Groundbreaking day as work on new race circuit in Tyrone begins
The first step towards creating Northern Ireland's first purpose-built race circuit has taken place with an initial sod-cutting ceremony.
Preparatory work for the ambitious £30m Lake Torrent project at disused clay pits near Coalisland in Co Tyrone began yesterday, and over the coming months the developers plan to transform the 160-acre site into a "world-class motorsport complex with a championship racetrack and training centre for Northern Ireland motorsport".
The brainchild of Ulster motor racing enthusiast David Henderson, whose Islandmagee-based company, Manna Developments, gained planning permission to begin the project from Mid Ulster District Council earlier this month, called it "an historic day".
Northern Ireland already has two permanent race circuits at Kirkistown and Bishopscourt, both of which were developed from war-time airfields and host car and motorcycle events.
But as Northern Ireland's preferred motorsport activities, road racing and rallying, come under increasing safety concerns, Henderson feels there is room for an international-level circuit with all ancillary facilities.
He said: "Our vision is to regenerate Coalisland and the surrounding areas through the creation of an internationally-recognised motorsport arena which will become a venue for regional, national and international competitions, aiming ultimately to host events like Superbike and saloon car championships, attracting up to 30,000 spectators per event."
The 2.2-mile circuit has been designed by Driven International, and managing director Ben Willshire said they have been working on plans since last year.
"It's gone under the radar but the developers wanted to wait until they had planning in place before going public," he revealed.
"It's a former quarry so we've been fortunate in being able to shape the topography of the track and it's very undulating with 30m of elevation changes.
"We're trying to keep it like a traditional European circuit and we've got a mix of high-speed corners and technical sequences. The next step will be to integrate some feedback from the FIA and FIM on the track."
A statement from Manna Developments said up to 80 part-time positions will be required to provide ancillary services such as security, engineering, promotions and marketing, with significant spin-off benefits for local retailers, transport and accommodation providers.
It also claimed approximately 25 full-time jobs will be created on completion of the project to run and maintain the track on a daily basis, with an additional 50 staff required on race days.
Mid Ulster District Council granted planning permission for the first phase of work, which includes the race circuit, pits, medical centre, restaurant, hospitality suites, six business units and a crèche, as well as a new public ring road to bypass the town and facilitate easy access to and from the Lake Torrent centre.
Talks are also ongoing to develop an apprenticeship programme that will offer specialist skills training on-site across a range of engineering disciplines including welding and the building and servicing of motorcars and bikes.
Henderson added: "Motor racing in Northern Ireland started 90 years ago and is still going strong. The development of Lake Torrent will extend that into the next 90 years and beyond, providing sustainable local employment into the future."