Jonathan Rea hopes to return to the Irish Motorcyclist of the Year Awards in Belfast in January as a five-time World Superbike champion.
The factory Kawasaki rider has seized control of the title race after a remarkable turnaround, clawing back Spaniard Alvaro Bautista’s 61-point advantage to open a commanding gap of 81 points at the top heading into this weekend’s 10th round of the series at Portimao in Portugal.
Rea has made Irish motorcycling’s gala prize night his own in recent years and the 32-year-old will be nailed on to retain the feature accolade once more at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on January 17 if he manages to secure a record-breaking fifth consecutive world crown.
With four rounds to go, the Ulster rider is in pole position to achieve the feat, although Rea won’t be counting his chickens until he finishes off the task in hand.
“The massive target of a fifth world championship is in my sights: Carl Fogarty has achieved that and he was the greatest of all time in Superbike terms. I have already surpassed his win total which is incredible,” said Rea, who has chalked up a staggering 80 victories.
“I still can’t quite believe it, you know, to turn the points deficit from 61 into an 81-point advantage – it’s certainly strange.
“The most difficult part of the season was those first four rounds where we finished second and I was on my absolute riding limit.
“I started winning in Imola and we knew that certain tracks would suit us and when Alvaro started to make some mistakes we were there to capitalise,” added Rea.
“I never could have imagined being in this position going into the last four races at the beginning of the season, but we are here now and just trying to consolidate things and take things round by round.
“I will try and do three strong races in Portugal this weekend and then think about the big picture after that.”
Rea, who posed with the prestigious Joey Dunlop trophy this week before jetting off to Portugal, has been to countless awards evenings, but the biggest night in Irish motorcycle racing always holds a special appeal for the Ballyclare man.
“I can’t wait for the awards because it’s a real top-level event in Northern Ireland, and not just for motorcycling. It’s a real celebration of motorsport across the island for motocross, road racing, short-circuit racing – both international and domestic,” he said.
“So, I get to hang out with lots of my peers and also people from other disciplines, it really is pretty cool. It brings all the big names in motorsport in Northern Ireland together and we can all sit in that one room and be really proud that we still keep motorcycling on the map here and fight at the world level.
“It’s been so emotional the last few years when I come home to lift it and I would love to do it again.”
The coveted Irish Motorcyclist of the Year honour is the longest standing motorcycle accolade in Ireland, which is voted for by the public and a panel of expert judges.
The panel is overseen by former British champion Adrian Coates, who said: “The trophy was first presented back in 1978 to Tom Heron, and since then there has been an illustrious roll of honour with winners like World Champions Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid, as well as Phillip McCallen, Jeremy McWilliams, Michael Dunlop and Robert Dunlop to name but a few.
“We introduced a popular new version of the main trophy a couple of years ago and it’s fitting that it is named after Northern Ireland’s most famous motorcyclist Joey Dunlop.”
In all more than a dozen awards will be presented. The black tie event, hosted by BBC sports presenter Stephen Watson and BT Sport MotoGP commentator Keith Huewen, will welcome some of the biggest names in the sport.
Anyone wishing to purchase tickets can email email@example.com or phone 07584058810. All details are also on Facebook and Twitter @BikeAwards.