Stage is set for motorcycling's big glamour night in Belfast
World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea will fly into Belfast later this week, when the Ulster rider is a massive odds-on favourite to be crowned the Irish Motorcyclist of the Year for a second successive time.
Rea will be reunited with his 2017 Kawasaki ZX-10RR Superbike at Jerez in Spain during an official two-day test – the opening shakedown of the new season – that gets underway on Tuesday.
However, the two-time world champion, who became the first rider since Carl Fogarty in 1999 to secure back-to-back crowns after another imperious season, will take time out to return to Northern Ireland for the Cornmarket Motorbike Awards at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly Ramada Plaza Hotel) in Belfast on Friday evening.
Rea will join a host of stars at the annual gala awards bash, which has become established at the biggest night on the motorcycling calendar.
Held in association with the Enkalon Club, the prestigious Joey Dunlop trophy will be presented to the Irish Motorcyclist of the Year as the main award in front of a sell-out crowd, with Rea guaranteed to receive a rapturous welcome.
The overall winner may be a mere formality, but Rea – who will celebrate his 30th birthday next month – faces opposition from seven other riders shortlisted for the top accolade.
These include Eugene Laverty, who has returned to the World Superbike Championship this year on a factory-backed Aprilia in the Milwaukee team, plus 13-time Isle of Man TT winner Michael Dunlop, leading National road racer Derek Sheils, British Superbike rider Michael Laverty, motocross star Graeme Irwin and British championship contenders Carl Phillips and David Allingham.
The award is decided by a public vote and a panel of judges, with a 50/50 split. The judges’ panel is chaired by Adrian Coates and includes Jeremy McWilliams, Gordon Crockard, Michael Swann, Phillip McCallen and Brian Reid.
A host of awards will be presented on the night at the star-studded ceremony, with Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson the big favourites for the IFS International Road Racer of the Year gong.
They are joined in the category by Bruce Anstey, Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman, Alastair Seeley, John McGuinness and Derek Sheils.
The Blackhorse Short Circuit Rider of the Year (GB circuits) award will also be hotly contested, with British Superbike rookie and PBM Ducati rider Glenn Irwin in the mix along with Michael Laverty and British Supersport contenders David Allingham, Andrew Irwin and Andy Reid.
Superstock 1000 riders Keith Farmer and Josh Elliott are also on the shortlist along with Thundersport GB Supertwins champion John Simpson.
The McLean Bookmakers Race of the Year is another standout award on the night, and features six of the most dramatic races of 2016.
These include the NW200 Superstock race, the BSB race at Thruxton won by Michael Laverty with Glenn Irwin in third, and a thrilling Supersport race at the Sunflower Trophy meeting, which saw Andrew Irwin, Carl Phillips and David Allingham locked in battle.
A frantic Supertwins race at Armoy is also featured along with the Supersport Sprint race at Thruxton.
Awards running order:
Garmin Young Rider of the Year: Johnny Campbell, Aaron Clifford, Rhys Irwin, Richard Kerr, Jason Lynn, Adam McLean, Eugene McManus, Leon Rogers, Scott Swann, Aaron Wright)
JAW Team of the Year: Cookstown Burrows Engineering, EHA Racing, Hitachi Construction Machinery Revo Husqvarna, IFS Global Logistics, Kingsbury Packaging, MD Racing, Sandown Racing, Scott Racing, Tyco BMW, Sandown Racing, Scott Racing)
Belfast Telegraph National Road Racer of the Year
Belleek Services to Motorcycling
Phillip McCallen Motorcycles Short Circuit Rider of the Year (Irish circuits): Robert English, Aaron Clifford, Nikki Coates, Luke Johnson, Richard Kerr, Jason Lynn
Kawasaki Outstanding Achievement Award
Noonan Off Road Rider of the Year: Martin Barr, Graeme Irwin, Mark McLernon, John Meara, Justin Reid, Leon Rogers)
Greenlight Television Special Recognition Award
Blackhorse Short Circuit Rider of the Year (GB circuits): David Allingham, Josh Elliott, Keith Farmer, Andrew Irwin, Glenn Irwin, Michael Laverty, Carl Phillips, Andy Reid, John Simpson)
IFS International Road Racer of the Year: Bruce Anstey, Michael Dunlop, Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman, Ian Hutchinson, John McGuinness, Alastair Seeley, Derek Sheils
A. McLean Bookmakers Race of the Year: NW200 Superstock Race, Ulster GP Superbike (2), BSB Thruxton, Sunflower Supersport Race, Armoy Supertwin Race, BSB Supersport Race (1) Thruxton
RPS Group Hall of Fame
Cornmarket Irish Motorcyclist of the Year (in association with Enkalon): David Allingham, Michael Dunlop, Graeme Irwin, Michael Laverty
Eugene Laverty, Carl Phillips, Jonathan Rea, Derek Sheils