Michael Dunlop’s last minute switch says a lot about road racing and the recipe for success at the Isle of Man.
Michael Dunlop only did 3 laps of the TT circuit in the new Yamaha R1M before throwing in the towel and going back to his tried and tested BMW S1000RR. What prompted the move? Only Michael Dunlop knows that. It may have been a lack of confidence in the machine, or a lack of progress in a new bike to the TT. It may have been down to the guys in the team he was working with. Whatever the reasons, dumping a factory team for a brand new bike half way through practice week tells us a lot about road racing, road racers, and what it takes to be a winner. It also speaks volumes about the BMW S1000RR over the Yamaha R1. I don’t doubt BMW bosses will be looking pretty pleased with themselves, while Yamaha bosses will be looking rather embarrassed. After they failed to convince any other rider to join their team, Milwaukee Yamaha left the island shortly after Dunlop left the team.
Being a Winner Feels like Winning
Winning races is something that people who win races come to know the feeling of. They start off with a situation (a bike, some riding ability, experience, racecraft etc), and as things develop and unfold, they see the fruits of their labours turn into victory. Just as a successful businessman learns to sniff out the feeling of a good business deal, and successful recording executives can sense the potential of an up and coming musician, road racers (at least successful ones) know the feeling of a race winning team, a race winning bike and a race winning opportunity. As someone who knows what this path to success feels like, Dunlop didn’t find his experience at Milwaukee Yamaha conducive to a winning outcome at the Isle of Man, and so he sought what he thought would give him what he wants.
Many onlookers will berate Dunlop for quitting the team, or for not giving it a chance, but they don’t get to choose for him, he is a professional road racer, and while he needs to foster relationships with teams, he also needs to win races to make a living, and if he feels that he has no chance of that, he is an also-run. Does Michael Dunlop strike you as someone who is happy to be an also run?
Road racers are extremely physical people, they must have that hands on, ‘truck-fitter’ side to their character to be able to put up with the viscerally brutal forces, speeds and presence of concentration to ride at 200mph on public roads fleets away from lampposts, kerbs and manhole covers. They also work extremely hard to get what they want, whether it is spending all night stripping down an engine, or putting in the practice laps to get everything just so.
But racers are also extremely sensitive to their emotions, and they can feel when something is worth pushing for and when it isn’t. At least those who last a while in road racing are sensitive, akin to using their gut. If they don’t feel comfortable they can’t push it. It goes against their nature. The old adage goes:
There are old riders and there are bold riders, but there are no old bold riders
Or as John McGuinnes said recently of putting in 130mph laps (I paraphrase) You don’t work at 130’s they happen when you get your corners right. You can’t push it, if you do, it all ends in tears. You have to do everything that you can to put yourself in the right place, and when everything comes together, the speed comes as a natural by product. The harder you try, the slower you go.
Confidence is Everything.
As anyone who has ever ridden a 1000cc super stock bike will testify, these machines make going fast incredibly easy, but proper machine setup is necessary to bring confidence from the tyres, suspension and the engine when winding on the throttle to the stop.
The TT course is a road course, which means bumps undulations, kerbs, ripples, shellgrip etc, and to ride fast at the Isle of man is about confidence. You could say the same thing applies at all levels of racing, but when your runoff area on a corner is a brick wall, You tend to take fewer risks.
If you feel that you are in capable hands, if your machine is extremely capable, it allows you to get on with the business of riding the course and getting your corners right. If the bike isn’t working, then every 37.73 mile lap feels like a Sisyphean task. If your bike isn’t working for you, it’s working against you. And to win races on the Isle of Man you need all the help you can get. Without confidence you can’t push like the rest of your competitors and you won’t be up there at the top of the leader board. If Michael doesn’t have confidence, he knows he is stuffed, so he has (for whatever reason) gone back to what he knows is a competitive machine. I don’t doubt he had the Buildbase boys waiting in the wings, and he was planning his exit from Milwaukee long before the TT started.
Winners Focus on What They Want
There is a ruthlessness required on successful racers that many people don’t have. You need to be prepared to go your own way, often at the expense of others to get what you want. Football, rugby, cricket are team sports. It all for one and one for all. Motorsport is about the individual, or at lest any team effort is about the race team. They do their bit, and you do yours. But when it comes down to it, you are the guy who has to bring home the bacon. A successful team requires trust, and cooperation, and good communication. Leaving a team then and going your own way is ruthless, but it you judge Michael Dunlop harshly for doing what he did then I can tell you straight up; “You don’t have what it takes to be a win races”.
The TT takes some Setting-Up
To win TT races you need personal and mechanical resilience (you and your bike) and you need time on the course to get things dialled in. Setting up the bike to run well over the gamut of road conditions (fast and slow, left and right, grip and less grip) is something of an exercise in trial and error, which means practice. Having dumped his Yamaha team mid way through practice week, and with poor weather giving riders fewer practice sessions, MD is playing catch up with the other teams. He’s in a good standing after qualifying, but he will be using his first Superbike race to home his settings further. Bear in mind the superbike he’s racing (2015 BMW S1000RR) is a new bike this year, so his settings from last year will not be automatically transferable.
This week will be interesting to watch. As always, ITV4 will be bringing us their excellent coverage of the event courtesy of Craig Doyle, Steve Parrish, James Whitham and Steve Plater. I’d put money down on MD winning at least one race, but will it be on a BMW? It won’t be easy. McGuinness, Anstey and Hutchinson are all in fighting form and going really well. More interestingly, let’s see how youngster Dean Harrison gets on with the new R1 in his Mar-tran team. If Dean puts in a good performance on the R1, Yamaha will recover some important kudos points.
There’s a saying in the world of motorcycles “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”. After being jilted by Michael Dunlop for the BMW (two closely matched and priced machines), how will R1 sales fare? I wonder if there will be any more implications for Dunlop for leaving factory Yamaha standing at the altar, or perhaps a clause written into future contracts. He’s on the front page of the TT programme on his factory R1, for goodness sake!