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Year to remember but doubts hang over Michael Dunlop’s 2014 aims

Michael Dunlop celebrates winning the Superbike TT as third placed John McGuinness looks on

Michael Dunlop celebrates winning the Superbike TT as third placed John McGuinness looks on

It seems absurd that on the final day of 2013 a question mark continues to hang over the man who dominated the international road racing scene this year.

Yet uncertainty still shrouds Michael Dunlop’s next move after the Ballymoney lad split from Honda in November before announcing his inclination to take a sabbatical from the sport in 2014 unless a suitable offer materialised.

Many believed Dunlop was poised for a long-term association with Honda after a dazzling year as an official rider in Neil Tuxworth’s team alongside 20-time Isle of Man TT winner and Mountain legend John McGuinness.

The 24-year-old made a dream start to what would ultimately prove to be a short-lived career as a factory Honda rider, pulverising the opposition to win the Dainese Superbike TT on the 1000cc Legends Fireblade by over 40 seconds from Cameron Donald and McGuinness, who recovered from a time penalty incurred for speeding in pit lane to establish a new outright lap record of 131.671mph.

Three more wins followed in record-breaking style in the Supersport and Superstock classes and although the gifted Ulsterman had to give second best to McGuinness in the Senior race, Dunlop had laid the foundations for future TT greatness.

He won the second Supersport race in terrible weather conditions at the North West 200 in May on the MD Racing Honda, claimed two wins in the Superbike class at the Southern 100, powered to victory in the Superstock class at the Ulster Grand Prix and became the first Dunlop to bring home the Gold Cup after a calculated ride in tricky conditions at Scarborough.

His performances in the Endurance World Championship also raised more than a few eyebrows as Dunlop upstaged the Honda TT Legends regulars, lapping faster than seasoned short circuit competitors Michael Rutter and Simon Andrews and team figurehead McGuinness.

From the outside looking in, it seemed as though Dunlop and Honda were a match made in heaven.

But the champagne soaked days in the sunshine at the Isle of Man TT in June quickly became a fading memory as cracks began to appear in the relationship, culminating in official confirmation that the seven-time TT winner had parted company from Honda, dispelling the notion that he would become the natural successor to McGuinness or follow a similar path to that trodden by his uncle Joey.

There’s been no shortage of interest from teams keen to land Dunlop’s signature, with Yamaha and BMW leading the charge, but on the turn of the New Year Dunlop’s plans remain untold.

The prospect of his absence next year is a scenario few wish to see, with the probable exception of more than any number of his rivals.

And it would be a crying shame if he wasn’t on the grid in 2014 to build on his exceptional achievements this year.

Dunlop, though, wasn’t the only Northern Ireland rider to scale incredible heights this year.

In the World Superbike Championship, affable Toome man Eugene Laverty proved he is truly world class with a majestic title challenge on the factory Aprilia RSV4.

Laverty won a staggering nine races during a blockbuster season, but sadly a series of DNFs in the first part of the year impacted on his chances of becoming world champion, an honour that fell to England’s Tom Sykes and Kawasaki.

The former 250cc Grand Prix privateer ended the campaign as the WSBK runner-up to cap a brilliant season and after much speculation revealed he would stay in the championship in 2014 after signing for Crescent Suzuki.

Laverty faces a significant task in turning the GSX-R1000 into a race-winning package, but is supremely confident in his ability to stake his claim once more for the world crown - and no wonder.

 

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