Retro Rewind: William Dunlop’s maiden wins at North West 200 in 2009

The North Coast should have been abuzz this week with the world’s best road racers descending on Portrush for the North West 200.
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Sadly, for the second consecutive year, the event has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With no racing to look forward to around the ‘Triangle’ course in 2021, we have dipped into the News Letter archives to remember William Dunlop’s maiden victories at the 80th anniversary North West 200 in 2009, which he achieved with a two-stroke double in the 250cc and 125cc races.

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The Ballymoney man was cruelly robbed of the chance to challenge for victory a year previously, when machine problems prevented him from competing in the 250cc race.

William Dunlop claimed his first North West 200 victory in the 250cc race on the PJ Flynn Honda in 2009.William Dunlop claimed his first North West 200 victory in the 250cc race on the PJ Flynn Honda in 2009.
William Dunlop claimed his first North West 200 victory in the 250cc race on the PJ Flynn Honda in 2009.

On that occasion, William was desperate to race in memory of his father Robert, who had been killed during practice less than 48 hours earlier.

His younger brother Michael famously won the race from Christian Elkin and John McGuinness in one of the most memorable moments in North West 200 history, but William seized his chance a year later with a brace of victories that at least helped to ease the disappointment he experienced in 2008.

In a dramatic 250cc race, he swooped to pick up the pieces when English rider Elkin collided with Michael on the final lap as they disputed the lead at Juniper Hill chicane.

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William, who started from the rear of the grid on Paddy Flynn’s Honda after problems in qualifying, didn’t need a second invitation as he swept into the lead, crossing the line clear of Chris Palmer to secure a very popular victory in front of the packed grandstands.

William Dunlop celebrates winning the 125cc race at the North West 200 with runnerup Chris Palmer (left) and third place man Olie Linsdell.William Dunlop celebrates winning the 125cc race at the North West 200 with runnerup Chris Palmer (left) and third place man Olie Linsdell.
William Dunlop celebrates winning the 125cc race at the North West 200 with runnerup Chris Palmer (left) and third place man Olie Linsdell.

Sadly, the event was marred following the death of young Cookstown rider Mark Young, who crashed at Mather’s Cross on the first lap. The ill-fated race was re-run over three laps.

Speaking afterwards, race winner Dunlop said of his debut North West 200 triumph: “I’d rather have won the race proper, but I can’t have too many complaints because I started from the back of the grid.

“I made a bit of a mistake and lost the tow of Michael and Christian, and I wasn’t able to get back with them.

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“I have to be pleased to get my first win here and it’s good for the team, because all the lads put a lot of effort in and I’ve had plenty of bad luck here at the North West.

“That’s my first win and hopefully there’ll be plenty more of them to come.”

Dunlop’s winning margin was 6.1 seconds over Palmer, with Phil Harvey completing the rostrum places, a further second behind. Mark Lunney, Denver Robb and John McGuinness finalised the top six places.

A frustrated Michael said he was ‘really annoyed’ after being taken out of the race by Elkin, but he was pleased to see William clinch his first NW200 win.

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“I lodged a protest because I was taken out of the race when I had the win in the bag,” he said.

“If it was my fault I would have put my hands up, but I was riding at my level and maybe Elkin was outside his. “I’m really annoyed about it because the race win was mine, but I’m pleased that William got the win.”

A dominant performance in the four-lap 125cc race completed a fine double for William around the 8.9-mile course.

The 23-year-old led every lap and built up a gap of more than seven seconds over Chris Palmer on his KRP/PJ Flynn Honda by the finish to add a second major victory to his CV.

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Olie Linsdell came home in third, a further five seconds back on the Flitwick Motorcycles Honda.

Dunlop, so often ruled out of contention for victory in the two-stroke classes previously as a result of mechanical setbacks, said: “I kept looking over my shoulder because I thought Chris Palmer or Davey Lemon would be coming after me.

“But I’m so happy that I kept it all together and the bike was so strong all the way through the race.

“All I had to do was ride the bike around and it was so good that I didn’t have to push myself to the limit.

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“Mark (Keen, KRP Racing) has given me a good bike and it’s the best way to repay him. Hopefully, I can get another win in the Ultra-Lightweight TT race at Billown next month.”

Runner-up Palmer said: “My bike has some good stuff on it, but William’s bike is a British championship bike and it has everything on it.

“I gave it my best shot out there and on the second lap I went through Mather’s Cross flat-out in top gear and the wind got under me, and I lost the front of the bike.

“I thought it was curtains for me, but luckily I stayed on and made it round.

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“Fair play to William, he won the race and didn’t put a foot wrong.”

Mark Lunney from Belfast, Dutch rider Stephan Savelkouls and James Ford rounded out the first half dozen.

The 250cc race was dropped from the programme at the North West 200 in 2010, with the organisers also axing the 125cc event a year later due to dwindling interest.

England’s Steve Plater also notched a double in 2009, taking victory in the Superbike and Supersport races, while Carrickfergus man Alastair Seeley won the Superstock race from Ryan Farquhar.

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The feature Superbike race was called off as a result of poor weather conditions.

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