Jonathan Rea received a hero’s welcome on Friday night as the World Superbike champion was crowned the 2015 Irish Motorcyclist of the Year at the Cornmarket Motorbike Awards in Belfast.
Rea was a huge odds-on favourite to win the famous Joey Dunlop trophy after becoming Northern Ireland’s first motorcycling world champion since Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid won the Formula 1 and Formula 2 titles in 1986 respectively, almost 40 years ago.
The Ballyclare man swept aside the opposition last season, winning 14 races after joining Kawasaki to ride the Ninja ZX-10R, fulfilling his childhood dream by clinching the championship at Jerez in Spain last September with two rounds to go.
It was a performance of utter dominance from Rea, who finished on the rostrum 23 times during the 26 races to secure the title by 132 points from Welshman Chaz Davies.
Anything other than a Rea triumph last night in the feature award category would have been a shock of epic proportions, but it was plain sailing for the 28-year-old, who came out on top of the public vote – which was overseen by a panel of judges chaired by ex-British champion Adrian Coates – from British Superstock 1000 champion Josh Elliott in second place and North West 200 king Alastair Seeley in third.
Rea, who jetted into Northern Ireland following a two-day test at Jerez in Spain, also won the Blackhorse Short Circuit Rider of the Year award on a glittering night at the sold-out Ramada Plaza Hotel.
The Kawasaki star will have little time to rest on his laurels though, with Rea travelling back to Spain next week for another two-day shakedown with his team at Motorland Aragon before he flies to Australia in readiness for the opening World Superbike round of 2016 at Phillip Island.
A dozen awards were presented last night, with Isle of Man TT renaissance man Ian Hutchinson winning the coveted IFS International Road Racer of the Year accolade.
The Bingley Bullet defied the critics as he returned to winning ways on the Mountain Course last June, where the Yorkshireman won both Supersport races on the Team Traction Control Yamaha plus the Superstock race on the PBM Kawasaki to complete a treble.
It was a magnificent achievement by Hutchinson, whose career was almost ended after he suffered a serious leg injury following a freak accident at Silverstone in 2010.
Coleraine’s Owen McNally, who sadly died following injuries sustained in a crash at the Ulster Grand Prix in 1999, was inducted into the RPS Group Hall of Fame, while ‘Flying Doctor’ John Hinds was honoured with the Greenlight Television Special Recognition Award.
Dr Hinds, a leading trauma care specialist credited with saving countless lives in his role as a voluntary travelling doctor at Irish road race meetings, was tragically killed in an accident last summer at the Skerries 100 near Dublin.
Young Ballinamallard rider Josh Elliott, who will defend his British Superstock 1000 crown this year for new team Tyco BMW, won the Belfast Telegraph Best Rider on UK and Ireland Circuits award, while the Noonan Services to Motorcycling award went to the Injured Riders Fund.Ballymoney’s William Dunlop scooped the Belleek
National Road Racer accolade after winning both the Superbike and Supersport titles in 2015.Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston was also among the winners, receiving the Digital Services Outstanding Achievement Award following his charity fundraising initiative, F13UK Cancer, which raised over £17,700 for Marie Curie last year.