The announcement of the UK’s latest race track at Coalisland in Northern Ireland was made in a blaze of publicity at the former clay pits on the edge of the small Co Tyrone town.
With one eye on the Circuit of Wales debacle, the assembled press that attended the bash were keen to establish whether David Henderson, the man behind the £30 million Lake Torrent circuit, has the funding to succeed.
Henderson, a building and civil engineering contractor and head of the development company Manna Developments, says he has dreamed of building a short circuit in the Province for 15 years. He is adamant he will make it happen although he wouldn’t be drawn on questions about where the money is coming from.
“This is real, totally real.” the 70 year old said.
Planning permission was granted in early September for the facility that will include a 2.2 mile race circuit eligible to host British and World Superbike races, a race control building, 36 garages, restaurant, hospitality suites, scrutineering bays and a media centre in the 25,000 square metre paddock area.
The brains behind the operation, Head of Manna Developments, David Henderson
The local Council also agreed a new public ring road to bypass the town and facilitate easy access in and out of the Lake Torrent centre.
Henderson was involved in a failed attempt to develop the former Kilroot Power Station site in Co Antrim for racing a decade ago. He also explored a similar project in Scotland that didn’t get off the ground and the developer admits he had to put his circuit dream on hold because of the recession in recent years.
But work is already underway at Lake Torrent. “We have done a year’s work in here already and we are programmed to open early 2019.” he explained.
“It will be open 300 days per year and we are going to have corporate days, track days and we are involved with other companies for testing vehicles.”
Henderson claims to be in negotiations to bring major bike racing events to Northern Ireland, including World Superbikes. “Manna Developments and our advisory team are in discussions with a number of major event holders, including both national and international two and four wheel event promoters.” he said in a statement.
“Discussions are progressing well and we hope to announce and confirm up to four major championship events in 2018, with the aim to operate our first major race in 2019.”
Alongside road racing heroes like Joey, Robert and Michael Dunlop, Northern Ireland punches way above it’s weight in producing top class bike racers. Former Grand Prix stars Tom Herron, Gary Cowan and Jeremy McWilliams and the current crop of BSB and WSB stars that includes Jonathan Rea, Glenn Irwin, Eugene and Michael Laverty, Josh Elliott and Andy Reid all call the Province home.
There has been numerous attempts at producing a GP spec track in NI since Tom Herron’s death at the North West 200 in 1979. Such a facility would undoubtedly nurture even more two wheeled talent and the new plans will be music to the ears of the thousands of passionate local fans who have to travel to Britain and further afield to watch their heroes.
Located in the centre of the country and serviced by two motorways, Lake Torrent would have advantages not enjoyed by the current circuits at Nutt’s Corner, Kirkistown and Bishopscourt. These tracks have also been subjected to strict planning regulations that have hampered their ability to build facilities that could attract top drawer British and international racing to the Province.
Caption: (l-r) Local MP, Francie Molloy, Lake Torrent’s David Henderson, Chairperson of the Council, Kim Ashton
Whether or not Lake Torrent will be able to afford to build and maintain such a facility remains to be seen but the plans and permissions are definitely in place to begin.
Ben Wiltshire from track design company, Driven, has worked on the plans for Lake Torrent and he says the design has already been met with “broad approval from the FIM and FIA.”
“It will feel very much like a traditional European circuit, akin to tracks like Oulton and Caldwell Park, like a road winding through the countryside.”
Only time will tell if we shall see World Superbike champion, Jonathan Rea racing at Lake Torrent.