World Superbike king Jonathan Rea was crowned Irish Motorcyclist of the Year as the two-time champion retained the famous Joey Dunlop trophy at the Cornmarket Motorbike Awards in Belfast.
Rea received a rousing reception at the glittering ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel as he took to the main stage to receive the top accolade for the second year running.
The factory Kawasaki rider, who jetted into Northern Ireland following a two-day pre-season test at Jerez in Spain, became the first rider since Carl Fogarty in 1999 to secure back-to-back World Superbike titles when he was confirmed as the champion in Qatar last October.
It was magnificent achievement by Rea, who has now set his sights firmly on making history in 2017 by becoming the first rider to win the championship three times in a row.
He has already thrown down the gauntlet after topping the times at the first test of the year in Spain on the new Ninja ZX-10RR and heads into the opening round at Phillip Island in Australia next month as the man they will all have to beat.
Rea was an overwhelming favourite to win the feature award last night and joins road racing legend Joey Dunlop as the only riders ever to have claimed the title twice in a row, with Rea previously hoisting aloft the iconic silverware in 2007 and 2008.
The biggest public vote ever, combined with the input of a panel of judges chaired by Adrian Coates and including Phillip McCallen, Jeremy McWilliams, Gordon Crockard, Brian Reid and Michael Swann, declared Rea as the runaway winner.
Thirteen-time Isle of Man TT winner Michael Dunlop was second overall in the public vote followed by Lisburn’s Carl Phillips, who finished as the runner-up in the British Superstock 600 Championship.
Rea also received a special award presented by Kawasaki in the form of a specially commissioned painting depicting his world championship triumph in Qatar.
There was also plenty for Bingley Bullet Ian Hutchinson to celebrate last night as the Yorkshireman won the IFS International Road Racer of the Year award.
Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop were the big favourites for the honour after dominating the major international road races in 2016.
Hutchy won all three Superstock races last year at the North West 200, TT and Ulster Grand Prix on the Tyco BMW. He bagged a treble at the TT, winning both Supersport races on the Team Traction Control Yamaha plus the Superstock race.
The 37-year-old then caused a sensation at Dundrod as he clinched a four-timer and became the first rider to breach the 134mph barrier with a new world record lap on his way to victory in the second Superbike race, raising the bar to a blistering 134.089mph.
In comparison, Dunlop won the Superbike race at the North West 200 and smashed Aussie Josh Brookes’ outright lap record on the Hawk Racing BMW. He also became the first rider ever to clock a sub 17-minute lap at the TT, where he won the headline Superbike and Senior races, establishing a new outright lap record for the Mountain Course at 133.962mph.
The 27-year-old also cleaned up at the Southern 100 on the Isle of Man in July, powering to a Superbike four-timer at the Billown course.
However, in what must have been a closely contested outcome, it was Hutchinson who got the verdict from the judging panel for the second year in a row.
There was more success for the English rider and his Tyco BMW team with the Moneymore-based TAS Racing outfit collecting the JWA Team of the Year award.
And Hutchy was in the limelight again after the second Superbike race at the Ulster Grand Prix was named as the A. McLean Bookmakers Race of the Year following a public vote.
On a night to remember, Dungannon man John Burrows was the recipient of the Greenlight Special Recognition Award in acknowledgement of his contribution to motorcycling as a rider and team owner, and also as a nod to the success and heartbreak experienced by the Burrows Engineering team in recent times.
Motocross great Gordon Crockard was inducted into the RPS Group Hall of Fame, while Ian Paisley Jnr received the Services to Motorcycling award for his efforts in obtaining funding for the sport over the years.
The remaining award winners were: Garmin Young Rider of the Year – Aaron Wright; Belfast Telegraph National Road Racer of the Year – Derek Sheils; Blackhorse Short Circuit Rider of the Year [GB Circuits] – Carl Phillips; Phillip McCallen Motorcycles Short Circuit Rider of the Year [Irish circuits] – Nikki Coates; Noonan Off Road Rider of the Year – Graeme Irwin.