Gary Dunlop says nothing compares to the experience of racing around the iconic Dundrod course as the Ballymoney man looks ahead to next week’s MCE Ulster Grand Prix.
Dunlop, whose legendary father Joey remains the most successful rider ever at the event with 24 wins, made his debut in 2016 and sealed a brace of brilliant fourth place finishes in the Ultra-Lightweight class last August.
The 33-year-old only made his debut between the hedges last season and celebrated his maiden podium last month at the Skerries 100, where he finished second behind Derek McGee after setting the early pace in the Moto3/125GP race.
“My first Dundrod experience exceeded all my expectations,” Dunlop said.
“It was easier to learn than I’d expected; I already felt like I knew it well, but you never really learn a track until you’re on it and using both sides of the road and travelling at speed but I was surprised how well I took to it – like a duck to water really.
“I didn’t enjoy the first day because the weather wasn’t so great and I was a wee bit nervous, but whenever it came to the dry sessions it was by far the best place I’ve ridden a motorbike round.”
Dunlop was thrilled with his results last year and revealed he was almost speechless afterwards, although he later felt disappointed that he fluffed his start in each race.
“I didn’t expect to get anywhere near to fourth place, it was awesome, I couldn’t speak for about 10 minutes whenever I got back into the paddock.
“I have to admit though I was a bit disappointed as I had two absolutely shocking starts that I can only put down to nerves.
“I think if I could have got away with the front boys right at the start then maybe I wouldn’t have finished any higher, but I’d have been closer,” added Dunlop, who was speaking at the launch of the Charles Hurst Motorcycles Dundrod 150 partnership.
“The challenge this year is not to let nerves get the better of me, it’s going to be tougher this year just down to putting pressure on mysef. I need to get a few pounds off and get into a bit of shape if I’m going to do as well or better this time.
“I wasn’t actually going to bother going out again this year but the only thing that’s making me do a couple of other races is for the Ulster Grand Prix. It’s hard to explain why I love it so much, there’s just a feeling about it.
“Every proper road racer knows it is the best track out of them all.”
Ulster GP Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston is willing Dunlop to finish on the podium this year and has no doubt the crowds in the packed Joey Dunlop Grandstand will also be urging him on.
“Gary made a great first impression at the Ulster in 2016, and I know he is really pushing himself to up his game this year.
“I’d love to see him get a podium finish and I don’t think I’m the only one – the crowd in the Joey Dunlop grandstand gave him an amazing reception as he crossed the finish line in fourth place so I can only imagine the cheer if he places this time.
“Riders like Gary, Paul Robinson, Christian Elkin and Nigel Moore are what the Dundrod 150 and the Ultra-Lightweight/Lightweight class is all about.
“There’s still a fantastic appetite both to race and watch the smaller bikes and for me it will always be important to give that it’s place at the world’s fastest road race.”
Practice commences next Wednesday, followed by final qualifying and the Dundrod 150 National meeting on Thursday, with the main race bill taking centre stage on Saturday, August 12.