19.06.17 Peter Dias

Coachmakers’ visit to Donington Park


Coachmakers were privileged to be invited to a most informative day at Donington Park in March hosted by Liveryman Christopher Tate. Liverymen and their guests made their way to the historic race track complex by car or the very efficient train service to East Midlands Parkway. The track is easily accessed by road or rail links and makes for a splendid day out for the racing aficionado or just for a family day out.

Coachmakers’ visit to Donington Park

Coachmakers’ visit to Donington Park

Christopher – supported by his dedicated team – made us all feel exceptionally welcome and gave us a taste of the history and the inner workings of the track.

Donington Park was the first permanent park circuit in England. Its first motorcycle race took place on Whit Monday in 1931 on the narrow lanes of the Donington Hall Estate. In 1933 the track was widened, made permanent and became a venue for grand prix car racing. The Second World War intervened though putting an end to the racing and resulting in MoD requisition. The track became used as a military vehicle depot, post war it was left littered with ageing military vehicles and other paraphernalia.

It was in 1971 when local entrepreneur Tom Wheatcroft purchased the track and set about installing his vision to restore racing to Donington. He also founded the Wheatcroft classic car collection which is housed in the purpose built museum on site. The collection has been added to and now encompasses an astonishing range of military vehicles lovingly restored to their magnificent and in some cases terrifying former stature. To add to this, there are fine examples of Formula One cars from the past 40 years – a real cornucopia of motor racing heritage. If you are interested in seeing the evolution of formula one car technology, the museum is a must visit.

By 1987, with the staging of the FIM World Championship British Motorcycle Grand Prix, Donington helped turn the event around boosting spectator appeal and bringing record numbers to the turnstiles. Donington has become the favoured home of the Moto GP and British Superbike championships – the twists and turns of the course explain why. Coachmakers were treated to a tour of the track – we were fortunate enough to be able to pad the tarmac – freshly laid in many sections and also take a minibus lap of the circuit. What we lacked in speed we gained in Simon Diffey’s atmospheric commentary as we tracked the infamous circuit.

The track was playing host to a track day when we visited. A range of cars lapping the circuit proved that anyone can get involved from the humble road car to the souped-up hot hatch. Porsches, Minis and Jaguars hared past as we watched from race centre mission control under the watchful eye of the staff in their high tech cockpit. We had the fabulous opportunity to tour the pits and see for ourselves the sharp end of grass roots racing. Judging from the tracks left in the grass at Craner Curves, the notorious twists and turns are still a challenge for the accomplished race driver as well as the amateur. All surrounded by Donington’s signature manicured grassy banks that provide spectators with the opportunity to enjoy motor racing at its finest in the traditional park setting.

After lunch we had the treat of visiting the Formula E paddock. Alejandro Agag’s vision to found a series to showcase all-electric race technology started in 2014 and provides a fantastic breeding ground for the next generation of high speed racing thrills. Donington hosts the teams’ workshops in a purpose-built facility and is a home base for the series.

Thanks go to Andretti for allowing the Coachmakers to see behind the scenes and ask questions ranging from regenerative braking to battery life. We now know that if we want to charge our batteries efficiently, to keep them in the fridge! In all seriousness, the thermal profile of the electrical systems is key to the performance of not just the 28kWH, 200KW peak, 1000V batteries but to the whole racing performance. There are new challenges for engineering and science in racing technology.

We thank Christopher and the team for a superb day out. A visit to Donington Park should be on any Coachmaker’s agenda. Whether to watch the racing, tour the museum or to take in the rock music of the Download festival held annually. The entrepreneurial spirit of Tom Wheatcroft is alive and well at Donington but first and foremost it remains a world class racing facility and one of the spiritual homes of British motorsport.