Isle of Man TT: Michael Dunlop can be Mountain Course top dog again – Steve Plater – BBC Sport

By Richard PetrieBBC Sport NI

Michael Dunlop won the 2018 Superbike TT

Two-time Isle of Man TT winner Steve Plater believes 19-time victor Michael Dunlop can become the man to beat at the event again “if he still wants it badly”.

Dunlop has continued to add to his tally of TT wins in recent years but Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison have set the pace in the premier Superbike class, Hickman grabbing the lap record.

The Ballymoney rider has won four Superbike races and three Seniors to date – including his second ‘big bike’ double in 2016, the year when he became the first rider to lap the course in under 17 minutes and record four laps at over 133mph.

The 31-year-old also took victory in the 2017 Senior and 2018 Superbike but latterly has not challenged the dominance of the two English riders.

Raising the bar, scope to go faster

“Michael has been through a lot in the last few years with losing his brother and having injuries and other distractions but I believe he can get back to where he was,” said Plater.

“Hickman has raised the bar in the Superbikes so it will be hard to displace him in that class but without doubt Michael can be the man in the Superstocks and Supersports again.

“Peter is the fastest rider out there at the moment and even when he set the lap record in 2018 he got held up a number of times.

“The conditions admittedly were ideal for that thrilling Senior race between him and Dean, but the fact Peter was slowed down shows there is more pace there, there is scope to go faster.”

“Dean has really raised his game over the last few years too and they have shared the last three big bike wins, battling it out between the two of them.”

Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison

Within seven of uncle Joey’s all-time record

Dunlop’s run of victories, achieved from 2009 to 2019, have seen him move to within seven of the all-time record held by his uncle, the late great Joey, and Plater says that benchmark provides “something to spur him on”.

Michael now lies third on the all-time winners’ list, having John McGuinness’s tally of 23 also within his sights.

“I do believe he’d like to beat the record – he might not say that, he likes to do things his own way, but he’ll have his own targets and doesn’t want to be in his uncle’s shadow,” argues Plater.

“Winning races on different makes of machine is definitely a motivating factor too. He makes noises about the variety of manufacturers he has won on all the time.

“He wants to be ‘King of the Castle’ and prove that it’s the man riding the bikes that matters, not just the machines. I really rate him and I think he could have achieved more in British Superbikes too if he had set his mind to it.”

Steve Plater and Michael Dunlop

Track time not essential

Dunlop has tended to use his occasional BSB outings as a testing ground in recent years, while his appearances at Irish national road events have become increasingly infrequent.

“Michael certainly doesn’t race as much as his rivals and is not really interested in the British Championship but it really depends on the individual,” argued eight-time North West 200 winner Plater.

“Whenever I raced I wanted to win every race I competed in but in BSB Michael doesn’t really put the effort in and he’s not pushing. He is in a different zone there.

“I would want to be doing a lot more laps and getting more mileage under my belt but then you look at a rider like Bruce Anstey, who hardly races at all but is still incredibly fast. It’s a case of each to their own.”

‘Not surprised’ by Ducati deal

Dunlop has taken six of his TT wins on BMWs, six on Hondas, three on Yamahas, two on Italian Paton machines and one each for Suzuki and Yamaha but it was a Ducati that was his weapon of choice for the Superbike class in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic intervened.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me that Michael went with a Ducati. He keeps his cards close to his chest but he messages me from time to time as he knows I will give him an honest opinion.

“I know he was looking at building his own Ducatis but they are very expensive to run so he knew his only option was to go with an established team who have access to the best parts and expertise and that meant the Paul Bird Motorsport team.

“That bike would probably be the fastest thing out there and he would have gone well – but the TT is about more than just horsepower and speed.

“The machines have got to finish a race distance of 226 miles and that is tough. I don’t think the Ducati would have any problems from a mechanical point of view and they have the best electronics out there.

“But the electronics of the bike are so complicated – if something goes wrong with something simple like sensors then it is game over.

“Having said that, I believe the team would have built Michael a strong package and would take the project very seriously. Hopefully they can team up again next year.”

Michael Dunlop

Continuity beneficial

While Hickman and Harrison have maintained their partnerships with Smiths Racing and Silicone Engineering Kawasaki respectively in recent years, Dunlop has chopped and changed teams, often securing deals for the major international road races late in the day.

“Generally, I think it is better to be settled with the same team and have things sorted well beforehand as you get to know the capability of the bike better and can build up a rapport with individuals in the team,” said Plater.

“There is also less workload involved as you can build up data and have a base setting from one year to the next which saves time with bike set-up, especially if practice time turns out to be limited because of the weather and you have less opportunity to try new things.

“Some things change from year to year, like tyre compounds, but I think it is probably a disadvantage for Michael to be changing so often compared to his main rivals.”

Dunlop has won seven Isle of Man TT Supersport races, four Superbike races, three Senior TTs, three Superstocks and successive Lightweight Supertwin events in 2018 and 2019.


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