Donington Park

Donington Park
Donington circuit.svg
LocationNorth West Leicestershire, England
Time zoneUTC+0
OwnerMotorSport Vision
OperatorMotorSport Vision
Opened1931, re-opened 1977
Construction cost£12,000
Major eventsBTCC, British Superbikes, WorldSBK, British GT, British F3, Truck Racing, Download Festival, Donington Historic Festival, Classic Motorcycle Festival
Grand Prix Circuit
Length4.020 km (2.498 mi)
Turns12
Race lap record1:18.029 (Brazil Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/8, 1993, F1)
National Circuit
Length3.149 km (1.957 mi)
Turns10
Race lap record57.221 (Netherlands Marijn van Kalmthout, Benetton B197, 2011, www.donington-park.co.uk
The Donington Circuit layout in 1937

Donington Park is a motorsport circuit located near Castle Donington in Leicestershire, England. The circuit business is now owned by Jonathan Palmer's MotorSport Vision organisation, and the surrounding Donington Park Estate is currently under lease by MotorSport Vision until 2038.[1]

Originally part of the Donington Hall estate, it was created as a racing circuit during the period between the First and Second World Wars when the German Silver Arrows were battling for the European Championship. Used as a military vehicle storage depot during the Second World War, it fell into disrepair until bought by local construction entrepreneur Tom Wheatcroft. Revived under his ownership in the 1970s, it hosted a single Formula One race, but became the favoured home of the British round of the MotoGP motorcycling championship.

Leased by Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd in 2007 the hope that Formula One racing could return to the track, the incomplete venture failed to raise sufficient financial backing during the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. DVLL consequently lost the rights to the British rounds of both Formula 1 and MotoGP, and in its bankruptcy returned the track to the Wheatcroft family in December 2009.

Under Wheatcroft's ownership, the venue underwent significant work, with the track restored to use in 2010, before major upgrades in the following five years. At the end of 2010, it was announced that Donington would become home to an annual historic motorsport event, the Donington Historic Festival, with new events constantly being added. Since 2010, significant investment across the venue has seen major improvements made to its infrastructure,[2] while the circuit has become a regular fixture for top class motorcycling in the form of the Superbike World Championship.

In January 2017, the circuit business and a long term lease on the estate was purchased by MotorSport Vision,[3] with the purchase cleared by authorities in August of the same year.[4] Significant investment has seen facilities at the venue brought up to modern standards, with a new restaurant, toilet blocks, large new grandstand and new circuit offices, as well as other detail changes.[5] As well as improving the infrastructure, MSV has made additions to the race calendar, with additional major events planned for 2019 including extra rounds of the British Superbike Championship[6] and British GT.[7]

History

Creation, Pre-War racing

Donington Park motor racing circuit was the first permanent park circuit in England, which also ended the race circuit monopoly that Brooklands had held since 1907.

Fred Craner was a former motorcycle rider who had taken part in seven Isle of Man TT races,[8] and was by 1931 a Derby garage owner and secretary of the Derby & District Motor Club.[9] Craner approached the then owner of the Donington Hall estate, Alderman John Gillies Shields JP, to use the extensive roads on his land for racing.[8]

The original track was 2 mile 327 yd (3,518 m) in length, and based on normal width unsealed estate roads.[8] The first motor cycle race took place on Whit Monday, 1931.[8] For 1933 Craner obtained permission to build a permanent track, with the original layout widened and sealed at a cost of £12,000.[8] The first car race was held on 25 March, followed by three car meetings further that year. The first Donington Park Trophy race was held on 7 October 1933, and the 20-lap invitation event was won by the Earl Howe in a Bugatti Type 51.[8]

Donington Park showing Spitfire sculpture and track (2005)

In 1935 the first 300-mile (480 km) Donington Grand Prix was won by Richard "Mad Jack" Shuttleworth in an Alfa Romeo P3.[10] In the 1937 Donington Grand Prix and 1938 Donington Grand Prix, the race winners were respectively Bernd Rosemeyer and Tazio Nuvolari, both in Auto Union 'Silver Arrows.'

The circuit at Donington Park was closed in 1939 due to World War II, when it was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence and was converted into a military vehicle depot.[11]

Wheatcroft revival (1971–2006)

In 1971 the circuit was bought by business man and car collector Tom Wheatcroft, who funded the rebuilding of the track. Wheatcroft moved his collection to the circuit, in a museum now known as the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition which opened in 1973, and has the largest collection of Grand Prix cars in the world.

The motor racing circuit re-opened for cars on 28 May 1977, as per the original pre-war opening, the first post-war meeting was for motorcycles. The first postwar car race meeting was organised by the Nottingham Sports Car Club, sponsored by local Lotus dealers, J A Else of Codnor. That first car meeting nearly didn't happen, as the local ramblers tried to assert their rights to retain access to footpaths at the eleventh hour. The meeting went ahead as a "Motor Trial", a legal loophole that curtailed the use of single seater racing cars for that opening meeting. The NSCC continued to run race meetings at Donington until the Donington Racing Club was formed and a licence to run race meetings obtained.

The Melbourne Loop was built in 1985 to increase the lap distance to 2.5 miles (4.02 km) and allow the track to host Grand Prix motorcycle races – at 1.957 miles (3.149 km) without the loop, the circuit was deemed too short. This shorter layout remains as the National circuit, which is used for most non-Grand Prix events.

In recent times Donington has held meetings of MotoGP, the British Touring Car Championship and British Superbike Championship, as well as the 1993 European Grand Prix.

Other events taking place at the track include a 1000 km endurance race for the Le Mans Series in 2006, the World Series by Renault and the Great and British Motorsport Festival. On 26 August 2007, the circuit hosted the British Motocross Grand Prix, with a purpose-built motocross circuit constructed on the infield of the road circuit.[12]

World Series by Renault at Donington Park's Melbourne Hairpin in 2005

Donington Ventures Leisure (2007–2009)

In 2007, Wheatcroft via the holding company Wheatcroft & Son Ltd, sold a 150-year lease on the land on which the track and museum are located to Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL).[13]

In July 2008, it was announced that DVLL had won the rights to the British Grand Prix for 17 years from July 2010, with North West Leicestershire council approving plans for the required track and facility rebuilt design by Hermann Tilke to be constructed from January 2009.

On 27 and 28 September 2008, the Motocross des Nations, the biggest and longest running event in World Championship Motocross, was at Donington Park.[14]

In April 2009, Wheatcroft & Son Ltd took legal action against DVLL in Derby County Court, seeking £2.47m in rent arrears, as well as forfeiture of the lease. The legal action put the future of the British Grand Prix in doubt, with Bernie Ecclestone restating that if Donington did not meet required standards to host the event, there will be no British Grand Prix from 2010.[15]

On 5 June 2009, it was announced that an out of court settlement had been reached between Wheatcroft & Son Ltd and DVLL.[16]

On 24 October 2009, media sources reported that Donington had failed to raise the £135 million needed to stage a British Grand Prix. The BBC commented in its coverage that: "Donington's bid looks over, and that Ecclestone has offered the race to Silverstone."[17] Although DVLL gave further public relations assurance that it would be able to raise the required finance and host the Grand Prix, on 29 October 2009, Ecclestone confirmed that the British Grand Prix would not be held at Donington.

On 18 November 2009, the company went into administration.[18][19] Acting chairman Mr Price said: "This need not be the end of Formula One racing at Donington. It still remains a fantastic location. It needs people of vision to get the dream to the starting grid. We are certainly hopeful that a 2011 Grand Prix could take place at the site."[20]

On 7 December 2009, Formula One Management announced that Silverstone had been awarded a 17-year contract to hold the British Grand Prix from 2010 until 2026.[21]

On 11 December 2009, it was announced that DVLL had lost the rights to hold the British Superbike Championship race due to be held on 10–12 September 2010. These dates will now be used for a race at Croft.[22]

Return to Wheatcroft family (2009–2017)

Donington's Dunlop Bridge

On 24 December 2009 it was announced that a buyer for Donington Ventures Leisure had not been found, which thus meant that the 150-year lease given by Wheatcroft & Son Ltd to Donington Ventures Leisure was terminated.[23] The ownership immediately reverted to Wheatcroft & Son Ltd, now led by Kevin Wheatcroft in light of the death of his father in 2009. Wheatcroft vowed to re-open Donington Park as soon as possible.[24] There were hopes to re-open the circuit in August 2010.[25]

On 26 May 2010 Wheatcroft announced that the lease for Donington Park had been sold (Subject To Contract) to Worcestershire-based Adroit Group. Adroit proceeded to resurrect the circuit, not only rebuilding the removed track sections, but also renewing infrastructure. This included the re-alignment of Foggy's bend, but not the old Dunlop Bridge due to new built MSA/FIA regulations. As a result of a series of inspections, the circuit successfully regained its ACU, MSA and FIA Grade 2 licences. However, Wheatcrofts and Adroit failed to agree terms of a final lease contract, and hence terminated their outline agreement.

The Wheatcroft-owned company Donington Park Racing took control of the circuit in late 2010, gaining events from both World Touring Cars and the World Superbikes, plus the inaugural Donington Historic Festival.

60 race days are held each year, including events from the British Touring Car Championship, British Superbikes, World Superbikes, British GT, rallying and historic festivals for both cars and motorcycles. Racing takes place on most weekends between March and October, with visits from most British racing clubs. Donington has also been host to the annual Season Launch for the BTCC since 2013, while the British Superbike Championship also holds major test days at the circuit.

The FIA Formula E Championship and its teams have also constructed its headquarters at the main entrance to the circuit. All teams competing in the electric series are based at the venue, and Donington is host to several pre-season test dates before each season, some of which are open to spectators. For the 2017–18 season, the series switched their pre-season test venue to the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain.

Wheatcroft has also invested heavily to restore the circuit infrastructure to its former glories. The infield which was excavated during the late 2000s has been completely restored and raised even higher in some areas, while pit and paddock facilities have also been improved. Outside the circuit boundaries, an all terrain course has been constructed, as well as improvements to hospitality buildings and conferencing suites.[2]

Purchase by MotorSport Vision (2017-present)

In January 2017, the circuit business was taken over by MotorSport Vision, with the Donington Park Estate on a 21-year lease, until 2038.[1]. The purchase was cleared by the Competition and Markets Authority in August 2017[26], with work commencing almost immediately on venue improvements.

Additions over the winter period of 2017-18 included a full resurface of paddock areas and access roads, the addition of the Garage 39 Restaurant, cafe and bar [27], and a large new grandstand at Hollywood corner. Several old toilet blocks were also demolished to make way for more modern units. while detail changes were carried out around the venue.

For 2019, work has commenced on a new main entrance area near the existing paddock entrance.

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