UK motor racing circuit owner MotorSport Vision (MSV) has reached agreement with Kevin Wheatcroft, owner and operator of Donington Park, for MSV to take over the Donington Park circuit business and to lease the Donington Park Estate for an initial 21 year term.
MSV, a private company owned by former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer and Sir Peter Ogden, already owns and operates four UK race circuits – Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton and Cadwell Park. In addition the world-class PalmerSport corporate hospitality event is based at MSV’s Bedford Autodrome facility. MSV expanded into Europe in 2015 following the freehold purchase of a former military airbase in north-east France, which it is currently developing into a large motorsport village (Laon Autodrome). MSV also holds the promotional rights for the MCE British Superbike Championship and the BRDC British F3 Championship.
Donington Park is one of the UK’s best known motor racing circuits and hosted its first event in 1931 – a motorcycle race on the narrow lanes of the Donington Park Estate. The circuit was expanded and became home to Grand Prix racing before the Second World War in 1939 saw the venue become a military vehicle depot. It fell into disrepair until 1971 when Donington was purchased and then revived by local construction entrepreneur Tom Wheatcroft, who re-established the circuit as one of the leading motor racing venues in Europe. It went on to host the British round of MotoGP for 23 years and the circuit held a standalone round of the Formula One World Championship in 1993 – the European Grand Prix, which saw a memorable, dominant performance in the rain by Ayrton Senna.
History repeated itself in 2009 when Kevin Wheatcroft, son of Tom, rescued the circuit following the collapse of leaseholder Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, following a failed attempt to secure the funding required to host the British Formula One Grand Prix. Thanks to Kevin and his team’s considerable efforts, Donington was restored once more and is now home to many prestigious events including MCE British Superbikes, the British Touring Car Championship and the only UK round of the FIM Superbike World Championship.
The Donington Grand Prix Collection – the largest showcase of its type in the world – opened in 1973 and remains based at the circuit, which also hosts the Download Festival, a major rock festival held annually at the venue since 2003.
MSV Chief Executive Jonathan Palmer said: “I am thrilled that MSV has now acquired the Donington circuit business.
“Donington has incredible history, being the first permanent road circuit in the country and the only circuit upon which the mighty pre-war Auto Unions and Mercedes Grand Prix cars raced in the 1930s. Its modern day existence is purely down to the vision and energy of Tom Wheatcroft, whom I admired enormously. I can still remember the excitement of racing at the new Donington in my Marcos, the year it opened in 1977. However my Donington highlight was taking pole position and winning the FIA Formula 2 Championship round in 1983, and being presented with my trophy by Tom Wheatcroft on the podium. I was later privileged to be commentating for BBC TV when Ayrton Senna took his stunning F1 win at Donington in 1993.
“Like many circuits in the UK, Donington has had a turbulent time over the last ten years, though thankfully Kevin Wheatcroft and his team have now recovered the damage done by the previous owner of the business. Donington is a good British circuit that deserves further investment, energy and expertise in order to make it truly outstanding, and MSV will provide this. We plan a great new era for Donington, with some exciting new events and much enhanced quality of experience for all of its customers, whether spectators, competitors and track day participants, together with even better value.”
Kevin Wheatcroft, Donington Park’s owner, said: “I am particularly pleased to have finally done a deal with MSV’s Jonathan Palmer in what is our 40th year since my father reopened the circuit in 1977. Since taking the circuit back under my own control in 2009, huge efforts have been made to bring Donington back to the forefront of British Motorsport, not to mention the many millions it’s taken to do so. It seems very fitting in this celebratory year to hand over Donington’s reigns to Jonathan Palmer and his expert team, a man whose business model my late father and I have admired for many years. I now look forward to watching Donington continue to grow and prosper with fresh investment.”
The parties will be working with the relevant authorities to obtain regulatory approval for the transaction.