Construction has begun on a new £29 million international-standard circuit in Northern Ireland, with its developers hoping to host rounds of the British Touring Car and British Superbikes Championships, while keeping an eye out for a possible World Superbikes event in future.
Planning permission for the 2.23-mile, 12-turn circuit was granted by Mid Ulster District Council in September, followed by a ground-breaking ceremony at the end of the month. Manna Developments, a private development company, is set to transform abandoned clay and coal mining pits at Coalisland, County Tyrone, into an an international motorsport centre of excellence.
The track, designed by British motorsport design firm Driven International Ltd, is expected to be an undulating course, offering a mix of technical and high speed sequences. The track will be accompanied by supporting facilities such as pit garages, spectator and hospitality facilities, catering for up to 30,000 spectators. Homologation will be sought from the FIA and FIM.
The surrounding development, overseen by Coalisland based architecture firm Clarman Architects, will also include a range of community and leisure facilities, such as a crèche, medical centre and restaurants, alongside a new public ring road, and a technology & business park.
"It is a three-phased project over three to four years with the whole circuit being developed over 18 months," said Manna Developments CEO David Henderson. "We hope to do a [track] launch in the early part of spring 2019.
"The purpose is to attract four major events to Northern Ireland per year for both cars and bikes. The funding is all private equity, there are no grants or government funding, and it's achieved outside of Northern Ireland."
Henderson said he wanted the circuit to be used throughout the year: "There are 12 days, per year, set aside for major race weekends. The track will be open throughout the year, for track days, corporate days and championship events.
"We have got the license, we have got the planning and everything else to do this. We have got the sound take on it, we have been to Geneva three times and have got approval from FIM, FIA and we are working through MSA."
While domestic racing fixtures such as the BTCC and British Superbikes are all possible fixtures for the future sporting calendar, World Superbikes chief Daniel Carrera also confirmed over the Magny Cours weekend that the series had been speaking with Manna Developments for the past 12 months.
He told the BBC: "It's a very interesting project for us. We know the culture, the passion for motorbike racing in Northern Ireland so we are very optimistic that we can find an agreement and see the project happening in 2019.
"Of course, first we need to find an agreement and they are in contact with the FIM to see if their racetrack will be on the standards of the FIM, but their initial plans have been shared from Driven with the FIM inspector for WorldSBK. So once the work starts there will be further inspections, but if there is a circuit that can be homologated then for sure we shall find an agreement and make the project a reality."
Should a World Superbike race take place it would immediately become a popular home event for multiple champion Jonathan Rea.