World Superbike king Jonathan Rea saluted fellow Ulster great Joey Dunlop as he lifted the Cornmarket Irish Motorcyclist of the Year trophy in Belfast on Friday night.
Rea matched Isle of Man TT legend Dunlop by winning the coveted award three years in a row – a feat achieved by ‘Yer Maun’ in 1983, ’84 and ’85.
The factory Kawasaki star was an overwhelming winner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel after making history last year, when he became the only rider ever to win the World Superbike Championship in three consecutive seasons.
Rea received a standing ovation as he made his way to the stage to collect a newly commissioned bespoke trophy, which replaces the Enkalon Club’s famous silverware bearing a replica of Joey’s iconic helmet.
The 30-year-old has been given the Joey Dunlop trophy to keep in recognition of his world title success.
Rea – who has won the award five times in all – said: “I am delighted to win the Irish motorcyclist of the year for the third time in a row, to mirror my three World Superbike titles.
“Joey Dunlop is the only other rider to ever win this prestigious trophy for three successive years, and to emulate the achievements of the man I consider my racing hero is very special.
“What makes it even more special is that the award is voted for by my fans at home, which puts a cap on what was an incredible 2017,” added Rea.
“My focus is now very much on the new season, and trying to win another World Superbike title.”
Rea made a flying visit to attend the event during a short gap in pre-season testing. He was in action at Jerez in Spain last Tuesday and Wednesday and will now fly to Portugal, where a two-day test is due to commence tomorrow at Portimao.
Rea is chasing a fourth straight world title, which would see him equal Carl Fogarty’s all-time record.
The opening round of the 2018 championship takes place at Phillip Island in Australia from February 23-25.