’s ever gotten out of hand. I think he’s riding within his limits.
“I raced with him when he took his first Supersport win in 2009 and he was faultless in those wet and greasy conditions. Every other rider had ‘moments’ but he had the perfect race. and won easily.
McCallen: “Michael has created his own determined style, distinct from that of his father and uncle. All three have different personalities.
“He and his brother William had a lot going on because of the last name, but Michael’s skills are matched only by his determination and motivation. He can jump on any machine and win TTs.”