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Superbike double makes Rea our number one biker in 2016

By Paul Lindsay

As 2016 comes to a close, we can be proud in the knowledge that Northern Irish talent rose to the top in many different motorcycling disciplines this past 12 months, topped once again by Ballyclare's Jonathan Rea - who is now a double World Superbike champion after back-to-back titles aboard his factory Kawasaki.

Nothing comes much bigger than world title success at any level of sport, but without a bonafide global series for international road racing, Ballymoney's Michael Dunlop is another who all but dominated his chosen profession during 2016, with a stylish double Superbike win at the Isle of Man TT in June; a mind-boggling new outright lap record of 133.962mph, and a Superbike win at the North West 200.

Carrick's Alastair Seeley, despite not having the best of seasons in the British Superbike Championship, is more than worthy peer after becoming the stand alone king of the Vauxhall International North West 200 back in May.

A double in the Supersport class saw the Wee Wizard move onto a record breaking 17 wins at the Triangle - two more than the late great Robert Dunlop - and out of the aforementioned trio he is the one currently struggling to gain employment for the 2017 season.

Rea, who turns 30 in February, is in the prime of his career, and despite the introduction of some new high-profile names to the World Superbike scene for 2017, the Ulsterman is a strong favourite to go on and become the first rider in history to land three consecutive WSB titles.

Dunlop is just two years younger than Rea, and despite not turning 28 until spring 2017, the feisty Ballymoney ace has 10 years' experience at the Isle of Man TT under his belt. And few would bet against him going on to add to his current tally of 13 when the June showpiece again comes around.

Rea's immediate future is secure within the factory Kawasaki Racing Team in World Superbike, and whilst many would like to see him get a serious shot in MotoGP, motorcycling's premier class, I believe he will now have serious aspirations of multiple WSB titles.

Rea will possibly never get the chance, nor have the desire, to come home and win a North West 200 as a factory World Superbike rider, just as Carl Fogarty did back in 1993 with Ducati, but the Isle of Man based ace will be quietly confident, of having a damn good crack at bettering Fogarty's four WSB titles.

While Rea is media savvy and a PR dream, Michael Dunlop shuns all publicity and is only hungry for notoriety through on-track success. He's been afforded the luxury of a virtual blanket PR embargo by his current team and sponsors, but as is always the case at this time of year the question is: Whose bikes will he ride in 2017?

With three seasons on BMW machinery, one inside the arms of the official BMW Motorrad team, a second on the German marque after his high-profile exit from Milwaukee Yamaha, and this season with Hawk Racing who were rumoured to have enjoyed clandestine factory support for Dunlop, he is simply the man to beat.

With Hawk having secured a Suzuki GB deal for 2017, the rumour mill already has him riding the new GSX-R Suzuki at the TT, with a BMW under wraps in case it all goes pear-shaped once again.

But Honda Racing is known to be sitting in the wings, and those in the know have said that a solid offer has been made to the current King of the TT course, which would be a major coup should they see the return of the prodigal son.

That just leaves Mr NW200, Alastair Seeley. He may be out of favour in BSB, but I've a strong feeling we will see the 17-time North West winner on factory machinery himself come May. And despite the hype, he will still be the man to beat at the Triangle.

Belfast Telegraph

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