Donington Park is the UK’s oldest circuit at which motor racing still takes place – but did you know it was also once home to the largest collection of Grand Prix cars? Or that Britain’s biggest rave was held at the venue? Here are five facts about Donington Park!
Donington Park was the UK’s first permanent park track
While Silverstone is known as “the home of British motorsport”, Donington Park is sometimes referred to as “the heart of British motorsport” – and for good reason, too. Donington Park was the first permanent park track to open in the United Kingdom. The oval Brooklands circuit had opened in 1907, but it wasn’t until 1931 that the country’s first real racing circuit opened.
The circuit was TT racer Fred Craner’s idea. He was aware that the owner of the Castle Donington Estate was a racing enthusiast, and so went about gaining permission to set up a dirt track on the estate. The first motorcycle races at the circuit, held on Whit Monday in 1931, were attended by over 20,000 fans.
Donington Park hosted a Formula 1 race in 1993
Donington Park is one of eleven circuits to have hosted just a single round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The 1993 European Grand Prix is revered as one of Ayrton Senna’s best ever wet weather displays, as he scythed through the field on Lap 1 to take the lead. Senna had his first experience of Formula 1 machinery at Donington Park in 1983, driving the Williams car with which Keke Rosberg had just won the Monaco Grand Prix.
That’s not the only time that Donington Park has hosted Formula 1 machinery, however. The Gunnar Nilsson Memorial Trophy time trial was held at the circuit in June 1979. The event was originally to be a non-championship race, but most teams withdrew when the FIA refused to recognise the event.
Alan Jones, James Hunt, Mario Andretti, Nelson Piquet and Rupert Keegan are the five drivers who took part in the event. Jones won, setting a lap time over a second faster than the other four drivers. The meeting also included a race for historic F1 cars, with a line up including Juan Manuel Fangio, Jackie Stewart and even Beatle George Harrison!
Donington was host to the largest collection of Grand Prix cars
The Donington Grand Prix Collection opened in 1973 and comprised of circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft’s personal collection of vehicles. Set across five rooms, there were over 130 cars in the museum, including some on loan from their owners.
Some of the highlights included a large collection of McLaren cars – including the car with which Ayrton Senna won the 1993 European Grand Prix at the circuit; an extensive collection of Williams machines; plus the world’s largest collection of motor racing helmets.
Sadly, circuit operators Motor Sport Vision opted to close the museum in November 2018. The museum was considered unsustainable and many of the cars in the collection were sold back to their original owners.
Donington Park nearly hosted the British Grand Prix in 2010
Donington Park was supposed to become the new home of the British Grand Prix in 2010, having signed a 17-year contract to take over the event from Silverstone. Hermann Tilke was brought in to upgrade the track, and the event was to be the first Grand Prix which was accessible only by public transport.
The new contract was signed in July 2008, but one year later, it was apparent that Donington did not have the funds to fulfil the deal. By October 2009, the deal was off and Donington Ventures Leisure Limited was placed into administration one month later. In December 2009, it was announced that Silverstone had won back the British Grand Prix contract.
Donington Park was able to recover from its financial issues and re-opened less than a year later. Jonathan Palmer’s MotorSport Vision company purchased the track in 2017.
Donington Park hosted the UK’s largest ever rave
Aside from motorsport, Donington Park also hosts the Download Festival annually in the summer. One of the UK’s most popular rock festivals, Download has been hosted at Donington since 2003. The venue is no stranger to festivals, having hosted the Monsters of Rock festival each year between 1980 and 1996.
Donington Park also hosted the biggest ever rave to take place in Britain. One Step Beyond was organised by Fantazia in 1992. At the time, the event was dubbed the world’s largest outdoor all night party. Officially, 25,000 people attended the rave – though it’s estimated that at least 3,000 more people entered the event despite not having a ticket.