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Championship leaders Jonathan Rea and Glenn Irwin keen to keep flying Northern Ireland flag


Glenn Irwin is congratulated by Jonathan Rea after winning the 2018 North West 200.

Glenn Irwin is congratulated by Jonathan Rea after winning the 2018 North West 200.

Glenn Irwin is congratulated by Jonathan Rea after winning the 2018 North West 200.

Pundits and fans have been saying for years that Northern Ireland punches well above its weight as far as motorcycle racing is concerned.

And that is supported by the fact that two of our finest racers, Jonathan Rea and Glenn Irwin, currently lead two of the world's most respected Championships, the World Superbikes and British Superbikes respectively.

Rea is in Montmelo, Barcelona and Irwin in Oulton Park as the duo aim to consolidate their respective positions.

Rea is chasing his sixth successive world title and is 36 points clear of Scott Redding with three rounds - nine races - remaining, while Irwin is No.1 in the top UK series and 35 points ahead of Tommy Bridewell and Josh Brookes with a similar number of races remaining.

Both come from racing backgrounds. Jonathan's father, Johnny, was a TT winner, while Glenn's father Alan was a prolific winner on the race tracks of Ireland. The two boys live just a few miles apart in Templepatrick and Carrickfergus.

The World Superbike Championship heads to new territory this weekend as this is the first time the Montmelo Circuit, in the Catalunya region of Spain, is hosting a round of the series.

Rea's Kawasaki Racing Team are based just outside the track and he is relishing the challenge.

A confident Rea said: "It's really exciting because I grew up watching MotoGP racing at Montmelo and I love the layout of the track. I also played it on the PlayStation and it was one of my favourites.

"We had the opportunity to test there during the summer and I left with a smile on my face. Of course the target is always to win, so we will work as we have been doing, preparing the bike to be strong over race distance. I am really looking forward to the weekend's battles."

The British Superbike Championship moves into the second half of the Covid-19-curtailed season and Honda's Irwin reckons the pressure is on at Oulton Park, but not necessarily for him.

He reasoned: "If I go and concentrate on myself and keep a cool, calm attitude and work closely with the team, the pressure is all on our Ducati rivals.

"For us, we can just focus on ourselves by making the most out of the new Fireblade, which I feel we have done at every round to date.

"We have some new parts to test as well this weekend, which is always exciting, so we will be doing a bit of development work throughout free practice. For sure I would expect Ducati to be strong at Oulton, as they have been in the past, but we have surprised many this season as we still dial in the new Fireblade."

Both Rea and Irwin have three races each over Saturday and Sunday to consolidate their respective positions, but, like always, it will be a dog-fight to the chequered flag.

Both have the talent, determination and machinery to fight right to the final chequered flag in their attempts to bring more racing glory to this little corner of the world.

Eugene Laverty's BMW Motorrad team, aiming for another top-10 finish in World Superbikes, had a successful Catalunya test back in July.

The Toomebridge rider and team-mate Tom Sykes were inside the top six after two days and will hope to bring BMW's first rostrum of the year and their first in Spain since Jerez in 2013.

Belfast Telegraph