Cameron Donald’s shock departure from the Honda TT Legends Endurance World Championship team has raised speculation that Michael Dunlop could take his place.
Honda confirmed on Wednesday that the Australian rider had left the Honda Motor Europe-run team for ‘personal reasons’.
Donald has stepped down from the team to spend more time with his family.
However, he will still compete at the Vauxhall North West 200 in May plus the Isle of Man TT for Ulster team Wilson Craig Racing on Honda machinery.
In official statement yesterday, the 35-year-old said he would ‘miss the team hugely’.
“This was not an easy decision for me and I will miss the team hugely.
“We’ve had some great times over the past two years and the experience of endurance racing is one I’ll never forget, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t suit me to be away from Australia for such a long period of time,” Donald added.
“I’d like to thank Honda and the team for the opportunity.”
Donald’s departure leaves John McGuinness, Michael Rutter and Simon Andrews as Honda’s official Endurance World Championship line-up.
Ballymoney star Dunlop is currently signed to compete on the Honda TT Legends Fireblade in the Superbike class at the NW200 and TT along with McGuinness and Rutter.
Although Honda has made no reference to any plans for a replacement rider to fill the void left by Donald, the door may now be ajar for Dunlop.
Last night, the 24-year-old told the News Letter his role in the team at present remains unchanged.
He is due to travel to Albacete in Spain next week for a pre-season test with the team, where he will ride his Honda CBR1000RR Superbike for the first time.
“I’ve heard that Cameron has left but as far as I’m concerned I’ve heard nothing from Honda about replacing him, so it’s as you were at the minute,” Dunlop said.
“That may change and I will probably know more about the situation next week when I go testing with the team.
“I don’t want to say too much about it at the moment until we see what does or doesn’t happen, so it’s a wait-and-see job.
“I’m just looking forward to riding my Superbike for the first time at Albacete and that’s what my focus is at the minute.”
Should Dunlop be offered a role in the team, it raises the possibility that he could miss the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod in August, which clashes with an endurance round at Oschersleben in Germany.
The three-times TT winner has dropped three stone in weight since Christmas as he prepares for the biggest season in his career to date.
He has been handed a golden opportunity to challenge for a dream Superbike victory at the TT with the factory team, where he will attempt to overthrow reigning Mountain master John McGuinness is a potentially explosive premier class showdown.
“I’ve been working hard in the gym since Christmas, not because Honda or anyone else has told me to, but because I wanted to do it for myself,” he said.
“I’m not bothered about people calling me fat or whatever – they can come back and talk to me when they’ve won three TT races.
“I’ve done it for myself.”
Honda TT Legends team boss Neil Tuxworth expressed his disappointment that Donald had left the team, but wished the Aussie good luck for the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT this year.
“He expressed a wish to spend more time at home in Australia, which meant he was unable to commit to the programme of testing and racing required and therefore we have mutually agreed for him to stand down,” said Tuxworth.
“We wish him all the best for the NW200 and TT and look forward to seeing him at those events.”
The first round of the Endurance World Championship is the legendary Bol d’Or 24-hour meeting at Magny-Cours in France from April 20-21.