Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft dies

Tom Wheatcroft, the man who revived Donington Park as a motor-racing venue in the 1970s, died yesterday after a long illness

Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft dies

Lifelong motor-racing fan, Wheatcroft was a regular at Donington during the 1930s, witnessing the clashes between Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz grand prix cars, and after making a fortune in construction and property he acquired the park in 1971.

The track had closed in 1939 and was used by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War, which left it unfit for racing when motorsport in Europe restarted in the second half of the 1940s. After taking it over, Wheatcroft placed his growing racing car collection at Donington, where it remains to this day, and on 27 May 1977 the track held its first race meeting in 38 years.

In 1985, the track was extended to 2.5 miles with the addition of the Melbourne loop in preparation for hosting its first British Motorcycle Grand Prix in 1987. This remained Donington's blue riband event to today, although next year Silverstone will take over the race.

But Wheatcroft's ambition was always to bring grand prix racing back to the track and in 1993 he achieved his dream by holding the European Grand Prix - 55 years after the last Donington Grand Prix was won by Tazio Nuvolari.

Ayrton Senna took one of his most famous victories in that race ahead of Damon Hill after a stunning wet weather drive. But it was to be a one-off race for Donington, and the prospect of Formula 1 returning did not arise again until the track, since 2007 under the control of leaseholder Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, completed a deal to run the British Grand Prix from 2010.

Although Wheatcroft's company, Wheatcroft & Son, owned the venue, the company was not directly involved the scheme that earlier this week failed to meet Bernie Ecclestone's final deadline for raising the finance required for track work. In April this year, Wheatcroft and Son launched legal action against DVLL over £2.47 million of unpaid rent, although the matter was later settled without going to court.

Wheatcroft passed away peacefully at 10:30 yesterday morning at home with his family. Motorsport fans the world over will mourn the man they have to thank for bringing one of the world's most famous circuits back to life.

A book of condolence has been opened at The Donington Park Museum.

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