The prospects of both MotoGP and World Superbikes visiting Wales took a step closer yesterday. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and Events Managing Director Javier Alonso flew to the UK earlier this week for a series of meetings about the proposed Circuit of Wales, a new facility that is to be built near Ebbw Vale, in South Wales. The Dorna bosses met with several key figures involved in the project, including Lord Kinnock, former UK Labour Party leader and now ambassador for the circuit, and Welsh Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science Edwina Hart.
Ezpeleta and Alonso also met with media, including Motorcycle News and local news organizations. Ezpeleta expressed how impressed he had been with the plans for the facility, which include an FIM and FIA approved race track, a motocross track, a karting track, as well a technology park, hotel facilities, and a motor sports racing academy, aimed at providing training for young riders and drivers. Having another track in the UK was a positive thing for racing, Ezpeleta told the Gwent Gazette. "“For me, I will say that out of all the races we have in the year, for us and all the people involved, we feel British people know much more about racing," the Dorna boss said. Once the track receives planning permission - a hurdle the facility still has to clear - the track could be ready to host a MotoGP or World Superbike round as early as 2015, Ezpeleta told MCN's Matt Birt.
Also present at the presentation were WSBK men Leon Haslam and Chaz Davies, both of whom were similarly enthusiastic about the circuit. Haslam has been providing input on the design of the circuit from a rider perspective, at the request of the people behind the project. The nature of the terrain - hilly, with a fair amount of elevation differences on the site - meant that the track will be 'fast and flowing' according to Haslam, who compared the track to circuits such as Portimao and Istanbul. Davies was similarly enthusiastic. Both Davies and Haslam have had to travel abroad to train from a very young age, but having a race track near by (Davies lives an hour from the proposed circuit) would have made it a lot easier for them as young riders, and would help breed a new generation of British riders, the two men told the press, helping to boost the profile of the sport. "We have football academies, and centres of excellence for our successful sports, but motor sport hasn't had that in the UK," Davies told Wales Online.
Comparisons could also be drawn to the Motorland Aragon circuit. Like Motorland Aragon, the Circuit of Wales was built in a region that is economically deprived, and is aimed at providing long-term support to the local economy. The addition of a technology center, business units, and an educational facility are all part of providing a robust infrastructure in the area. Both regions are geographically isolated, though Ebbw Vale is closer to large urban centers such as Bristol or Cardiff than Alcañiz is to Zaragoza or Barcelona. The development could bring some 9,000 jobs to the region, Ezpeleta told the South Wales Argus, and a MotoGP race could be expected to bring in some £2.5 million per event.
Javier Alonso was keen to draw parallels with the positive experiences of the Motorland Aragon circuit. The lessons learned from Aragon were applicable to South Wales as well. "It's not just about racing, but about providing industry and improving education," Alonso told Wales Online.
The Circuit of Wales project has deep roots within the motorcycle racing community. Former HRC communications director Chris Herring is a member of the team running the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, the organization behind the Circuit of Wales. That company also has a stake in FTR, the engineering company responsible for the FTR chassis being used in alll three Grand Prix classes. And the circuit is to be built in part by FCC Construcción, a Spanish company who were also responsible for the rebuilding work at the Jerez track in the winter of 2001/2002, which helped create the iconic "flying saucer" VIP lounge which straddles the front straight of the Spanish circuit.
The cost of that work had been a source of problems for the Jerez circuit. FCC had gone unpaid for a very long time, CIRJESA, the Spanish company running the circuit, even being forced into administration over non-payment of the sums owed to FCC and Serviobras for the work done at Jerez.