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Motor Mouth articles 2010

Donington banks on a long, proud history

A snapshot from Donington’s long history as Manfred von Brauchitsch's Mercedes W125 becomes airborne in the 1937 Donington Grand Prix

THE future of one of Britain’s greatest race circuits, Donington Park, has been assured with the news that it is to launch its own annual Historic Festival.

After its failed attempt to wrest the British Grand Prix from Silverstone, Donington is setting out to grab some of the business that has revitalised Goodwood in recent years.

The aim is to help establish the Leicestershire circuit as a venue for the best in historic racing and the first Donington Festival has been inked in for the Bank Holiday weekend of 30th April to 2nd May 2011.

Originally part of the Donington Hall estate, the circuit has quite a pedigree. It was created as a racing venue before the Second World War when the German Silver Arrows were battling for the European Championship, ending a race circuit monopoly enjoyed by Brooklands since 1907.

During the war it was used as a military vehicle storage depot and then fell into disuse and disrepair until it was bought by local 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 Moto GP motorcycling championship.

Under new ownership in 2007, there were hopes that Formula One racing could return to the track but the global financial crisis contributed to the failure to come up with enough cash to satisfy the massively expensive requirements of such an ambitious move.

Donington subsequently lost the rights to the British rounds of both Formula One and Moto GP, and in its bankruptcy returned the track to the Wheatcroft family last December. The founder’s son Kevin is now at the helm.

He says: “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, and 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.”

Donington has teamed up with leading race organiser Duncan Wiltshire to run the festival. He says: “It aims to fill a very clear hole in the calendar by placing the needs and wishes of owners, drivers and knowledgeable enthusiasts at its heart. This will be a truly prestigious annual event, inviting only the very best race series and the highest-calibre cars and drivers.

“We aim to delight serious historic motorsport fans, and the owners of the most original, most fascinating and most important cars, by focusing on the pure motor racing experience, over and above any add-on attractions.”

All of which sounds like a thinly disguised dig at the showbiz-type razzmatazz regularly put on at Goodwood – but the Donington people should not be too sniffy because the Sussex circuit’s Festival of Speed and Revival events have hauled in truly massive numbers of visitors and vast amounts of cash.

It will be good to see vibrant new life breathed into Britain’s proud motor-racing history in the intriguing shape of a major new event at Donington.

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