Agreement has been reached for Jonathan Palmer's MotorSport Vision company (MSV) to take over the Donington Park circuit business and to lease the Donington Park Estate for an initial 21 year term. The deal - which is subject to discussions with competition authorities - means Donington joins MSV's portfolio of UK circuits alongside Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton, Cadwell Park and the PalmerSport corporate hospitality facility at Bedford Autodrome.
It marks a significant departure for the Wheatcroft family, who have been the custodians of the facility since the 1970s. A Grand Prix circuit pre-World War Two, the facility was taken over by the military as a vehicle depot and was left in disrepair when peacetime returned. Local construction entrepreneur Tom Wheatcroft bought the site in 1971 and began re-establishing it as one of the leading motor racing venues in Europe, with continued development seeing it become the home of the Motorcycle World Championships for 23 years and the host of a one-off Formula One Grand Prix in 1993, won memorably by Ayrton Senna in the pouring rain.
Tom relinquished the circuit in the mid 2000s when new leaseholders put forward what turned out to be overly-ambitious plans to redevelop the circuit to host the British Formula One Grand Prix, eventually leading to its temporary closure. History repeated itself in 2009 when Tom's son Kevin stepped in to rescue the circuit once more following the eventual collapse of the leaseholder. 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, a private company owned by former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer and Sir Peter Ogden, has been widely commended for its role in transforming the amenities for spectators and competitors at its British circuits and plans to invest further in Donington Park. Chief executive Jonathan Palmer said he "thrilled" to have been able to add the Donington circuit business to MSV's portfolio.
He said: "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."
He added: "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 - which is by no means assured, given MSV's dominance in the UK circuit market. Of the circuits visited by major UK or international championships, only Silverstone, Knockhill, Rockingham, Croft and Thruxton now fall outside of MSV's control, although there are a number of others hosting club racing and track day events. MSV is also the promoter of the British Superbike Championship and the BRDC F3 Championship.