One of Northern Ireland’s best known motorcyclists has been killed in a high speed crash at the North West 200. Robert Dunlop, 47, sustained chest injuries after the incident at a practice lap near Portrush in County Antrim on Thursday. He died later. Dunlop had been riding a specially adapted bike after he returned to racing following an horrific crash at the Isle of Man TT in 1994. His brother, Joey, was killed in a racing accident in Estonia in 2000.
Thursday’s accident happened in the 250cc qualifying session. The riders had been travelling at speeds of about 160mph as they approached the Mathers Cross section of the course. Dunlop’s bike appeared to seize and he went over the handlebars.The Ballymoney man was rushed to the Causeway Hospital in nearby Coleraine, where he died from his injuries shortly after 2200 BST. His sons, Michael and William, had been taking part in the North West 200.

Another Northern Ireland rider, Darren Burns, suffered a suspected broken leg and concussion in the same accident. Burns was following behind and was unable to avoid hitting the Dunlop. He is said to be stable in hospital.

Dunlop made his debut on the Northern Ireland roads as a teenager in 1979 and went on to claim his first major win in the Isle of Man in 1983 when he won the Newcomers 350cc race at the Manx Grand Prix. The remainder of the 1980s saw him becoming a regular winner on the Northern Ireland road racing scene. 1989 proved a hugely successful year, which included his first Isle of Man TT win. His last major international road race win came when he won the 125cc event at the North West 200 in 2006. Ian Paisley junior of the DUP went to the hospital to offer support to Dunlop’s wife and family after the crash.
He revealed how he had a warm conversation with his friend before Dunlop’s death. Robert was one of NI’s best known and most experienced riders Liam Beckett, Dunlop’s long-time mechanic and a close friend, said: “I don’t know of a more caring and devoted father – he just lived for his family.

“They are a unique and resilient family, and to be honest they were in pieces last night.”

The Motor Cycling Union of Ireland and PSNI are investigating the incident.

Dunlop is also survived by his wife Louise and other son Daniel.

May 2008
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