Kyle White: What next for Michael Dunlop after PBM Ducati deal for Isle of Man TT falls apart?
Michael Dunlop’s bombshell announcement that his deal to ride the PBM Ducati Superbike on the roads this year has fallen apart has left the 19-time Isle of Man TT winner on the back foot.
The Ballymoney man was due to ride the factory-supported Italian Panigale V4R for Paul Bird’s British Superbike squad at the North West 200 and TT, but Dunlop’s claims that things have not gone as expected means he is now on the lookout for alternative machinery in the blue riband class.
The 33-year-old, who was supposed to ride the Ducati in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic struck, said he was left frustrated by a lack of testing on the bike.
Former World Superbike champion Tom Sykes joined the BSB line-up in Bird’s team alongside Josh Brookes for 2022, and the focus has very much been geared towards the start of the championship after a lacklustre year by PBM standards in 2021.
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For Dunlop, an apparent lack of commitment set alarm bells ringing and he was unsatisfied with the situation to the extent that he has decided to cut his losses.
And as he pointed out himself, it is better to sever those ties now rather than half-way through the TT festival – a controversial scenario that unfolded in 2015 when Dunlop ditched the Milwaukee Yamaha R1 he was supposed to ride for Shaun Muir in the Superbike and Senior races.
On that occasion, he was thrown a lifeline by Stuart and Steve Hicken’s Hawk Racing team to ride a BMW S1000RR. Dunlop has a good relationship with the Hickens and they have enjoyed plenty of success on the roads together, most memorably in 2014 when he rode a factory BMW S1000RR to victory at the North West 200 and again at the TT, where he delivered a prestigious big-bike double for the German manufacturer 75 years on from Georg Meier’s BMW triumph in the 1939 Senior.
Dunlop also won the Superbike and Senior TT races on a Hawk BMW in 2016 and remained with the Hickens for 2017, when he retained the Senior silverware with victory on the Bennetts Suzuki.
At his time of need, perhaps his old friends will come to the rescue once more?
The team is already committed to the TT with Banbridge native Shaun Anderson riding a Buildbase Suzuki GSX-R1000, while Richard Cooper will lead the charge at the North West 200 in the Superbike and Superstock classes.
It’s one of the more likely options on paper at this stage for Dunlop, along with the possibility of a return to the TAS Racing fold.
He rode for the Moneymore-based team in 2018 and 2019, and last year Dunlop powered the SYNETIQ BMW M1000RR to victory on his home patch in both Superbike races at Armoy, shattering his old lap record.
One potential obstacle may be the team’s commitment to 16-time TT winner Ian Hutchinson, who will ride in the Milwaukee colours in the Superbike and Superstock classes.
Dunlop and Hutchinson in the same team wouldn’t exactly be a match made in heaven, but stranger things have happened.
Whatever transpires in the coming days or weeks, the Ulster road racer’s prospects of taking the fight to man of the moment Peter Hickman and fellow TT heavyweight Dean Harrison have suffered a significant blow.
The English duo have been clocking up lap after lap with an extensive programme of pre-season testing, and will also have competed in three BSB rounds plus the North West 200 prior to the TT.
Time is running out for Dunlop, who acknowledges that he badly needs miles on a Superbike if he’s to be in a position to challenge for more trophies in the premier class.
A big task has just become an ever bigger ask, but write him off at your peril.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s centenary KDM Hire Cookstown 100 in Co Tyrone lifted the curtain on the first full Irish national road racing season since 2019.
A number of red flags hindered the feature races, but on a sun-kissed day in Co Tyrone, Skerries man Michael Sweeney claimed a treble, including victories in both Superbike races on his MJR BMW.
Few would begrudge the popular Sweeney his day in the sun and the Irish road racing diehard is in top form going into this weekend’s Tandragee 100.
Unfortunately, Cork’s Mike Browne sustained two broken ankles in a crash on the opening lap of the first Superbike race, while Paul Jordan suffered a broken left hand in the same incident.
McAdoo Kawasaki’s Adam McLean was among the fallers at the weekend, suffering a concussion when he came off in the feature Superbike race. As a result, McLean will miss the Tandragee 100, but the 26-year-old will be back on the grid at the North West 200.
Here’s wishing a speedy recovery to all three riders and a safe weekend for all competitors at Tandragee.