Michael Dunlop gritted his teeth as he got down to business at the Armoy Road Races on Saturday with a welcome return to winning ways.
The Ballymoney man’s only previous victory this season came in the Lightweight race on the Italian Paton at the Isle of Man TT last month – his 19th win around the Mountain – but his Superbike brace on the Tyco BMW Superbike is a timely boost ahead of the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod next month.
In time-honoured Dunlop fashion, the 30-year-old shrugged off his injury problems and battled through the pain barrier to follow up his Open Superbike triumph with an incredible eighth consecutive blue riband success in the ‘Race of Legends’.
It was a remarkable feat given that Dunlop sustained a broken pelvis in a crash at the Southern 100 on the Isle of Man just over two weeks beforehand.
As he hobbled around the paddock on crutches and used a set of steps to climb onto his 1000cc Superbike, it seemed ludicrous to think he would have the strength to muscle a 200bhp machine over the bumps and jumps at Armoy.
Yet Dunlop proved the doubters wrong and reinforced his credentials as the most successful rider ever at the County Antrim race with 19 wins, 14 of which he has achieved in the premier Superbike class.
It was his first appearance at an Irish National road race since the ill-fated Skerries 100 in July last year, and his maiden wins on the ‘wee roads’ since last season’s Cookstown 100, when he sealed a Supersport win on his MD Racing Honda.
He later revealed he had been told his season was over after emerging from hospital with his right forearm in a plaster cast. However, in a picture on his MD Racing Facebook page, Dunlop said: ‘Think again Doc…’
His appearance on his home patch at Armoy also answered the question over whether or not his days of Irish National road racing were over.
Perhaps he will confine his exploits solely to Armoy outside of the major international meetings, but his decision to race at the weekend was a huge boost for the organisers and no doubt helped pull in the crowds.
Dunlop is a box office draw and his presence on the grid created a palpable buzz.
The Ulster Grand Prix next week will offer an altogether different test for Dunlop as he goes up against fellow international big guns Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison at Dundrod.
He hasn’t won at the UGP since 2013 and will need to be at the top of his game to challenge Hickman and Harrison at the front, but as the old saying goes: You can never rule out a Dunlop.
Meanwhile, news broke on Monday that Carrick’s Glenn Irwin had joined Northern Ireland’s Tyco BMW team for the rest of the British Superbike season.
Irwin split from the Quattro Plant Kawasaki team last week following a poor run of results by his standards and the 29-year-old will be itching to show that he’s a much better rider than what he has shown this year.
It was an obvious move for Irwin, with fellow Ulsterman Keith Farmer out injured following his nasty crash at Knockhill at the beginning of July.
This could also be the start of a longer-term association between Irwin and the TAS Racing squad.
Irwin proved last year that he could run at the front in BSB, finishing third overall on the PBM Ducati, and he also ticks the boxes when it comes to the North West 200 – an event of huge importance to Irwin and Phillip and Hector Neill.
Without jumping the gun too much, Irwin would struggle to have a more experienced team behind him should he decide to make his debut at next year’s Isle of Man TT.
He has made no secret of the fact that he intends to take on the challenge of the Mountain Course and with Irwin having previously raced at the NW200, Ulster Grand Prix and Macau Grand Prix, the TT represents the ultimate road racing test for the Ulster star.
At 29, he has time on side to learn the course and Irwin will believe he has got what it takes to win.
It would be a fascinating proposition, but for now he will be focused solely on reviving his fortunes and staking his claim for a permanent ride on the Tyco BMW in 2020.
Finally, it was a humbling experience to watch brave motorcycling paramedic Allister MacSorley return to Armoy on Saturday and finish the lap of the course he started in July last year.
Dr MacSorley was left paralysed from the waist down following a freak incident in 2018 prior to the start of racing.
He received a heart-warming response from race officials, fans and marshals alike and showed yet again that those involved in this sport really are a different breed.