Jeremy Clarkson could join May and Hammond for Top Gear Live in Belfast
Thousands of Northern Ireland motoring fans left in confusion after the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson jeopardised the Top Gear Live show bound for Belfast could be in luck after all.
Last week's departure of the controversial presenter sparked fury on social media as customers were left baffled as to whether the tour, which arrives in Northern Ireland in May, would go ahead.
Four live shows in Norway were cancelled, but promoters said the rest of the tour, playing to 100,000 fans worldwide, would be honoured.
Now, with Clarkson's departure confirmed by the BBC, there are reports that he could be brought back with his co-presenters James May and Richard Hammond for the live tour.
The Sunday Times yesterday reported that negotiations were under way to allow the shamed presenter to resume his role fronting a number of live shows, starting in Australia next month. The tour is being heavily advertised in Northern Ireland before it arrives at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast in May and culminates at the O2 Arena in London at the end of November.
Although the three presenters are expected to front the shows, it is thought the event could be renamed to go ahead without some key elements of the television programme, such as the Stig. It could be a risky move for the BBC, which could be accused of caving into commercial pressure.
Last week, Clarkson was dismissed for carrying out an "unprovoked physical attack" on Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon.
The rumour now is that the BBC is poised to allow Clarkson to return to the live shows to avoid disappointing fans who have already shelled out for tickets, ranging from £35 to £200. If they don't, they would be liable for refunding all the tickets at a cost of up to £10m.
The Live tour is operated by a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and Brand Events. Promoter Live Nation has claimed that a version of the tour would go ahead with or without the BBC's consent, with five shows in Belfast in May, five in Sheffield in June and four in the O2.
"We don't need the BBC's involvement. We might have to rebrand but we're carrying on," Live Nation's Phil Bowdery said.
"The BBC owns the name and certain aspects of the show. There will be a new name and no Stig because obviously that's their property. We've sold an awful lot of tickets and we want to keep faith with people who've bought the tickets."
The Odyssey Arena previously said: "We are aware that the BBC have confirmed that Jeremy Clarkson's contract will not be renewed to host the Top Gear programme.
"With regards to the Top Gear Live tour we are currently contacting the event organiser to confirm if this will impact on the tour.
"As soon as we receive any information we will impart this to the fans through our website and social media platforms."
Top Gear is estimated to be worth as much as £67m a year to the BBC and the television series has been sold to more than 170 nations.
It's thought that Hammond and May are still considering their options. They are expected to be offered roles by the BBC in any future series of Top Gear, with the next scheduled to launch in 2016, but have both indicated they work as a trio.
Clarkson is due to return to BBC Television next month, hosting Have I Got News For You on April 24. Hat Trick Productions, which makes the show, says it has no reason to believe the appearance will not go ahead.
Unscreened episodes of Top Gear that were halted after Clarkson's suspension will also be broadcast.