The bottom of the motorcycle of well-known Northern Ireland sportsman William Dunlop made contact with the road several times at the same location where he was involved in a fatal crash during a race in north Co Dublin five years ago, an inquest has heard.
Another competitor, Paul Jordan, gave evidence that the Yamaha R1 superbike ridden by Mr Dunlop had “bottomed out” at a dip in the road just before the fatal collision as well as the two previous laps while participating in a practice run for the Skerries 100 races on July 7th, 2018.
Mr Dunlop, a 33-year-old father of two from Ballymoney, Co Antrim, died at the scene of the crash from traumatic head injuries and a fracture to the top of his spine which were described as “un-survivable” by the coroner, Dr Cróna Gallagher.
A well-known figure in motorsport circles, Mr Dunlop was a son of another leading rider, the late Robert Dunlop – who was killed in a racing crash in the North West 200 in 2008 – and a nephew of the sport’s legendary figure, Joey Dunlop – who was fatally injured in a collision during a race in Estonia in 2000.
Mr Jordan, who was travelling about 1.5 seconds behind Mr Dunlop, told the second day of the inquest, at Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Friday, that he could see the other rider’s motorcycle make contact with the road as it went through the dip in the road at a section of the track known as “The Tunnel”.
“I could see this by the bits of dirt that would get thrown up,” he added.
Mr Jordan, a then team-mate of Mr Dunlop with the Lisburn-based Mar-Train racing team, said the dip was bigger on one side of the road and he had taken a different line through that section to his team-mate.
On the fatal, fourth timed lap, Mr Jordan said he could visibly see Mr Dunlop’s bike bottoming out.
“There was definite compression on the bike and it brought up a bit of dust,” he said.
The rider said it had taken his concentration away and he had immediately shut off his throttle but he estimated that Mr Dunlop was going “flat out” at up to 274km/h (170 miles per hour).
Mr Jordan recalled that there was smoke everywhere “like a fog” as he came around a corner after his team-mate.
He remembered seeing an object on the road which was the first indication he had that Mr Dunlop had come off his motorcycle. Mr Jordan said he only discovered later that it was his colleague’s glove.
Mr Jordan said the deceased’s bike suddenly appeared on his right hand side while he saw Mr Dunlop’s body going down the road in front of him “like a rag doll”.
He told the coroner that he kept driving through the scene until he could stop and ran back up towards the crash site.
“I knew straight away when I saw the accident that William was dead,” said Mr Jordan.
The inquest heard that his visor and clothing were covered in oil from Mr Dunlop’s bike.
Mr Jordan said he believed that the bottoming out of his colleague’s motorcycle would have caused oil to leak from a loose sump nut which would have meant Mr Dunlop would have been unable to control his bike.
The witness said the impact that Mr Dunlop’s bike had with the road when going through the dip during the previous couple of laps might also have contributed to any damage.
Questioned by counsel for the Dunlop family, Ben O’Connor, Mr Dunlop accepted that he was not a qualified mechanic.
The rider said he could not say if Mr Dunlop would have felt his motorcycle making contact with the ground.
He told the coroner that bottoming out was not common and was something that motorcyclists tried to avoid.
Asked if he was concerned that something was wrong after Mr Dunlop’s bike made contact with the road, Mr Jordan replied: “Not really.”
He said he was unable to see oil on the ground as there was smoke everywhere and he could not see his hand in front of him.
The inquest was adjourned after an issue arose between legal representatives of the Dunlop family and Mar-Train which cannot be reported as a result of a direction by the coroner.
Dr Gallagher said she would await further contact from both sides before fixing a date for a resumption of the case which is being held in front of a jury of six females and one male.
Addressing Mr Dunlop’s partner, Janine Brolly, and his younger brother, Michael Dunlop, the coroner acknowledged that the evidence from the two days of the inquest had been very difficult for his family.
“Our sympathy remains with you on such a tragic loss,” said Dr Gallagher.