Rea in dreamland as NI round of World Superbikes is on the grid
History-making triple world champion Jonathan Rea has described the announcement that the World Superbike Championship will be coming to Northern Ireland next year as the "icing on the cake".
Contracts have been signed to stage a round of the 2019 series at the new Lake Torrent circuit currently under construction on the 160-acre site of former clay pits near Coalisland.
Manna Developments, the locally-owned company behind the £30m Lake Torrent project, announced at a reception in Mid Ulster Council headquarters in Dungannon last night that a three-year agreement had been signed with the Dorna WSBK Organisation, promoters of the Championship, to bring the high-profile Superbikes series to Northern Ireland.
Ulsterman Rea, who created history last year by becoming the first man to win three successive world crowns, said it would be "a dream" to race in front of his home fans.
"I'm so excited about this news because motorcycling in Northern Ireland has a huge heritage, right through from Joey Dunlop to myself and Eugene Laverty," said Rea, who is currently preparing for the start of the 2018 season.
"It's the icing on the cake - to go to my real home where I grew up riding and race in front of my home fans.
"I'm very curious to see how the track is going to look, but I'm sure it will be very well attended because the fans over there love their bikes. I can't wait to get the chance to go there in 2019 and I can't wait to be involved and to fly the flag for Northern Ireland in this new adventure."
WorldSBK executive director Daniel Carrera attended the reception last night and said: "The Lake Torrent circuit is a fantastic project that will deliver a high-class facility for competitors and visitors. We are proud that Manna Developments and Mid Ulster representatives have chosen WorldSBK as their top event for the international promotion of the circuit and region."
Work is under way on the development of the Lake Torrent circuit which will be 2.2miles in length. It is estimated the construction phase will create up to 700 jobs over the next 18 months and there are longer term plans to build a further 90 retail and business units around the site.
Islandmagee-based David Henderson of Manna Developments is one of the driving forces behind the ambitious project. He said: "For the past 15 years it has been a dream of mine to build a motor racing circuit that incorporates the feel of the road with the safety of an international standard track - and also to bring the World Superbike Championship to Northern Ireland.
"Having finally identified the perfect location and achieved planning permission last year, today sees the completion of that dream and is a day that will only be topped when we see tens of thousands of spectators converge on Coalisland for the first WorldSBK racing event in Northern Ireland. They really don't come much bigger than this."
Negotiations for the WorldSBK contract were handled on behalf of Manna Developments by Mark Hughes, managing director of Mrk1 Consulting, who said: "I'm thrilled that 12 months of hard work with Manna Developments, DORNA and the Mid Ulster Council have paid off.
"The passion for two-wheeled racing in Northern Ireland is legendary and this circuit and this race will take that passion to new heights.
"This event will have a huge economic impact on Northern Ireland, Mid Ulster and Coalisland that will last for generations."