Willium Dunlop

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 2014: One of my favourite images of William was taken during an evening practice session at the 2014 Tandragee 100. The light was fading as the day drew to a close and William sat alone on the start line. With only the winding road ahead he seemed lost in his thoughts as he waited for the flag to drop. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

The sport of road racing has been devastated by the death of William Dunlop, killed during practice for this year’s Skerries 100.

With 108 Irish National road race victories, plus four North West 200 and seven Ulster Grand Prix international wins, the 32-year-old Ballymoney man stands fourth in the all-time list of Irish road race winners. Only his uncle Joey, his father Robert and Ryan Farquhar won more.

 Quiet, shy and almost apologetic about his huge natural talent on a racing motorcycle, he emulated his uncle Joey in shunning the spotlight.

“William beat all of the best road racers in his day at the North West and Ulster Grand Prix,” says John McGuinness.

McGuinness knows what he is talking about, having raced against William and the rest of the racing Dunlops – William’s late father, Robert; his late uncle Joey and brother Michael – during his own 23-time TT winning career.

William finished on the podium of four TT races and claimed numerous top 10 finishes.

“William was dominant when everything fell into place for him and there is no doubt he had the talent to win a TT but, for whatever reason, it just never happened for him there,” says McGuinness.

One of William’s toughest opponents was Dungannon racer Ryan Farquhar: “We were massive rivals and we didn’t always see eye to eye with each other but I had huge respect for William,” he says.

“Our lives were the same, everything was based around road racing.”

From leaving school, William had followed in his father’s wheeltracks. Robert dubbed William, his younger son Michael and their racing cousins Gary, Sam and Paul Robinson ‘The Next Generation’. The youngsters had picked up the baton passed on from the three elder Dunlop brothers – Joey, Jim and Robert –- as well as their brother-in-law, Mervyn Robinson, who together made up the first generation of the Dunlop road racing dynasty.

William’s first race outing was at Aghadowey in 2000, his first win on the roads at Athea in 2005. He loved riding the 125cc and 250cc machines in those early days, fettling the temperamental two-strokes alongside his father as the merry band of Dunlops travelled from race to race each weekend.

William idolised his father and was devastated when Robert was killed at the North West 200 in 2008. He missed their carefree days together as his own racing became more serious. Success with teams like the CD Racing, Wilson Craig, Milwaukee Yamaha, the Tyco BMW and Mar-Train Yamaha produced a bigger financial return but a lot more pressure.

In a brash and hard sport, William always seemed slightly fragile. It was a quality that endeared him to those who knew him best. Like the rest of the Dunlop clan though, he could also display a steely resolve.

Every fan loved a William v Michael Dunlop battle and the 2014 NW200 superbike race had every fan on the edge of their seats. In damp conditions, William built up a lead on the Tyco BMW that Michael clawed back on in the final lap. Caught by his younger sibling at Metropole, the pair crested Black Hill with Michael ahead. But the determined elder Dunlop forced his way back in front along the coast road, to claim his greatest ever international victory.

Road racing has lost one of its biggest stars with the 32-year-old Ballymoney man’s passing. His family, his partner Janine, who is expecting their second child, their little daughter Ella, his mother Louise, his brothers Michael and Daniel, their grandmother May and the rest of the Dunlop family have been robbed of someone they loved dearly.

To them we offer our deepest condolences.

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