In the 1930s, Donington Park staged the first ever British Grand Prix, famous for the appearance of the mighty Mercedes and Auto Unions. In fact, Donington Park was the first permanent racing circuit in England when it opened in 1931. Acquired by motor sport enthusiast and team owner Tom Wheatcroft in the late 1970s, Donington has made dramatic progress and is now acknowledged as one of the leading motor sport centres in Europe. But it has since had a difficult history, with the operator, Donington Ventures Leisure going bankrupt in 2009 and losing the contract to host the Formula 1 British Grand Prix. The racing track is again owned by the Wheatcroft family.
Donington is a circuit of two halves: a very technical series of sweeping bends and undulations, followed by a series of short straights separated by slow corners. There are eight turns consisting of five rights and three lefts as well as two right-hand hairpins and the esses. The track has two circuits: Grand Prix Circuit (2.498mi/4.020km) and National Circuit (1.957mi/3.149km).
The section through Craner Curves and the Old Hairpin is a good place to experience the difference between world class riders and the also-rans, and the Melbourne Hairpin is a favourite for last-minute out-braking action. The lap record for the GP circuit is still held by racing legend Ayrton Senna – a possibly unbeatable 1:18.029 set in April 1993. The National Circuit lap record is held by Jarijn van Kalmthouf, 0:57.221 set in 2011.
The prestigious British Touring Car Championship, British and World Superbikes, MotoGP and Superleague Formula are regular attractions at Donington. Track days are also a big attraction here; this is when the amateur can take his or her car or bike out for a spin.
Access around the track is good, but if you want the good spectator spots, such as Craner Curves, get there early as they do get crowded, even when it’s pouring with rain. The grandstand seats are some of the best in the country in terms of track visibility and for an annual fee, members of the Donington Park Supporters Club have their own enclosure and low priced drinks.