Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 11:01 UK

Dunlop killed in road race crash

Robert Dunlop pictured before the race
Robert Dunlop pictured before Thursday's race

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.

The North West 200 event will go ahead as planned, organisers have said.

Robert's road racing 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.

A colleague, Denver Robb, was behind both motorcyclists when the accident happened.

"Coming up to Mathers (Cross), Burns was leading and I was second, just sitting in his slipstream," he said.

"Then Robert - it was one of the Dunlops - came past me and as soon as he did he just shot off into Mathers and the bike seized.

"There was a puff of smoke and the bike locked up, she went sideways, and I think Robert must have grabbed the front brake.

I put my arm around him and told him to look after himself and I teased him and told him to behave
Ian Paisley junior
Family friend

"He went out over the top of the bike and landed on the road. Then Burnsy had nowhere to go and he clipped him and he went straight on."

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.

The accident happened near the Mathers Cross section of the course
The accident happened near the Mathers Cross section of the course

"I put my arm around him and told him to look after himself and I teased him and told him to behave," said the North Antrim MLA.

"I am glad the departing words I had with him were ones of friendship and of fun."

Tributes to the motorcycling ace have been pouring in from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.

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."

Mervyn White, Clerk of the Course at the North West 200, said: "This was an accident which appears at the present time to be machine failure.

"It could have happened anywhere at all, it could have happened on the open road."

First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they were deeply saddened by the death.

Northern Ireland Sports Minister Edwin Poots said: "Robert was a much loved respected and talented member of the motorsport community and will be missed by all."

The Motorcycling Union of Ireland and PSNI are investigating the incident.

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

  • A number of North West 200 events including live music, fireworks and an air display have been cancelled as a mark of respect, Coleraine Borough Council has announced.

    Tributes paid to bike star Dunlop
    16 May 08 |  Motorbikes
    Dunlop death stuns motorcycling
    16 May 08 |  Motorbikes


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