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Jonathan Rea focused on fourth World title after winning Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year award

By Jim Gracey

Northern Ireland Superbike hero Jonathan Rea insists the 'fear of losing' will drive him to greater success in 2018 after being named Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year.

Rea was a popular choice for the top award at last night's bash in the Waterfront Hall following his historic third successive Superbike title win in 2017.

And it capped an incredible 12 months for the Kawasaki rider, who celebrates his 31st birthday on Friday, as he received an MBE from Prince William at Buckingham Palace and finished second to Sir Mo Farah in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, winning more votes than heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua and Formula 1 world king Lewis Hamilton.

Rea was unable to collect his award in person as he continued his preparations for the new season during a test at Portimao in Portugal yesterday, but the Kawasaki rider thanked Belfast Telegraph readers for nominating him for the accolade.

Before jetting off to Portugal, Rea was presented with the Sports Star of the Year Award - sponsored by Lyprinol - by Richard McClean, Belfast Telegraph Managing Director.

He said he was delighted that his mum Claire had received the award on his behalf last night, where she was joined by his brother Richard at the glittering ceremony.

"I'm really happy and I want to thank the Belfast Telegraph and everyone who voted for me to give me this Sports Star of the Year Award," Rea said.

"It really means a lot and I'm really sorry I couldn't be there on the night to accept the award.

"I needed to be in Portimao testing for the 2018 season but my mum was there to pick up my award. I'm incredibly humbled by all the support I have and hopefully I can achieve a fourth World Superbike title."

Rea saw off competition from fellow leading sports stars Ryan Burnett (boxing), Steven Davis (football), Rory Best (rugby) and para-athletes Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop to win the coveted honour.

He has dominated the World Superbike Championship since he joined the Kawasaki Racing Team in 2015 after a long association with Honda.

Last season was his most successful to date, with Rea winning 16 races as he blazed a trail to the title, bettering his previous haul of 14 victories achieved during his maiden Championship-winning season in 2015.

His stunning tally of wins established a new benchmark for the Championship in its current format since the introduction of a sole tyre supplier rule in 2004.

Rea also polished his reputation for consistency, only finishing off the podium twice in 26 races.

He has now chalked up 54 career World Superbike victories and is poised to set a new record this year, when he requires six more to take over the mantle from Blackburn's Carl Fogarty.

A fourth world title would also see Rea equal Fogarty's all-time record, who is regarded as the greatest World Superbike rider ever.

The first round of the 2018 Championship will roar into life at Philip Island in Australia from February 23-25 and Rea is planning a repeat of the strategy that has served him so rewardingly over the past three seasons.

He has been able to grasp the nettle from the off, opening a comfortable lead to leave his rivals trailing in his wake.

Last year, Rea won the opening five races and finished as the runner-up in the sixth to pile on the pressure after the first three rounds in Australia, Thailand and Spain.

He then claimed another double at Assen in round four and from there, Rea was always in a position of power as he stormed relentlessly to title No.3.

"I want to be ready for that first round and we need to hit the ground running, because I have broken the back of all three of my Championships in those first races," Rea said. "I find motivation in the strangest places. I always want to win and I have that angry drive inside me.

"We've been leaving no stone unturned in testing and I already did two race simulations at Jerez, whereas in the past I usually only start doing simulations at Phillip Island.

"I'm feeling good, physically stronger than I was at this stage last year, and I'm really looking forward to round one. I feel ready. Yes, winning a fourth title is the next target but for me, I am motivated to keep winning.

"The fear of losing is driving me on because we've had so much success and I don't want that to end."

Belfast Telegraph

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