PALMER LANDS DEAL TO RUN DONINGTON PARK
MSV boss adds fifth UK circuit to his portfolio
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