Donington Park motor racing circuit was the first permanent park circuit in England
It’s first motorcycle race took place on Whit Monday 1931 on the narrow lanes of the Donington Hall Estate. 1933 the track was widened, made permanent and became a venue for Grand Prix car racing.
The second world war put an end to all racing at the circuit in 1939, after being requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to be used as a military vehicle depot.
Four decades before a return to motorsport
1971 Donington Park was purchased by Tom Wheatcroft, a local man made good. Passionate about motorsport and Donington from his early days, when he cycled to watch the pre-war motor racing at the circuit.
During the War, Tom served driving tanks and upon his return to civilian life he set up a successful building business. Having made his fortune, his passion returned to motorsport. He sponsored drivers at various levels and amassed the largest collection of motor racing cars in the world.
Now known as the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition, his classic car collection moved to the circuit soon after he purchased it, where it continues to grow.
The home of motorcycle racing and favourite circuit of legends
1n 1987, with the staging of the FIM World Championship British Motorcycle Grand Prix, Donington helped turn the event around in terms of spectator appeal, bringing in record numbers through the turnstiles.
It became the favoured home of the British round of the Moto GP motorcycling championships and British Superbike Championships. Probably because the circuits twists and turns provide the crowd with a racing spectacle and the rider’s skills are really put to the test.
Donington is a fans favourite with too many spectacles' to list but who could forget Barry Sheene, the last British 500cc world champion, returning to Donington Park after that terrible crash at Silverstone riding a Yamaha.
Music Festivals, Gigantic Sunday Markets and much, much more
The next three decades witnessed the growth of what is possibly one of the nations favourite venues for all sorts of events, whether you are into motorsport or not.
Thirty years under Tom Wheatcroft’s direction saw Donington headline the worlds largest bands, possibly the first giant Sunday market, plus lots more. But those passionate about Formula One motorsport will best recall the European Grand Prix 1993
Possibly Ayrton Senna’s greatest race
It was the third round of the 1993 Formula One season and the race is most notable for the dominance of Ayrton Senna. In a slower car, the torrential conditions set the scene for what many believe to be the finest display of skill in Formula One - ever.
Senna’s first lap at Donington was destined to become the most famous in Grand Prix history when he passed five cars to lead the field and win the race.
A sad episode - Donington Ventures Leisure (2007–2009)
In 2007 the Wheatcroft Family sell a 150 year lease to Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, headed by CEO Simon Gillett. At first, the aim of the sale seemed to pay off, Donington was pushing boundaries and had won the right to the British Grand Prix for seventeen years from July 2010.
Following this success, in September 2008 Donington Park hosted the biggest and longest running event in World Championship Motocross - Motocross des Nations.
Unfortunately on 24 October 2009, media sources reported that Donington Ventures Leisure Limited had failed to raise the £135 million needed to stage a British Grand Prix.
November 18th, 2009, the company went into administration and December 7th the Grand Prix contract was awarded to Silverstone.
Rising like a phoenix Donington returns to motorsport
With the termination of the lease, the ownership, rebuilding of the circuits infrastructure and reputation fell to Wheatcroft & Son Ltd.
The company, led by Kevin Wheatcroft in light of the death of his father in 2009. With an estimated cost of £600,000 it wasn’t going to be an easy job.
August 2010 the track passed a crucial safety inspection conducted by the motorsport authorities and announces Donington Park is fit for the return of motorsport.
Donington Park's future as a race circuit is now assured
"After a period of uncertainty, Donington Park's future as a race circuit is now assured. The circuit has a fabulous history that is an important part of British heritage, from the days of the pre-War Silver Arrows GP cars right through to modern times. The launch of the Donington Historic Festival is one example of how we intend the circuit not only to survive, but to thrive in the years to come."
Kevin Wheatcroft November 1st 2010