The story of William and Michael Dunlop's sole venture to the Macau Grand Prix in 2011
Eight years ago, revered road racing brothers William and Michael Dunlop retraced their father Robert’s footsteps as they made their first and only appearance at the Macau Grand Prix in southern China.
Robert became the sole member of the legendary Dunlop dynasty to win the prestigious race in 1989 on the PJ O’Kane (Garvagh) Honda RC30, when he beat Phillip McCallen and Steve Hislop, who were also riding the iconic Honda machines.
The Ballymoney man had finished on the rostrum the previous year in 1988, when flamboyant American Grand Prix star Kevin Schwantz famously clinched victory at his first attempt on the Pepsi Suzuki RGV500. On that occasion, Dunlop crossed the line in third behind German rider Peter Rubatto.
His victory at Macau the following year was his first big international success in the Superbike class and an accomplishment that meant a lot to Robert, given it was one of the few trophies that hadn’t already been won by his older brother Joey.
In 2011, his sons William and Michael made the decision to travel to the Far East for the first time.
William, who rode a 1000cc Honda Fireblade for Wilson Craig Racing, told me before he set off on his journey that Robert was never keen for either of them to race at Macau, where the 3.8-mile Armco barrier-lined Guia course leaves absolutely no margin for error.
“My dad was never keen on us racing at Macau to be honest but it’s one of those things – the experience will be good,” said William, who was 25 at the time.
“A crash is a crash on the roads no matter where it happens, but I’m not going over there to race hard, I’m going to enjoy the whole thing.
“It’s an invitation-only race and the organisers are very choosy about who they ask to come and race, so if you don’t treat the place with respect you won’t get to race and you won’t be asked back.
“It’s happened before when they’ve told riders they won’t be asked back,” he added.
“I’m looking forward to getting away for a while and also seeing what it’s all about over there because I’ve heard so much about it.”
His younger brother Michael (22) had a different outlook, which was typical of the bullish approach that has come to define the 19-time Isle of Man TT winner’s modus operandi.
“I’m only thinking about Macau and I want to go and try and win it,” Michael said at the time.
“You don’t get a lot of practice time and the heat could be a problem, though I’m looking forward to seeing how I cope with that when I’m over there because I’ve never raced in conditions like that before.”
Dunlop was counting on riding a factory-spec Kawasaki ZX-10 for Paul Bird, but the bikes were instead earmarked for Manx rider Conor Cummins and American Jeremy Toye.
“I assumed I was getting one of the factory bikes but they’ve gone to other riders, so I’ll have to make do with what I get, but it won’t be a works bike,” he said.
Both successfully finished the race, with Michael coming home in 12th place and William following in 13th.
England’s Michael Rutter, the most successful competitor on two wheels ever at Macau, sealed the race victory.
William, who was sadly killed in a crash last year at the Skerries 100, nor Michael ever ventured back.
Speaking after returning home from the event, William admitted he could “take it or leave it”.
“It’s the kind of place where you could fall off at 50mph and end up seriously hurt or worse,” he said.
“Bruce Anstey came past me and I thought I’d hang on to him and get a bit of a tow (in qualifying), but I went into the corner too fast and had to brake hard. I lost the front end of the bike and managed to save it, but I was still carrying too much speed for the corner so I just laid the bike down on its side (at Fisherman’s).
“I was lucky because I didn’t slide into the barrier, but even a small crash at Macau could leave you badly hurt and you’ve got to treat the place with a lot of respect,” he added.
“I could take it or leave it. It’s not that bad but it’s a lot of money to travel over there when you could be spending it doing something else here. I’m not saying I won’t go back, but it’s not really my scene.”
Three Northern Ireland riders will be in action at the 53rd Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix this week, with Lee Johnston (Ashcourt BMW), Paul Jordan (Dafabet Kawasaki) and Davy Morgan (DM71 BMW) having made the trip.
Practice and the first qualifying sessions take place on Thursday followed by final qualifying on Friday.
The 12-lap race is scheduled for 07:55 GMT on Saturday, when Peter Hickman (MGM by Bathams BMW) and Michael Rutter (MGM by Bathams Honda) line up as the favourites.