Gary Dunlop will make his road racing debut at the JFM Haulage Mid Antrim 150 in April.
The 32-year-old, whose legendary father Joey remains the most successful rider ever in the history of the Isle of Man TT races with 26 victories to his name, will compete in the 125cc class at the Clough meeting, which lifts the curtain on the 2016 Irish National season on Saturday, April 2.
There’s not as much pressure now, so I’ll go out and enjoy it without any expectations - Gary Dunlop
Dunlop briefly flirted with the idea of following in his dad’s footsteps following his tragic death at a race meeting in Tallinn, Estonia in 2000, and competed at Irish short circuit level as a teenager before deciding it wasn’t for him.
However, after becoming involved in running the Joey’s Bar MCC team last year with the aim of trying to boost dwindling two-stroke racing grids in the 125cc and 250cc classes, Gary has decided the time is right to make his bow between the hedges.
The Ballymoney man exclusively told the News Letter: “The whole concept is to try and get as many 125 bikes back out on the grid as possible. I lost a bit of weight over the winter and worked a bit on my fitness.
“William [Dunlop] had sort of said to me ‘why not go and ride and put another bike out there on the grid’. I’m smaller and fitter now than what I was when I was 18 and there’s not as much pressure now either, so I’ll got out and enjoy it without any expectations.”
Dunlop also plans to race at the Cookstown 100 on April 30 before making a decision after the TT on whether he will compete in any other National races, although the chance to ride at the spiritual home of the Armoy Armada must be a tempting prosposition later in the summer on July 30.
“I’ll do the Mid Antrim 150 and then Cookstown after that, then I’ll wait until after the Isle of Man TT before looking at anything else,” Dunlop said.
“If it affects getting Sam [Wilson] set up properly then I’ll knock it on the head because Sam’s the main priority for us.
“If things don’t go too bad then I’ll think about some other races but at the minute I’m just going to take it one race at a time and we’ll see what happens,” he added.
“I’ll just be on the 125cc Honda and myself and Derek McGee are going to share the bike throughout the year and the other bike is there for Sam.
“I’m a bit wiser now and I won’t get too excited but I’m looking forward to it. I’m not really going out to race, I’m going out to have a bit of fun and I won’t be doing anything silly.”
The Mid Antrim 150 was officially launched on Friday night at the Braid Centre in Ballymena, where final details of the race were announced.
Ryan Farquhar will make his debut on his new IEG BMW Superstock machine on April 2, when his key opposition includes Derek Sheils on the Cookstown B.E. Racing Suzuki plus Derek McGee, who has also switched to BMW power this year on a Superstock S1000RR backed by Noel Williamson Racing.
An interesting newcomer is Senior Manx Grand Prix winner Malachi Mitchell-Thomas, who has signed for John Burrows’ team.
Other confirmed entries include Skerries man Michael Sweeney, the evergreen Davy Morgan, Wayne Kirwan, Seamus Elliott, Rob Barber, Paul Robinson, Sam Wilson and Sam Dunlop.
Czech rider Michael Dokoupil will ride Wilson Craig’s Superstock Honda.
The year is the first time the event has secured a title backer since 1982 and the club is indebted to Sean Crawford of JFM Haulage.
Roads close for practice on Friday, April 1 from 11am-7.30pm and from 10am on Saturday, April 2 for racing.
The opening Supersport 600 and Lightweight 250/400cc races are due to take place after practice on the Friday evening.