The world's most northerly circuit, as its name implies, nestles close to the Arctic Circle in Norway. With full amenities, the circuit is also the longest in Norway.
Built in 1995 on the site of a former quarry, it is a modern and flowing circuit on undulating terrain close to Mo i Rana. The long summer days mean that it would be possible to host a 24 hour race entirely in daylight, while the long winter months also mean that ice racing and other winter sports can be hosted here.
Although the venue is best known as a motorsport arena, recent years have seen the circuit introducing some of the activities that had been planned from the offset, such as skiing, roller skiing, cycling and running.
While the track benefits from a fabulously scenic backdrop, its remote rural location has undoubtedly proved a hindrance to further development. Oslo is more than 600 miles away (a mere 13 hours drive!) and Trondheim is little better at nearly seven hours drive... Perhaps understandably major racing events have preferred to stay south at venues closer to major population centres and today the circuit is fairly underused, with the main activity being track days and driver training events. A pity, as it is probably among the best layouts in Scandinavia.
The circuit was long in the planning by the local enthusiasts of the Norsk Motor Klub Rana (NMK Rana), who had begun exploring the possibilities of establishing a permanent facilities in the mid-1980s. Initial plans centred around an expansion of the existing facility at Røssvoll Motorstadion, Norway's first permanent circuit, which was little more than a modified asphalt oval.
Within a few years, another, perhaps more exciting site came to the fore. Mining company Rana Gruber was finishing operations at a site to the north of the city of Mo i Rana, a short distance from Røssvoll. It was looking to put the former iron-ore mine new use and a motor racing circuit seemed ideal, particularly as the available space would allow for a much bigger circuit than was possible at Røssvoll. Soon the NMK Rana established a working group to turn the plans into a reality.
No one in Norway had at this stage ever built a racing circuit to international standards, so it was a considerable task to come up with the first designs. The club's requirement was a circuit with a minimum length of 3500 meters, though beyond this there were few further fixed requirements. The group examined the regulations of the FIA and the FIM and determined that the more strict requirements of the car racing governing body was likely beyond their budgets, so from the outset, the track was designed with motorbike racing as its first priority.
Working with limited mapping and aerial photography, the plans progressed to a clay model of the circuit, which in 1990 was shown off to FIM President Jos Vaessen and the local media at a special ceremony in the quarry site. The project received a considerable boost when the Norwegian Sports Federation and the then Norwegian Motorcycle Association in 1990 assigned the facility the task of being the country's national road racing facility.
The circuit emerges to great acclaim
It took another five years of hard work to put in place the finances and complete construction of the course to a modified design, which was fast but flowing, featuring elevation changes of up to 31 metres. The planning group hd studied the major courses of Europe before coming with a design which featured some of the best parts of each. Constructing the racing surface was also no mean feat, requiring a topmix that could stand up to the rigours of the Norwegian winter while offering good grip in all weathers. Much experimentation and analysis was carried out and it is a source of pride that the track surface has proved extremely smooth but durable. The location among the spoils of the iron ore mine also helped by providing the ideal base layer for drainage purposes.
All told around 62 million kroner of government funding was used in the construction of the track, but finally the track was ready to open, earning itself the distinction of being the northernmost circuit in the world (stealing the title from Røssvoll).
The inaugural event came in August 1995, when Le Mans race director Marcel Martin waved the chequered flag at the first race, which perhaps ironically giving the circuit's intention, was an event for cars rather than bikes.
Touring cars arrive but the stay is short-lived
Indeed, it is notable that the only major events held at Arctic Circle Raceway have been for cars rather than bikes. Despite being designed to international standards, two-wheeled championships have proved elusive, with only national level races taking place. However, between 1999 and 2004 the Arctic Circle Raceway regularly hosted rounds of the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC), attracting some of the largest crowds seen at the circuit, which is exactly overburdened by a large local population.
Norwegian ace Tommy Rustad sent the spectators into raptures when he won both races of the inaugural event in a Nissan Primera. Mattias Ekstrom and Carl Rosenblad were among the other winners before the STCC departed south to Våler for subsequent Norwegian rounds.
Aside from local racing and drifting competitions, the circuit has proved somewhat under-used for racing, not helped by the operating season being only around three months each summer before the snows arrive. However, recent years have seen the re-establishment of the annual 24 Hour race, which has the unusual distinction of being held in total daylight.
Revised ownership plans to invest
In July 2021, the Norwegian Motorsport Association sold its 49 percent of the shares in Arctic Circle Raceway to the Rana- and Bodø-based company ACR AS. The company comprises a number of regional firms, including Rana Gruber, operator of the former mine that the track was built in. The company has an option to purchase the remaining 51 percent.
The new ownership has announced big plans to refurbish and modernise the facilities that are now a quarter century old. It is estimated that more than NOK 50 million will be invested in maintenance and upgrading over five years.
Prime among the projects being targeted is a replacement for the pit buildings which, despite a regular maintenance programme, has deteriorated badly due to the harsh winters due to a suspected fault with the original concrete mix. Also on the agenda is a total track resurfacing, in recognition of the age of the current surface, which while holding up well, is beginning to show the signs of a quarter-century of use.