James Packer, the son of the late billionaire media mogul Kerry, and the Australian investment bank Macquarie are front-runners in the £400m chase for Extra, the UK's fourth-biggest motorways services chain.
Extra, which is owned by developer Swayfields, is being advised by Bank of America and bids for one of the biggest property disposals so far this year in the UK are due on 9 May.
Swayfields chairman Robert Wade confirmed the auction on Friday. He said: "The attraction of this portfolio is the rent-driven business model with high-quality tenants and long-term secure income streams." Mr Wade added that the Lincoln-based firm is in discussions with a "targeted small number of potential buyers".
Mr Packer and Macquarie, already a big owner of UK infrastructure projects, are among the bidders.
Swayfields was founded in 1992 by Stephen Spouge and his family, who are worth an estimated £89m. They are understood to be hoping to tie up the sale by mid-summer. A source close to the auction said: "Spouge is approaching retirement age and so we decided to look through the portfolio and set in motion the early parts of tendering the business for sale."
Mr Packer is already an investor in the UK's motorway services. He bought a 14 per cent stake in Welcome Break last month using his Challenger Life vehicle. He was part of a £500m consortium bid for Welcome, along with other European and Canadian investors. Welcome's management took a 4 per cent stake.
However, an attempt by Challenger Life to add Extra to its portfolio could be undone by regulatory difficulties. A leading commercial property adviser said: "The expectation is that Challenger will bid, but there should be huge Competition Commission issues."
Macquarie bought Moto, the services brand, from Compass for £1.8bn in 2006 and is believed to be keen to bulk this up with further purchases. Unlike Welcome Break and Moto, Extra does not operate as a caterer on any of its sites but instead lets out space to long-term tenants. For example, all Extra's filling stations are rented by Shell, while fast food chains McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC have taken units at the services properties.Reuse content