PALMER LANDS DEAL TO RUN DON­ING­TON PARK

MSV boss adds fifth UK cir­cuit to his port­fo­lio

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Jack Cozens

Jonathan Palmer says a “great new era” lies in wait for Don­ing­ton Park after his Motorsport Vi­sion group agreed to take over the run­ning of the cir­cuit.

A deal be­tween the own­ers, the Wheatcroft family, and MSV was an­nounced last Thurs­day. It will al­low Palmer’s com­pany to man­age the venue and its as­sets.

“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,” said Palmer. “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 or track day par­tic­i­pants.”

The Motorsport Vi­sion group, led by Jonathan Palmer, has bought the busi­ness op­er­a­tions of the Don­ing­ton Park cir­cuit from the Wheatcroft family.

A deal be­tween the two par­ties was ne­go­ti­ated by chair­man Kevin Wheatcroft and its com­ple­tion was an­nounced last Thurs­day morn­ing, with Palmer and MSV ac­quir­ing a lease on the cir­cuit es­tate and its op­er­a­tions for an ini­tial 21-year pe­riod.

Wheatcroft re­tains the free­hold for the site as well as motorsport and mil­i­tary mu­se­ums at the venue. All other as­sets, in­clud­ing the pur­pose-built For­mula E base, are in­cluded as part of Palmer’s pur­chase.

MSV’S ex­ist­ing port­fo­lio of cir­cuits in­cludes Brands Hatch, Oul­ton Park, Snet­ter­ton and Cad­well Park as well as the Bed­ford Au­to­drome fa­cil­ity. It also has its own rac­ing arm, Motorsport Vi­sion Rac­ing, which runs a num­ber of club cham­pi­onships in the UK as well as the BRDC British For­mula 3 Cham­pi­onship and British Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship.

The Le­ices­ter­shire cir­cuit’s 2017 sched­ule of events is ex­pected to go ahead as planned.

Palmer said the group planned to fur­ther in­vest in the venue in or­der to im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for all of its cus­tomers.

“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,” he said. “Its mod­ern day ex­is­tence is purely down to the vi­sion and en­ergy of Tom Wheatcroft, whom I ad­mired enor­mously.

“Like many cir­cuits in the UK, Don­ing­ton has had a tur­bu­lent time over the last 10 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.”

Don­ing­ton is cel­e­brat­ing the 40th year of its re­open­ing by Tom Wheatcroft, the late fa­ther of Kevin, who pur­chased the site in 1971 and re­opened the track six years later, some 38 years after it had pre­vi­ously last hosted motorsport – the Min­istry of Defence hav­ing con­verted the venue into a mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle base after the start of the sec­ond world war.

Con­trol of the cir­cuit was leased out dur­ing the next 30 years to Two-four Sports and later Live Na­tion, be­fore the Wheatcroft family sold a 150-year lease to Don­ing­ton Ven­tures Leisure Ltd in 2007.

Wheatcroft then stepped in to save the cir­cuit after the col­lapse of DVLL, which had at­tempted to bring the British Grand Prix to the cir­cuit after agree­ing a deal to host the race with For­mula One Man­age­ment, and took back full con­trol of the cir­cuit in 2010.

After suc­cess­fully reap­ply­ing for its li­cences, Don­ing­ton has largely been able to re­gain its mid-2000s meet­ing count and be­come an “in­creas­ingly prof­itable” com­pany, ac­cord­ing to man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Christo­pher Tate.

“It’s been a lengthy and com­pli­cated process,” said Tate. “It’s very much been a process driven by the Wheatcroft group of which Kevin is the owner and the chair­man. Ob­vi­ously it has been a com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tion and it was very im­por­tant that it should be very closely con­trolled.

“After Tom died and [there was] the ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­range­ment with Don­ing­ton Ven­tures col­lapsed, it was the case that Kevin said he wanted to make it work, and not just in his fa­ther’s mem­ory.

“Kevin has in­vested con­sid­er­able sums and has been a fan­tas­ti­cally sup­port­ive chair­man and in­vestor and it’s been his money at risk. We built the build­ings for For­mula E, we have spent a for­tune re­build­ing the en­tire in­field – we’ve moved over 700,000 tonnes of ma­te­rial.

“This has been a se­ri­ous, se­ri­ous op­er­a­tion and just get­ting the cir­cuit’s li­cences back at the very be­gin­ning was one of the first things we had to do and re­quired some se­ri­ous ex­pen­di­ture.

“I think he [Wheatcroft] felt that the time was right for a part­ner to come in who was go­ing to in­vest fur­ther. Jonathan and his team will in­vest fur­ther, and we are very ex­cited by that. He has also said ‘guys, you’ve got your 2017 plan, you’ve got your cal­en­dar – do it, make it hap­pen’.

“He’s bought a busi­ness which is very tightly run and is prof­itable and now the idea is to in­vest fur­ther and for me there’s the ex­cite­ment of work­ing with a big­ger group be­cause it’s a bit lonely be­ing com­pletely by our­selves for ev­ery­thing we have to do.

“Sil­ver­stone has the BRDC and other di­ver­si­fi­ca­tions, some of the other cir­cuits can re­ally be run with a staff of seven or eight at An­gle­sey or what­ever – and they’re nice busi­nesses and good for them.

“But we’re try­ing to run in­ter­na­tional events like World Su­per­bikes, we are a player on the in­ter­na­tional stage, and [do so] with very few peo­ple so we have to do our own fi­nance and HR and mar­ket­ing and ev­ery­thing else. Within the MSV group there is a wide spread of re­sources and de­part­ments that cover all the cir­cuits.

“We’re go­ing to con­tinue with the Jan­uary 1 2017 team of peo­ple we have, and I’m sure that we will grow from there. But we have had to be on quite short ra­tions, be­cause we are an in­de­pen­dent – or have been. I see lots of ben­e­fits and am very ex­cited about the an­nounce­ment.”

Palmer: Long-term deal

MSV has gained con­trol of Don­ing­ton op­er­a­tions

“Jonathan will in­vest – we’re ex­cited” Christo­pher Tate

Palmer adds to port­fo­lio

Vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing spec­ta­tors, are at heart of Palmer’s plans

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