Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft passes away

DONINGTON MUSEUMThe world of Formula One and beyond is in mourning with news of the death of Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft.

It was revealed that the 87-year-old, who had been suffering from a long illness, passed away yesterday at his family home.

Wheatcroft began his love affair with motorsport in the 1930s when he regularly attended a variety of races at the Donington – a circuit which he would acquire for £100,000 in 1971 after making a fortune from construction and property.

By then little remained of the circuit, which had been closed in 1939 and used by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War.

After ploughing much of his own fortune into redeveloping the site,  Donington was again open for racing in 1978.

Wheatcroft successfully brought internationalseries back to the track in 1987 with the British Motorcycle Grand Prix, a move which saw the layout extended to 2.5 miles and the creation of the now-famous Melbourne loop.

However the Englishman’s ambitions were finally achieved in 1993 when Donington hosted the 1993 European Grand Prix – an wet race which was unforgettable for Ayrton Senna’s first lap heroics.

The event would be Donington’s one and only Grand Prix of the modern era and any hopes of Formula One returning to the Leicestershire venue would not be realised until 2007 when the Wheatcroft family signed a 150-year lease with Donington Ventures.

Armed with a 17-year contract to stage the British Grand Prix from 2010, Donington Ventures set about redeveloping the venue, only to be thwarted by a lack of necessary funds.

The Wheatcroft family were not directly involved in the failed-scheme and arguably played a part in revealing its fragility when in April this year they launched a legal action against Donington Ventures over £2.47 million of unpaid rent, although the matter was later settled out of court.

“The term legend is maybe used a little too liberally in the world of sport, but without doubt it is justified in the case of Tom Wheatcroft,” said McLaren Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

“A tank driver as a young man during World War Two, he was a larger-than-life character and an always-engaging conversationalist, but he was also an able and successful businessman who contributed a lot more than many people perhaps appreciate to the story of motorsport in Britain.

“He will, of course, be very much missed. So, on behalf of all at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, I would like to convey to his large family and his many friends our sincere condolences at this very sad time.”

McLaren had strong links to the Donington owner, most notably with their own room in the Donington Grand Prix collection – an attraction which remains very popular with motorsport fans and reveals Wheatcroft’s extensive history in all forms of the sport.

A man who will be remembered by fans around the world for restoring one of the world’s most famous circuits: Tom Wheatcroft 1922-2009.