Motorcycling team boss Tim Martin has paid an emotional tribute to tragic road racer William Dunlop.
Dunlop, 32, from Ballymoney, was killed in practice at the Skerries 100 races in Co Dublin on Saturday.
His death has plunged Northern Ireland’s motorcycling community into mourning, with William becoming the third member of his legendary racing family to lose their life to the sport.
In 2000, his uncle Joey died following a crash at Tallinn in Estonia, while William’s father Robert was killed during practice for the North West 200 in 2008.
Lisburn businessman and Mar-Train Racing team owner Mr Martin said yesterday he had been left “numb and shocked” by the tragedy.
Choking back tears, he told the News Letter: “What can you say – what words are there? We’re all just numb and in shock.
“It’s nothing compared to what William’s partner Janine, his daughter Ella and the Dunlop family are going through, but it’s just so hard to take.”
Tributes have poured in for the popular Ulsterman, with World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and golfers Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy among those who have extended their condolences to the Dunlop family.
Dunlop was riding Mr Martin’s Temple Golf Club-branded Yamaha R1 machine when the accident occurred during practice for the Open class.
Racing went ahead yesterday at Skerries with the blessing of William’s family.
The prize fund earmarked for the event will go to his partner Janine and two-year-old daughter Ella, following agreement with his fellow riders on Saturday.
Many competitors chose not to compete, including leading contenders Derek Sheils and Davey Todd – part of the Dungannon-based Burrows Racing Team – and Mullingar man Derek McGee.
William’s brother, Michael, left the event on Saturday to be with his family.
Mr Martin stepped in to support Dunlop in 2017 after his deal to ride for a British championship team on the roads fell through at the last minute.
This year, he put a full-scale effort behind William, signing him to ride his Yamaha machines at the international and Irish national road races.
He added: “We tried to support him as much as he we could last year and then we really got behind William this year to have a real go at it.
“Yes, he was a Dunlop and part of the dynasty and all of the fame that comes with that in this part of the world, but one thing I want to get across is that William was a man in his own right.
“William was a one-man band and he just turned up to race himself. He was very private and he never talked about his partner or any of his family – there was no talk like that and he definitely kept his cards close to his chest.
“He was quiet but he was a gentleman – a very genuine person and a humble man. I don’t know where we go from here, it’s not something that has even entered my thinking and the main thing is getting William home.
“We will offer any help we can if it is needed, but the Dunlops are very much a close-knit family and when something like this happens, they close ranks and become one unit.”
Initial reports on Saturday suggested an engine failure in the Yamaha R1 had caused the fatal accident, but Mr Martin said a broken sump spilled oil on to the rear tyre, resulting in the high-speed crash.
“The bike did not blow up – no. Alister (Russell, William’s mechanic) went down to see the bike and we know what happened,” Mr Martin said.
“There’s a ‘bomb hole’ as you come out from the trees at Sam’s Tunnel and the bike bottomed out and pulled the sump plug out of the sump.
“The oil went on to the back wheel and that is what caused William to crash – identical to what happened to James Hillier this year at the Isle of Man TT at the bottom of Barregarrow.
“There was no error on William’s part and it absolutely was not his fault – he did nothing wrong. I imagine there will be an investigation but I’ve never been in this position before, so I’m not sure what the process will be.
“It’s just desperately sad and we are all devastated.”