Motorsport Heritage

Dunlop started it over 125 years ago – and Dunlop is still a leader

1888 | The birth of the pneumatic tyre

Ever since John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre in 1888, his name has been synonymous with industry-leading technical development in tyres. A string of milestone innovations powered the growth of a global brand that rapidly became a household name. his name has been synonymous with industry-leading technical development in tyres. A string of milestone innovations powered the growth of a global brand that rapidly became a household name.

1889 | Birth of a racing legend

When spectators gather to watch a local bicycle race in Belfast, Northern Ireland on May 18, 1889, they could not have known that they were witnessing the birth of Motorsport history. Riding for the very first time on pneumatic tyres invented the previous year by John Boyd Dunlop, local cyclist Willie Hume destroys the competition by winning four of the day’s five races, repeating the feat later that year in Liverpool. It is proof positive of the supremacy of air-filled tyres over their solid rubber predecessors, and the dawn of Dunlop’s intrinsic links with competition, on two wheels and four.


In early car races, the grip levels of cars were enhanced by having leather bands strapped to the tyre, a little like the snow-chains we use today, but for use in normal weather conditions. In 1906, Dunlop introduced their first tyre with a tread pattern that was carved into the rubber, eliminating the need for studded belts or leather bands.

1902 | Our maiden victory in Motorsport

In 1902 Dunlop tyres take the chequered flag for the first time in a motor racing event – the gruelling Paris-Vienna race. It is the first-ever trophy for a car or motorcycle shod with Dunlop tyres, and it started a trend that has continued to this day.

1906 | First victory in Tourist Trophy

Charles Rolls, at the wheel of a 20hp Rolls-Royce, takes Dunlop’s first win in the RAC International Tourist Trophy race.

1907 | Birth of the Isle of Man TT

A new race for touring motorcycles, the iconic Isle of Man TT takes place for the first time this year with Dunlop tyres used by many competitors.

1922 | Introduction of the steel bead tyre

In 1922,  Dunlop introduced a steel bead tyre with a woven cord casing. This trebled the tyre life and became the tyre industry standard. With speeds regularly over 160kmh for the first time, the challenge was to ensure the tyre tread stayed on the carcass of the tyre.  Dunlop invested in high speed test machines, essentially rotating drums, which could be used to increase loads and speeds to safely test new tyre constructions before they were fitted to racing cars.

1923 | First Grand Prix victory

US-born Irishman Henry Seagrave wins Dunlop’s first Grand Prix victory at Tours in France, driving his famous Sunbeam car.

1924 | Dunlop wins Le Mans 24-Hour race

Known as the Grand Prix of efficiency, the famous Le Mans race requires teams to run 24 hours while conserving tyres, fuel, and braking materials. John Duff and Frank Clement at the wheel of a Bentley give Dunlop their first Le Mans triumph in 1924, with the famous Bentley Boys dominating in this decade, taking five wins between 1924 and 1930. The partnership was renewed in 2001 – 73 years after Bentley’s last win at Le Mans – when the two companies join forces again to win the LMGT class.

1927 | Land speed record broken on Dunlop tyres

On February 4, Captain Malcolm Campbell and Bluebird break the world land speed record on specially made Dunlop tyres, clocking 175mph (281.44kph) at Pendine Sands in Wales. The record is broken again in March with Henry Seagrave’s Slug reaching 203mph (327.98kph) at Daytona – again on Dunlop tyres. Dunlop tyres play a crucial role in the land speed record battles of the inter-war years, with Campbell and Seagrave vying with US challengers for the coveted title of world’s fastest.

1935 | Dunlop Tyres first to break 300mph

Eleven years after setting his first land speed record, Malcolm Campbell is determined to become the first human to travel over 300mph (482.8kph) on land. In his famous Bluebird, he comes close at Daytona Beach, reaching 276mph (444.18kph). His car has all the power required, but wheelspin causes him to lose nearly 50mph from his top speed. Dunlop specially designs the world’s first “slicks”, built to withstand enormous speeds. On September 3, 1935 at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1935, Campbell sets a new record of 301mph (484.82kph).

1937 | 10th Le Mans win

The Bugatti of Jean Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the tenth time the race is won on Dunlop tyres.

1938 | Campbell’s record falls

Sir John Cobb sets a new record of 367mph (590.63kph) at Bonneville Salt Flats. Just like Campbell before him, Cobb is aided in his quest by tyres specially designed and produced by Dunlop. Only 0.5mm thick – no thicker than the lead of a pencil – they were capable of withstanding speeds of almost 500mph (804.67kph). Cobb’s 1947 speed of 394.19mph (634.39kph) is only broken in 1963, and then by jet propulsion.

1949 | Dunlop dominates motorcycle competition

Les Graham rides his AJS to victory in the first ever 500cc motorcycle World Championships on Dunlop tyres. A string of great names follows: from John Surtees, Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read right up to Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey towards the end of the 500cc era. The first ever 250 GP is also won on Dunlops in 1949; beginning a trend of domination in this and the smaller 125cc class that continued until these classes are replaced by Moto2 and Moto3 in 2010 and 2012– with Dunlop chosen as the supplier to these categories after the dominance of the preceding classes. Dunlop tyres have won every major motorcycle accolade – from GP World Championships to the Isle of Man TT, from World Superbike and Supersport to World Endurance, with similar across-the-board success in motocross and other off-road championships.

1951 | Dunlop and Jaguar rule Le Mans

Disc brakes had been experimented with since the dawn of motoring, but it was Dunlop who pioneered the reliable use of them – on the Jaguar at Le Mans. All the Jaguar C types and D types were fitted with that major innovation and won Le Mans 24 hours in 1951, 53, 55, 56 and 57. Better braking meant that tyres had to be upgraded to avoid locking up under heavy braking.  During this period, Dunlop introduced a new ‘wet hold’ tread pattern.

1956 | Dunlop in front in motorcycle competition

John Surtees riding an MV Agusta wins the 500cc World Championship with Dunlop tyres, a feat repeated in 1963 by Mike Hailwood and from 1966-1972 by the peerless Giacomo Agostini.

1958 | Dunlop dominant in Formula 1

This year marks the start of a period in which Dunlop more or less owns Formula 1, with wins in Monaco (Maurice Trintignant, Cooper), Nürburgring and Monza (Tony Broorks, Vanwall), and Sweden (Stirling Moss, Maserati). Jack Brabham (Cooper) wins the F1 driver’s championship the following year on Dunlop tyres, the beginning of an amazing run of seven consecutive F1 championship wins for Dunlop.


Aerodynamic downforce had yet to become a dominating factor in Formula One, but the power levels were going up and more grip and traction was needed. Before the advent of wings, the only way of making the car corner faster was by increasing mechanical grip. For the first time, F1 cars had rear tyres that were significantly bigger than fronts.

1961 | Partnership with Ferrari

Having worked with team Jaguar to dominate Le Mans in the 1950s, the 1960s usher in the Ferrari decade for Dunlop. A partnership with the famed Italian marque sees four consecutive Dunlop Le Mans wins from 1961-1964.

1968 | The end of one era, the beginning of more

Jackie Stewart (Matra) wins Dunlop’s eighth Formula 1 championship. Stewart’s August 4 victory at the Nürburgring has gone down in Grand Prix legend, when despite torrential rain, poor visibility and a broken wrist, the ‘Flying Scotsman’ took first place on the podium in what has come to be regarded as one of the greatest drives in F1 history – a feat only made possible with newly-developed Dunlop wet weather tyres. However, the company decides in 1970 to end its decades-long association with F1 in order to focus on racing in other categories including rallies, sports and touring cars, where major car manufacturers are concentrating their racing activities.

1977 | The Porsche era

Following successful Le Mans partnerships with Jaguar and Ferrari, Dunlop then joins forces with Porsche, racing to victory in the famed endurance race in 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987.

1979 | Off-road champions

Ford and Dunlop win the World Rally Championship, the culmination of a nine-year partnership during which they win the RAC Rally for seven consecutive years.

1984 | Dunlop powered to Le Mans success with designs for Jaguar and Porsche

Dunlop wins the Paris-Dakar rally with the Porsche 911 driven by Rene Metge and Dominique Lemoyne, a feat they would repeat two years later in a Porsche 959. This year also sees Eddie Lawson ride to victory in the 500cc World Championship on a Yamaha shod with Dunlop tyres, while 1987 sees Dunlop as World Sportscar champions for a sixth consecutive time with Jaguar.

1988 | A century of success

Dunlop celebrates its 100th anniversary by racing to victory with Jaguar at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The winning car, driven by Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries and Andy Wallace, completes 394 laps and covers a distance of 3313 miles (5332.79km). In fact, it’s a one-two result for Dunlop, with the second-placed Porsche 962C also using Dunlop rubber.


This was the era when Dunlop developed bespoke tyres to suit 4WD touring cars and the beginning of a new racing partnership, this time with Audi in the Deutsche Touring Meisterschaft (DTM). Dunlop/Audi are DTM champions in their maiden season, and again the following year, while the companies also join forces to compete successfully on the FIA touring car circuit.

1991 | Glory again at Le Mans

Meanwhile, Dunlop’s habit of winning at Le Mans proves a tough one to break. 1991 sees Dunlop tyres aboard the first (and to date, only) win by a Japanese manufacturer, the rotary-engined Mazda 787B driven by Johnny Herbert, Betrand Gachot and Volker Wiedler.

2000 | Sole supplier for Top Touring Car Championships

The Deutsche Touring Meisterschaft (DTM) is relaunched with the support of Audi, Opel and Mercedes. Dunlop was the sole supplier, before also being appointed as the official tyre for the Australian V8 Supercars Championship and the British Touring Car Championship

2001 | Bentley back on track

Bentley returns to Le Mans competition after an absence of 71 years. The Bentley Speed XP 8 drives Dunlop tyres to third place on the podium and a class win.

2007 | Le Mans series win for Dunlop

Dunlop wins the GT2 category in the Le Mans Series with the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari 430 GT. The car retains its title the following year – painted in Dunlop yellow.

2009 | Dunlop joins forces with BMW Motorsport

Dunlop becomes Technical Partner to BMW Motorsport, providing tyres for the BMW M3 GT2 racing in the American Le Mans Series and other international races. A successful partnership results in championship victories in 2010 and 2011, as well as outright victory in the Nurburgring 24h in 2010.

2013 | Still winning at Le Mans

For the fourth year in a row, the winners of the closely-fought LMP2 class at Le Mans cross the line on Dunlop tyres, making Dunlop the most successful tyre manufacturer in the race’s history, with many class wins to add to the record of 24 outright wins.

2013 | Nürburgring 24-hour

What better way to celebrate 125 years of racing heritage than with another trophy in the cabinet? Dunlop marks its 125th anniversary with victory in the Nürburgring 24-hour race with Black Falcon Mercedes AMG, continuing a winning streak that began in Belfast in 1888. Meanwhile we were firmly focused on the future, developing tyres for GreenGT H2, the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered Le Mans prototype race car, which tested in 2013.


The Top Three finishers in LMP2 – the only class of the 24 h of Le Mans with a ‘tyre war’ – chose Dunlop.


Dunlop is chosen as sole supplier to the European Le Mans GT class Dunlop introduce new tyre specifications into LMP2, and win the Le Mans 24h class for the fifth successive year.


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