Belfast Telegraph

Rea and Dunlop lead race for Irish Rider of the Year

By Roy Harris

The stage is set, the votes have been counted and the speculation will come to an end with the announcement of the Cornmarket Irish Motorcyclist of the Year, in association with Enkalon, during a black tie function at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast tonight.

Following a massive public vote, which organisers believe could well have been the biggest yet, the competitors have been narrowed down to the final eight and come from a range of motorcycling disciplines. They are; David Allingham, Michael Dunlop, Graeme Irwin, Michael Laverty, Eugene Laverty, Carl Phillips, Jonathan Rea and Derek Sheils.

It would take a brave man to name the winner out of that lot, but surely it has to be a two-horse race between Dunlop and Rea - both had outstanding seasons.

If Rea wins - and he is the hot favourite - it would be the fourth time that he has collected the Joey Dunlop Trophy having lifted it in 2007, 2008 and 2015.

In fact, the only rider to win the Motorcyclist of the Year title three or more times is Joey Dunlop himself, who won it on a record eight occasions including the only ever hat-trick between 1983-85.

Michael Dunlop - Joey's nephew - topped the poll in 2014 and there's no doubt he will have pulled in a lot of votes this time around.

Four-time Ulster Grand Prix winner, 14-time TT king and fastest motorcycle racer in the world Ian Hutchinson and double World Superbike champion Rea will be among the guests tonight while the compères are BBC presenter Stephen Watson and voice of BT Sport's MotoGP coverage and former North West 200 winner Keith Huewen.

A dozen other awards will also be announced tonight including Garmin Young Rider of the Year, JWA Team of the Year, Belfast Telegraph National Road Racer of the Year, Noonan Off Road Rider of the Year, Black Horse Short Circuit Rider of the Year on UK Circuits, IFS International Road Racer of the Year, A McLean Race of the Year and Phillip McCallen M/Cycles Short Circuit Rider of the Year on Irish Circuits. They are all chosen by a knowledgeable panel of judges under the chairmanship of Adrian Coates, himself a former British 250cc champion.

Their task cannot have been easy and their decisions have been eagerly awaited for weeks if not months.

Four other awards - Services to Motorcycling, Kawasaki Outstanding Achievement, Greenlight Television Special Recognition Award and the RPS Hall of Fame - are all for special and outstanding contributions to motorcycle sport behind the scenes or on track.

The event, now in its 38th year, is a sell-out with over 500 people set to acclaim the Irish Motorcyclist of the Year, which was first awarded back in 1978 when the first ever winner was Tom Herron. The event has certainly moved up a notch since then.

Elsewhere, First Comber Presbyterian Church Hall hosts the annual motorcycle show run by Norman McCaig and takes place from 5-10pm tonight and 10am-5pm tomorrow.

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