New racing circuit in NI would inspire next generation, says Jonathan Rea

Jonathan Rea celebrates victory at Magny-Cours in France at the weekend with runner-up Marco Melandri (left) and Tom Sykes.
Jonathan Rea celebrates victory at Magny-Cours in France at the weekend with runner-up Marco Melandri (left) and Tom Sykes.
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World Superbike king Jonathan Rea says a proposed new £30 million motorsport circuit in Northern Ireland would help set the next generation of young riders on the path to their dreams.

Rea has gone down in the history books after clinching an unprecedented third title in a row at Magny-Cours in France on Saturday following a sensational victory in the wet.

Triple World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea pictured at the Culloden Hotel on Monday.

Triple World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea pictured at the Culloden Hotel on Monday.

The Ballyclare man has put motorcycling here on the world sporting map and Rea feels a world class facility on these shores would inspire young riders to follow in his footsteps.

Preparatory work has already commenced on the Lake Torrent development in Co Tyrone, which is set to transform 163 acres of former clay pits in Coalisland into a ‘world-class motorsport complex with a championship racetrack and motorsport training centre’.

British motorsport design firm Driven International Ltd has been appointed as the circuit designer, working alongside a number of local companies.

The track is envisaged to be an FIA and FIM approved 3.6km (2.2-mile) layout, offering 12 turns and a mix of technical and high-speed sequences.

On Monday, Rea told the News Letter the proposals were ‘exciting’ and said he hoped the project came to fruition.

“For quite a lot of reasons it would be exciting and if it was something that did come off quickly, it would be really nice if they did receive FIM homologation for world championship races,” he said.

“I’m a little bit in the dark about the whole project and I’d like to know a little bit more about it and maybe be involved, because when you build a race track you build it for either cars or bikes.

“The problem with car and bike people is that they tend to have different viewpoints over what makes a great circuit. It’s exciting, but probably more so for the next generation of young kids coming through - that’s what really makes it exciting.

“Maybe the next step in my career is to be involved in bringing on new talent or race schools, so to have a proposed world-class facility on your doorstep would be amazing,” he added.

“Also in Ireland there has been a huge sway in the road racing/short circuit divide recently. The travelling support I’ve had since winning my first championship is phenomenal and normally it would be road racing that is king back here, but slowly that is starting to change.”

Rea said a top-class racing circuit hosting international and world events here would offer aspiring young riders a more clear-cut choice over their career path.

“I think with a world-class facility, the decision for kids to do one or the other [road racing or short circuits] would be a lot more open to kids,” he said.

“The problem with support for kids now is that it is very blinkered towards the road racing side.

“A sponsor who would want to buy a young kid a bike to go out and do the Cookstown 100 wouldn’t want to buy them a bike to race at the Mondello Masters for example.

“With good facilities and more opportunities for kids, they would have more chances to do what they wanted. It would help make that bridge to the UK, where the current crop of young riders has to go to find good competition and good circuits.

“The divide becomes much less and it would be super nice if it happens.”

It has been a whirlwind few days for a visibly exhausted Rea, who carried out another round of media interviews on Monday at his base at the Culloden Hotel before attending a homecoming party in Ballyclare.

His record-breaking feat is slowly beginning to sink in, but Rea still has some unfinished business to take care of at the final two rounds of the championship.

Jerez in Spain is up next from October 20-22 followed by the season finale in Qatar next month (November 2-4) – two circuits where Rea has yet to spray the victory champagne.

“Not that I’m setting any big targets, but it would be nice to win more races than I did in 2015 [14 wins],” he said.

“I think the record for a season is 15 wins by Ben Spies, but it would just be nice to win more than I did in 2015, because for me it was a special year.

“Last year was difficult, but this year has been amazing and to equal what I did in 2015 in terms of how competitive I feel would be good.”