Eleven-time Isle of Man TT winner Phillip McCallen says it is impossible to make a comparison between World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and Ulster road racing hero Joey Dunlop.
The Portadown man was speaking following ex-Grand Prix winner Jeremy McWilliams’ assertion that Rea is on the cusp of the greatest ever achievement by a Northern Ireland rider, if he wraps up back-to-back world titles this weekend at Jerez in Spain.
In Thursday’s News Letter, Glengormley’s McWilliams said he rates Rea as the best rider ever to emerge from these shores, but roads legend McCallen has taken a different view.
“Joey Dunlop won the TT Formula One World Championship five times in a row [from 1982-1986]. You can say the F1 World Championship was different back in those days but it was a world level event and for five years there was nobody better in the world than Joey,” McCallen told the News Letter.
“It was a very hotly contested championship and was actually a stronger championship than World Superbikes at the time, which was just starting out.
“You had riders of the calibre of Carl Fogarty, who won the TT Formula One title twice [in 1988 and 1989] before becoming the F1 World Cup champion. Foggy then went to World Superbikes and won it four times, so would you say he was a worse rider in the Formula One World Championship than he was when he went to World Superbikes?” McCallen added.
“There’s no question that Jonathan Rea’s achievement if he wins the world title for the second time will be the best ever by a short circuit rider from this country, but you can’t really compare the two – they are both totally different disciplines. Joey was the greatest rider on the roads and Jonathan is now our greatest rider on the circuits. For me, that is the best way to weigh it up.”
McCallen, who is willing Rea on to clinch the title this weekend, says 26-time Isle of Man TT winner Dunlop proved time and again his class at the highest level.
“Joey Dunlop beat Carl Fogarty in races when Carl was coming through and he beat riders like Wayne Gardner too, who of course went on to become a 500cc Grand Prix world champion,” said Supermac.
“We’re talking about two very different eras and granted, World Superbikes is now the top level in short circuits apart from MotoGP, but back in those days the Formula One World Championship was then the top championship, Grand Prix racing aside.
“I’m in no way trying to take anything away from Jonathan Rea and I believe he is the best rider out there today, but Joey was a world champion five years on the trot and went on to win 26 times at the TT,” he added.
“They are both champions in their own eras but I don’t think you can say that Jonathan is a far better rider than Joey was. For me, Jonathan Rea is a remarkable rider and he deserves the title. I’ll be willing him on to win it this weekend.”
Kawasaki star Rea, who donned the helmets of former world champions Dunlop and Brian Reid after he won his maiden world title at Jerez last year in a selfless tribute to his compatriots, was ninth fastest yesterday in free practice at the Spanish circuit.
Rea will seal the title if he outscores team-mate Tom Sykes by two points this weekend in Spain.