Belfast Telegraph

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Esler snaps up top honour on night of stars

By Paul Lindsay

The high-octane world of motorsport was well represented by top names and fans from both four and two wheel disciplines, helping the charity, Action Medical Research NI, raise over £40,000 towards research and treatment of childrens' illness, from their annual black tie dinner at the five star Culloden Hotel and Spa at Cultra.

Jointly organised and hosted by UTV's Pamela Ballantine, a passionate supporter of motorcycle racing and car sport, the Celebration of Motorsport event boasted double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and five time British Rally Champion Jimmy McRae - whose late son Colin was the 2005 World Rally champion - as star guests.

Unfortunately scheduled guest speaker John Surtees, at 82, still the only competitor in history to have won world championships on two and four wheels, was unable to travel due to illness, but event committee member and Formula 1 pundit for Sky TV, Tony Jardine, stepped in to conduct an entertaining Q&A with the evergreen McRae, now 73.

Well known veteran motorsport photographer Esler Crawford was honoured for his lifetime behind the lens, when he was presented with the Contribution to Motorsport Award, the night's main presentation, by Pam and her committee colleague, Drew Wylie.

Motorcycle sport was well represented by Ireland's most successful National Road Racer Ryan Farquhar - happily making great progress after his life-threatening crash at this year's Vauxhall International North West 200 - NW200 record holder Alastair Seeley; former 250cc Grand Prix winner Jeremy McWilliams, who jetted direct from Qatar where is was working on a development project for KTM; three time British Motocross champion Gordon Crockard and former Grand Prix racer Steve Parrish.

Parrish, a team-mate of the late, great Barry Sheene in the halcyon days, is now an accomplished broadcaster and after dinner speaker, and his unique brand of humour kept the atmosphere bubbling among the 300 guests at the Culloden.

A number of local Rally drivers were also in attendance, with Jimmy McRae tipping our very own Kris Meeke to become the 2017 FIA World Rally Champion.

The biggest winner on the night, however, was the Action Medical Research NI charity.

√Back to Jonathan Rea and a new exclusive iPlayer programme from BBC Sport NI is now available, looking back at his record breaking 2016 season, where he was crowned World Superbike Champion for the second year in a row.

The programme, 'Jonathan Rea - Back-to-Back', is available on the BBC iPlayer and on the BBC Sport NI website, bbc.co.uk/sportni

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