Robert Dunlop (November
25, 1960 - May 15, 2008), was a Northern Irish motorcycle
racer, the younger brother of fellow road racer, the
late Joey Dunlop, and like Joey he died after a crash
while racing. After an apprenticeship on short circuits,
the teenage Dunlop made his road race debut at the 1979
Temple 100. His first appearance at the Cookstown 100
came in 1980, riding a 347cc Yamaha. His first professional
race, where he was fully sponsored was at Aghadowey
Dunlop then began a record breaking run at the Cookstown
100, where his first win came in the 1985 250cc race.
Riding an ECM, he averaged 88.57mph to take the chequered
flag ahead of Gary Cowan (EMC) and Noel Hudson (Rotax).
His most successful year was 1987 when he scooped the
prestigious “Man of the Meeting”, wining
125cc, 350cc and 1000cc races. Four more 125cc victories
followed in 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1993; a total of eight
victories in the event.
He won the Macau Grand Prix in 1989 on a Honda 500,
beating Phillip McCallen and Steve Hislop, both on Honda
In 1990 he joined the JPS Norton racing team on the
RCW588, which was powered by a Wankel engine. On short
circuits Dunlop notched one of the three three MCN Supercup
wins, the other two by Terry Rymer. Dunlop notched a
double in Ireland's North West 200 and finished third
in the F1 Isle of Man TT.
In 1994, Dunlop suffered a major accident on the Isle
of Man Formula One TT, when the back wheel of his 750cc
Honda RC45 collapsed in a long left turn, just after
he took the jump over Ballaugh Bridge. Dunlop suffered
multiple injuries and was extremely lucky to have survived
the high-speed crash. A long stay in hospital, followed
by protractive recuperation, meant Dunlop was out of
action for the remainder of 1994 and all of 1995.
Many believed that Dunlop's racing career was over,
and he was left with severe tendon damage which restricted
movement, and a shortened leg from the accident. Afterwards
accepting his injuries and resultantly restricting his
competition entries from then on to the 125cc class,
Dunlop was determined to return. Dunlop chose the Cookstown
100 on 20 April 1996, and although still not fully fit,
took ninth place in the 125cc race won by brother Joey.
He has not won the Cookstown 100 since, but has returned
every year in the 125cc class: 3rd in 1997, 4th in 1998,
3rd in 2002 and 2nd in 2004.
Subject to severe insurance restrictions and costs
due to his continual pain and deteriorating condition
of his leg, and even questions in the Northern Ireland
Assembly, on 16 December 2003 Dunlop announced that
he would quit motorcycle racing after the 2004 season.
Dunlop announced that he was hoping to win the Isle
of Man TT and North West 200 before he quit, and that
he intended to focus on his sons, William and Michael,
and pass his motorcycling experience to them. Robert
continued racing until his retirement at the 2004 Isle
of Man TT races.
On 8 February 2005 he was the first person to be elected
to the "Irish Motorcycle Hall of Fame". At
the event, Dunlop announced that he was shortly to enter
hospital to have his injured leg broken and lengthened,
an inevitable conclusion to his 1994 Isle of Man TT
accident. He also announced if all went well, he would
love to return to motorcycle racing in 2006, sponsored
by Patsy O'Kane in a last hurrah. Dunlop actually came
back out of retirement during the 2005 road racing season.
Dunlop took his record breaking 15th win at the 2006
North West 200 meeting. The Dunlop brothers between
have also won a record number of races at the North
A winner on the course at his first attempt, Dunlop
won the 1983 Newcomers 350cc Manx Grand Prix. In 1989
he scored his first TT win in the 125cc Class with a
new lap record at 103.02mph. In 1990 he repeated his
success in the 125 with a new lap record at 104.09mph.
In 1991 he scored a double victory taking the 125cc
Race for the third year in succession at a record 103.68mph
with a new lap record at 106.71mph and won the Junior
TT at 114.89mph. In 1992 he finished 2nd in the 125
and 3rd in the Junior and Senior and in 1993 he finished
2nd in the 125.
In 1994 an accident at Ballaugh Bridge in the Formula
1 ended his week. He didn’t race again in the
TT until 1997 in the 125cc Race and took third place.
In 1998 he won the Ultra-Lightweight race and in 1999
finished 5th. In 2000 he rode a Honda in the Ultra-Lightweight
and brought it home in third place. Over his career,
he finished on a TT podium 14 times.
On 8 February 2005 he was the first person to be elected
to the "Irish Racer Magazine Hall of Fame".
In February 2006, it was announced that Dunlop and
his brother Joey were honoured with Honorary Degrees
from the University of Ulster, in light of their achievements
in the field of motorcycle racing. On 4 July the pair
were awarded honorary Doctorate of the University (DUniv)
from the University of Ulster in Coleraine.
On 15 May 2008 Dunlop died after suffering severe
chest injuries in a crash during a practice session
at the North West 200. The fatal accident happened in
the 250cc qualifying as the riders approached the Mathers
Cross section of the course. The engine on his motorcycle
seized and he was subsequently thrown over the handlebars
at approximately 160mph. As he crashed, a following
rider - Darren Burns - collided with him suffering a
broken leg and concussion in the accident. Dunlop was
taken to Causeway Hospital in Coleraine before succumbing
to his injuries shortly after 22.00 local time. Dunlop
had been racing in the 250cc class this year for the
first time since the 1994 Isle of Man TT.
His funeral took place on Sunday, 18th May 2008 at
Garryduff Presbyterian Church in his home town of Ballymoney.
Robert was laid to rest in the adjoining graveyard,
beside his brother, Joey.
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