Michael Dunlop will make his debut in the Endurance World Championship in April after the Northern Ireland road racing star was given the seal of approval by Honda’s TT Legends team.
The Ballymoney rider was originally signed by team boss Neil Tuxworth to contest the Superbike class at the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT, but Australian ace Cameron Donald’s unexpected decision to relinquish his role raised expectations that the triple TT winner would be lined up as his replacement.
On Sunday, Dunlop told the News Letter he was expecting an imminent decision on whether or not he had sufficiently impressed Tuxworth during two pre-season tests at Mireval in France and Albacete in Spain last week to join John McGuinness, Simon Andrews and Michael Rutter in the EWC line-up.
He received the news he had been waiting for on Monday and Dunlop - who turns 24 in April - will travel with the team to the opening round of the championship at Magny Cours in France, which hosts the legendary Bol d’Or 24-hour meeting on April 21.
He will also join the team for the iconic Le Mans 24-hour race in September and fulfil the role of reserve rider for the Suzuka 8-hour round in Japan on July 28, although he will only make the trip should any of his team-mates be ruled out.
Dunlop said: “My main focus remains the Isle of Man TT but the endurance races give me the chance to have plenty of track time before we get to the North West 200, which will be a big plus.
“The test went very well for me last week and I was very quick - it’s not for me to say how my lap times compared to the other riders, but we were on the pace.
“For me to be in with Honda is a big deal and there’s no reason why I can’t make a go of it and still be riding for Honda in ten years’ time,” he added.
“This could be the start of something really good.”
Incredibly, Dunlop showcased his potential on the CBR1000RR Fireblade at the tests despite suffering a suspected dislocated shoulder in a motocross crash days before he set off on his travels.
“I wasn’t even anywhere near fit when I went to the test because I knocked my shoulder out and had it strapped up before I went and caught the plane,” he said.
“They didn’t think I’d even be on the track, but not only did I go out and ride, I was on the pace straight away.
“It shows that I’ve got more about me than what some people might have thought - I can ride the circuits too.”
The good news for roads fans is that Dunlop won’t compete at the final EWC round at Oschersleben in Germany in August, which leaves him free to take his place on the grid at the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod.