By Kyle White Belfast Newsletter
World Superbike kingpin Jonathan Rea hoisted aloft the Joey Dunlop trophy for a record fifth time in succession after being crowned Irish Motorcyclist of the Year on Friday night in Belfast.
Rea has now won Irish motorcycling’s top honour seven times – one less than road racing superstar and Isle of Man TT legend Dunlop, who was an eight-time winner between 1979 and 2000.
There was little doubt that Rea would scoop the main prize at the sold-out gala ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel following his fifth World Superbike title triumph in a row in 2019.
The Ulster rider – 33 next month – roared back spectacularly to overhaul Spaniard Alvaro Bautista, who stole a march at the top of the standings after winning the first 11 races of the season in a row on his much-vaunted Ducati.
It was Rea, though, who would have the final say as he doggedly kept up his pursuit of the former MotoGP rider, displaying unflinching consistency with a raft of runner-up finishes to remain in the hunt.
The tide eventually turned in the Kawasaki star’s favour as Rea relentlessly reeled in Bautista before claiming top spot in the championship with a terrific treble at Donington Park in July.
It was game over afterwards, with Rea continuing to build on his momentum as he stretched his lead, piling on the pressure with a succession of victories and finally putting the outcome beyond all doubt at Magny-Cours in France with two rounds to go.
In the end, he won the title by 165 points from Bautista – a feat no one would have thought possible after the first four rounds of 2019.
A deserving winner in Belfast, Rea received a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd as he made his way onto the stage at the Irish Motorbike Awards.
“It’s something I never take for granted and I’m very lucky to be in this position,” he said.
“To be in a room full of so many motorcycling stars from Northern Ireland and represent that at the top of the world makes me feel really proud.
“It’s always the last awards ceremony that I go to before I start the new season and it’s just the cherry on top for me. I’m just really looking forward to this year now.”
Rea will resume winter testing next week at Jerez in Spain and Portimao in Portugal as the countdown begins in earnest to the opening World Superbike round at Phillip Island in Australia at the end of February.
In total, a dozen awards were presented on Friday night, with England’s Peter Hickman winning the IFS International Road Racer of the Year for a second successive year.
Former race team owner, Wilson Craig, was posthumously awarded the Services to Motorcycling honour. The Co. Londonderry businessman sadly passed away last year.
The full list of winners is as follows:
Cornmarket Insurance and Charles Hurst Motorcycles Irish Motorcyclist of the Year 2019: Jonathan Rea
RPS Group Hall of Fame: Ryan Farquhar
A.McLean Bookmakers Race of the Year: Alastair Seeley – British Supersport Sprint Race, Brands Hatch
IFS International Road Racer of the Year: Peter Hickman
Bayview Hotel Short Circuit Rider of the Year (GB Circuits): Jack Kennedy
Greenlight Television King of the Roads: Derek Sheils
JWA Team of the Year: Century Racing/IMR (British Superstock 600 title winners with Korie McGreevy)
Belfast Telegraph National Road Racer of the Year: Michael Sweeney
Classic Bike Festival Short Circuit Rider of the Year (Irish Circuits): Carl Phillips
NI Air Ambulance Services to Motorcycling: Wilson Craig
Belleek Off-Road Rider of the Year: Mark McLernon
Kawasaki Young Rider of the Year: Scott Swann