Green Light for Donington Grand Prix

The latest developments in preperation for 2010.

Donington Park took an important step nearer to staging the 2010 British Grand Prix when on 8th January North West Leicestershire District Council passed plans for the �100m redevelopment of the circuit. Five weeks later, Donington Chief Executive Simon Gillett unveiled a race simulator in the Grand Prix Museum, for the public to experience the new circuit layout. He believes the circuit will become one of the best in the world.

The announcement that Donington will stage the race for ten years came on the eve of Lewis Hamilton's 2008 victory at Silverstone. It stunned the motor racing world, but it has been widely accepted that the move has safeguarded the future of the race. The British Racing Drivers Club, which runs Silverstone, had been reluctant to make the investment that F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone felt was necessary to bring their track up to modern standards and the race was under threat despite the bulk of the industry being based in England.

For Tom Wheatcroft this is a dream come true, a dream he has had since he bought the circuit in 1971 and re-opened it for racing in 1977. The 1993 European Grand Prix was staged here at short notice, a highly acclaimed event won by the late Ayrton Senna in atrocious conditions, but the British Grand Prix remained at Silverstone where it has been staged continuously since 1987.

Talks between Ecclestone and Mr Gillett, whose Donington Ventures Leisure Limited (DVLL) acquired the lease to Donington Park in 2007, had been on going for some time. Mr Gillett told me shortly after the take over that DVLL wanted to bring the best events to Donington and did not exclude F1 from his plans. Even so, the news still came as a surprise. Key to the deal was the acquisition by DVLL of the circuit and surrounding parkland, some 800 acres in total, and the first time this has all been in the same ownership. Mr Gillett now admits that F1 was a fundamental part of his takeover. 'I didn't buy this just to make it one per cent better,' he says.

The �100m investment has begun with the creation of a new tunnel beneath the track. This will give infield access to construction vehicles, allowing work to proceed on the new pit and paddock complex without disrupting racing and other on-track activities; a full season's programme is scheduled for 2009.Work on the pits and the new medical and media centres should be completed in September. Aspectacular new clubhouse is also due to be built during the year together with several new blocks of hospitality suites. The Dunlop Bridge was taken down in February and the nearby exhibition hall will be demolished ahead of the changes to the circuit layout, which will be carried out between November and March next year. A new 0.7 mile long start-finish straight will stretch from Coppice Corner to the Melbourne Hairpin with cars reaching speeds of 200mph. The track will be extended with a new infieldsection from Goddards increasing the circuit length from 2.5 to 3 miles. This section includes a steep descent to a new hairpin bend and a steep climb to rejoin the old circuit on the current start-finish straight. The circuit layout from Redgate, through the Craner Curves and Old Hairpin, to McLeans and Coppice will remain unchanged, retaining the parkland character of the circuit, some of which still followsthe original 1931 course. The circuit width will be increased from 10 to 12m with the new straight being 15m wide.

Many questions have been raised over Donington's plans, particularly regarding funding and traffic congestion, but Mr Gillett seems confident that he can satisfy the critics. 'Today is about being positive and saving the British Grand Prix,' he said at the simulator unveiling. He intends to unveil a fans' debenture scheme at the end of March to provide the outstanding funding, and this could be the first 'public transport' Grand Prix. Congestion has been a repeated problem at meetings that attract large crowds.

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'Keeping traffic away is the best traffic management plan,' Mr Gillett told me. 'On site parking will be limited to weekend campers and disabled visitors. All others will come by public transport or "park and walk".We plan to park people around one to one-and-a-half miles away.We feel a 20 minute walk is acceptable.' The new East Midlands Parkway railway station is ideally placed to provide a rail and bus alternative for many fans. 'Absolutely,' Mr Gillett agreed. 'It was always part of our plan and without the station serious doubts would have been cast on our project.'The East Midlands is also gearing-up for an economic boost from the additional revenue that F1 and its fans will bring to the area over a ten-year period. It is estimated that around 250,000 will visit the area over the three-day event with many staying in local hotels. They will be keen to see the likes of Lewis Hamilton repeat his Grand Prix victory and push towards another World Championship title. Lewis, who won the 2008 Championship at the final turn of a dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix, last raced at Donington in 2003 when his victory secured the FRenault crown. Ferrari's Felipe Massa will aim to avenge his narrow defeat over the coming seasons. Among Lewis's current rivals is Renault's Nelson Piquet Jnr who raced at Donington on his way to the British F3 title.

Helping to unveil the simulator and new track layout,were a number of local sports stars including Ron and Leon Haslam. They are probably more familiar with the Donington circuit than anyone and both said they were excited by the new layout. Leon was about to leave for the first race of the new season in World Superbikes in Australia having finished 2008 as British Superbikes runner-up.

Simon Gillett is naturally thrilled that his efforts over the past six years have borne fruit, but says the hard work has just begun. 'This heralds the start of a massive redevelopment project and a new era for Donington Park. It is an incredibly exciting time for everyone involved.We are delighted with the plans and when the work is complete we will have a facility that will be the pride of World Championship motorsport.'

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