DECEMBER 15, 2008

More details about Donington Park

Simon Gillett was at the Motorsport Business Forum in Monte Carlo last week and gave more details of the plans for the 2010 British Grand Prix. Gillett said that he has been working on the idea for five or six years and that the idea came because he could not convince his wife to go racing because of the poor customer service: typified by aggressive security, poor food and poor toilet facilities. Gillett believes that the sport needs to focus on the customer a great more if it is to develop in the future.

This led to him taking a 150-year lease on Donington Park and then concluding a 10-year deal to run the British GP at the circuit between 2010 and 2019. The circuit is in the process of getting the necessary planning permissions for the development that is planned. Although the circuit will be upgraded, more than 60% of the investment of around $150m is going to go into facilities which will provide the circuit with sustainable assets for use at other times of the year. The F1 Media Centre, for example, which is required for a Grand Prix, will be used at other times as a state-of-the-art auditorium.

Gillett says that the aim is for Donington to become an entertainment destination first and foremost, with the racing providing the main theme, although the circuit also enjoys much success as a concert venue and for its weekly Sunday market, which boasts more than 300 stalls each week, offers free parking, a small entrance fee and generates considerable income for the track. The funding of the work is going to be achieved by a variety of different means, including the leasing of houses that will be built next to the track, with four-car garages for collectors and direct access to the circuit. There will also be a debenture scheme which will not only guarantee seating at big events but will also give access to an impressive new clubhouse and to VIP parking at the F1 event.

One of the biggest surprises is that Gillett has made it clear that cars are not going to be welcomed at the race and that fans will be delivered to the track using mass transit means. This is tied in with the construction of a new East Midlands Parkway station on the main railway line between London and Nottingham. He says that there will be special trains for the F1 event which will go from London's St Pancras to the new station and then buses will take the fans to and from the track. Donington is 115 miles from London but the train journey to the new station will be less than two hours. Gillett believes that this will guarantee that people will be home long before they would be if they were driving. He argues that many events these days do not allow cars to drive into the venue and that motorsport should not be any different.

Another spectacular idea is to close the East Midlands Airport, which is located next to the circuit. This will stop any interference with flights and will mean that the airport facilities will be available for the race, allowing large amounts of parking for park-and-ride schemes and providing the possibility of fans flying in for the day on more than 50 commercial jets, in addition to executive jets and helicopters. Gillett says that getting rid of the need for parking at the track has also opened up possibilities for much larger camp grounds, which will be developed with all the necessary infrastructure and access to shops and other facilities in the local villages. Working with the community, rather than against it, he hopes to convince the doubters that the entire Three City Region (covering Nottingham, Derby and Leicester) will all benefit from the project.

In the longer term there is a strong possibility that a light rail service will eventually be built linking the East Midlands Parkway station to the the airport and there is potential for this to be extended to the circuit. This will become necessary as air traffic grows and there is an increased need to decrease congestion. The best way to do that is with an integrated public transport network, which will encourage people to leave their cars at home.

There is much enthusiasm for the idea in the Three City Region as the locals can see how they will benefit from the event. Gillett says that sharing the revenues is the best way to get support for his ideas and to ensure that the experience is a good one.

The circuit's planning permission will be decided on January 8 and work will take between nine and 10 months. The circuit has 15 months available but Gillett says the credit crunch has actually helped him as more builders are now available.