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, still owned by the Wheatcroft family, is currently under lease by MotorSport Vision until 2038. It has a capacity of 120,000.
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 autumn 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, 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, with the purchase cleared by authorities in August of the same year. 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. As well as improving the infrastructure, MSV made additions to the race calendar, with additional major events planned for 2019 which included extra rounds of the British Superbike Championship and British GT.
Creation, Pre-War racing
Fred Craner was a former motorcycle rider who had taken part in seven Isle of Man TT races, and was by 1931 a Derby garage owner and secretary of the Derby & District Motor Club. 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.
The original track was 2 mile 327 yd (3,518 m) in length, and based on normal width unsealed estate roads. The first motor cycle race took place on Whit Monday, 1931. For 1933 Craner obtained permission to build a permanent track, with the original layout widened and sealed at a cost of £12,000. 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.
In 1935 the first 300-mile (480 km) Donington Grand Prix was won by Richard "Mad Jack" Shuttleworth in an Alfa Romeo P3. 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.'
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 known as the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition which opened in 1973, and had the largest collection of Grand Prix cars in the world until its closure in 2018.
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.
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.
Donington Ventures Leisure (2007–2009)
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.
it soon became clear that DVLL, led by Simon Gillett, was in serious financial difficulty. Chris Sylt, a respected journalist specialising in the financial side of Formula One, questioned Simon Gillett's track record, citing an earlier failure of his company Innovation Motorsport, owing £200,000, and his apparent lack of experience.
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.
On 5 June 2009, it was announced that an out of court settlement had been reached between Wheatcroft & Son Ltd and DVLL.
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." 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 with debts to contractors and suppliers approaching £4 million and a secured loan of £14 million with Anglo Irish Bank, according to the Administrator's report. . 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."
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.
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.
Return to Wheatcroft family (2009–2017)
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. 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. There were hopes to re-open the circuit in August 2010, and this was accomplished with the Donington Revival meeting.
On 26 May 2010 Wheatcroft announced that the lease for Donington Park had been sold (Subject To Contract) to Worcestershire-based . 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 also constructed its headquarters at the circuit in the early years of its competition. All teams in the electric series were based at the venue, and Donington hosted several pre-season test dates before each season, some of which were 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.
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. The purchase was cleared by the Competition and Markets Authority in August 2017, 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, 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 was completed on a new main entrance area near the existing paddock entrance, that better separates pedestrians from vehicle traffic.
Motorsport at Donington
1993 European Grand Prix
Donington Park was the host of the 1993 European Grand Prix on 11 April 1993, which was affected by rain. The race was notable for the dominance of Ayrton Senna where he won the race by over 1 minute from Damon Hill, having advanced from fifth to first in the opening lap.
Failed 2010 British Grand Prix bid
On 4 July 2008, Bernie Ecclestone announced that Donington Park would hold the British Grand Prix from 2010 onwards in a 17-year deal, having been hosted exclusively by Silverstone since 1987. On 10 July 2008, the proposal was that the track would have a major upgrade designed by Hermann Tilke, to include an entirely new pit complex along Starkey's Straight and increasing the circuit length to 2.944 miles (4.738 km), by the addition of a new infield loop, to get it up to the standards required for modern day Formula One racing. 
The proposal was that race would be the first to be accessed only by public transportation, as cars will not be allowed to enter the facility. This was in part was an answer to the lack of road access, which even when 30,000 bikers exit major motorcycle events resulted in long tailbacks. The proposal was that a shuttle-bus service would run from the close by East Midlands Parkway station, on the Midland Main Line from London to Sheffield.
In light of the financial crisis and Donington's potential inability to raise finance, on 20 June 2009, Bernie Ecclestone stated that there would be a British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2010 if Donington was not ready to host it. This was a change from his previous "Donington or nothing" standpoint and he cited changes in the structure of the BRDC meaning there was a better way of negotiating with them over future commercial rights. Furthermore, during an interview with the BBC about the Formula One Teams Association threatening to break away and form their own series, FIA president Max Mosley said it was "highly likely" the 2010 British Grand Prix would return to Silverstone.
Donington was given an extended two-week deadline to prove it had the funds to host the 2010 British Grand Prix, however, on 22 October 2009, fundraising attempts fell through. Ecclestone later confirmed that Donington would not be hosting the British Grand Prix.
On 18 November 2009, less than one month after it was confirmed that the Donington had lost the right to host the British Grand Prix, circuit owner Donington Ventures Leisure Limited was placed into administration. Although Ecclestone gave the option of reviving the deal for new owners, in December 2009 Silverstone won the contract for the next 17 years.
Donington Park has also been the home of MotoGP. After the Isle of Man TT Races lost World Championship status, from the 1977 UK inaugural race, MotoGP was held at Silverstone until 1986. For the next 23 years, Donington held the race up until 2009, but in light of the proposed Donington Formula 1 deal, MotoGP organisers Dorna Sports agreed a five-year deal with Silverstone from 2010. Following the failed 2010 Formula 1 bid, in less than a year Donington had lost both competitions for the foreseeable future.
Donington Park was proposed to host the MotoGP British Grand Prix as an alternative venue chosen for 2015, since the Circuit of Wales, having won the Dorna contract from 2015, will be unfinished. However, in February 2015, it was announced that Donington had called off the deal, and that 2015 MotoGP would likely remain at Silverstone.
British Touring Car Championship (BTCC)
Donington Park has been a mainstay of the BTCC calendar, since the series was created in 1987 (as a development from the previous British Saloon Car Championship). In 1999 Donington was the location of one of the standout events from the BTCC's Super Touring era. Matt Neal caused a sensation by winning a race in his Nissan Primera, the first 'Independent' to do so in the modern era. This won him a £250,000 prize from BTCC series promoter Alan Gow.
FIA World Touring Car Championship (2011)
After five years at Brands Hatch, the WTCC moved to Donington Park in 2011. The event attracted thousands of people on race day, where the two races were both won by Yvan Muller for Chevrolet. The weekend also had two races for the Auto GP series as well as the Maserati Trofeo. The 2012 WTCC season did not include a UK-based round of the competition.
Donington is the venue for 2 rallies, with one of the events being a round of the MSN Circuit Rally Championship. These events do not take place exclusively on the circuit, including sections on the looser sections surrounding the track itself.
Beside motorsports, many other events are held at Donington, including music festivals such as the Download Festival; and the Donington Grand Prix Museum exhibition until it closed down in November 2018.. The Donington Park Sunday Market used to be held in the grounds of the park for nearly 40 years before being closed down in September 2016, the owners citing changing shopping habits contributing to fewer traders and customers.
Donington Park has a long history of holding rock festivals having played host to the Monsters of Rock festival from 1980 to the mid 90s, when groups such as AC/DC, Metallica and Iron Maiden performed there. With a few years off the park then played host to Stereophonics' A Day At The Races event and the Rock and Blues Festival in 2001, and the Ozzfest in 2002.
In 2003, the Download Festival (owned and operated by Live Nation) began annually at the venue and continues to an increased three-day event with five stages, though as of 2008 the event is now held outside of the track boundary.
Donington Park was the venue for the biggest rave to ever take place in the United Kingdom, when music promotor Fantazia held their 'One Step Beyond' event there in 1992. 25,000 tickets were sold, but police estimated that 3000 people had entered without tickets.
Donington Grand Prix Exhibition
The Donington Grand Prix Exhibition first opened to the public in March 1973. Five halls, with over 130 exhibits, illustrated the history of motor sport from the turn of the 20th Century. Cars included examples driven by such famous names as Nuvolari, Mansell, Prost, Moss, Senna, Fangio, Clark and Stewart. The Donington Grand Prix Exhibition housed a collection of McLaren and Vanwalls racing cars. Notable exhibits included the 1936 twin engined 500 bhp (373 kW) Alfa Romeo Bimotore which had a top speed of 200 mph (320 km/h), Jim Clark's World Championship winning Lotus 25, the 'howling' flat 12 Ferrari 312B, and Stirling Moss's Lotus, in which he defeated the Ferrari works team in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix. The Collection also featured the World's largest collection of Driver's Helmets. There were several different type of simulators that allowed users to experience the thrills of racing at speed.
After closing briefly in 2009 following the death of Tom Wheatcroft and Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd. entering administration, the exhibition reopened on 6 January 2010 along with the cafe and race control offices. With dwindling visitor numbers, and not being part of the core MSV business plan, the museum closed permanently on 5 November 2018.
Donington Park lies south west of Nottingham, south east of Derby and is situated in Leicestershire. It is a matter of a few yards/metres east of the border with Derbyshire and indeed has a Derby postcode and telephone code. The western end of the runway at East Midlands Airport is just 400 yards from the eastern end of the racing track. It is also fairly close to the M1.
East Midlands Parkway railway station and Derby Midland Station are close by and the owners have expressed their desire for spectators to use these stations and coaches to the circuit. The owners are also in support of any future light rail transport to East Midlands Airport itself.
Donington Hall was, for a time, the HQ of the airline British Midland International (later known as BMI), led by Sir Michale Bishop.
Donington Park has been simulated and can be driven in several racing simulations, such as Spirit of Speed 1937 (the 1937 version of the track is featured, as the name suggests). Another 1937 layout features in the popular rFactor simulation. This version is far more accurate than that of the Spirit of Speed version. The track also features in Sports Car GT, Le Mans 24 Hours, ToCA Touring Car Championship, ToCA 2 Touring Cars, ToCA Race Driver, ToCA Race Driver 2, TOCA Race Driver 3, Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano, GTR, GTR2, GT Legends, F1 Challenge '99-'02 (with a mod), Grand Prix 4 (1993 configuration, unofficial add-on track), MotoGP 3, Redline, rFactor, SBK-07, Race Driver: GRID, Need for Speed: Shift, iRacing, Assetto Corsa (as a mod) and Project CARS. Donington Park also appears as a venue in the game Guitar Hero: Metallica.
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