Jonathan Rea's performances the highlight of motorcycle season in 2016
It has been a rollercoaster year on the motorcycling front, with some glorious achievements being overshadowed by tragedy once more. Willis Marshall looks back on 2016...
THE 2017 motorcycling season will have to be a cracker if it is to live up to what has gone before it this year.
The forecasts last winter had predicted a stellar 2016 and the action certainly didn’t disappoint, with some amazing racing on these shores and further afield.
The main talking point from this year was yet another remarkable performance from Irish talents at world level, with Ballyclare’s Jonathan Rea topping the bill as he retained the World Superbike crown he won for the first time in 2015.
On his Kawasaki racing bike, Rea was quite simply outstanding all season. The county Antrim rider had more or less put the title race to bed by the halfway stage, with only a disaster looking likely to stop him holding on to his global crown.
It’s not often that this country produces world champions, but Rea has always been earmarked as a man with the ability to get to that level and he has lived up to his potential on the biggest stage.
Toomebridge man Eugene Laverty flew the flag for Ireland in the World MotoGP series and he also showed his class by reeling off a number of point-scoring performances. Laverty mixed it with the best all year but in this class you need to be at your best at all times to have a chance of glory.
At the top of the MotoGP tree, Repsol Honda’s flying Spaniard Marc Marquez notched up yet another world title - his third - after a titanic season battling it out with legendary Italian Valentino Rossi.
Closer to home, and records tumbled in the British Superbike Championships when Shane Byrne took title number five on the BeWiser Ducati.
Byrne, was yet again that bit better than the rest, with his closest rival Leon Haslem having to concede to Byrne in the final race of the year at Brands Hatch.
At home, the Irish road racing season got off to a flying start when new kid on the block Malachi Mitchell-Thomas claimed a hat-trick of race wins at the opening meeting of the year, the Mid Antrim 150. It was the Bolton rider’s first visit to the event and he kept up his winning ways at the Cookstown 100 and Tandragee 100 meetings.
Just when it looked like road racing had found a bright new star, tragedy struck when Mitchell-Thomas died following an accident at the North West 200.
The remainder of the event was cancelled as a mark of respect to a rider who had the potential to become a superstar of the sport. Prior to the fatal crash, Alastair Seeley had set a new record for wins around the Triangle circuit, going past Robert Dunlop’s mark of 15 and extending his own record to 17 victories.
Dunlop’s son Michael was the star of the Isle of Man TT superbike races, while Yorkshire’s Ian Hutchinson claimed a remarkable hat-trick wins in the Superstock and Supersport classes.
Hutchinson carried his success over to the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod as the TYCO BMW rider set a new absolute circuit lap record at just over 134mph.
All of those champions will go forward to 2017 with the aim of at least matching that level of success, if not going even better, with Irish riders seemingly going from strength-to-strength.
However, the dangers that go along with such a high-octane sport are never far from the surface. Mitchell-Thomas’s death hit the sport like a sledgehammer, while the serious injuries sustained by Dungannon’s Ryan Farquhar at the same section of the North West circuit also brought safety to the fore again, sparking another series of debates about the future of racing on the roads.
Unfortunately, the good times are often overshadowed by the bad in the racing world. Nobody involved in the sport will forget those who passed away in 2016 while giving their all in the saddle.
As it stands, 2017 looks like being another year to remember, and hopefully for the right reasons.