Sunday, December 20, 2009

So, Is Donington Park Finally Screwed?

Boremula One has officially ditched the idea of going to Donington Park. So has MotoGP and British Superbike. World Superbikes are as yet undecided, but probably giving Donny the boot too. So is this beautiful English track finally screwed?

The history of Donington Park as a race track goes back to the 1930's. Now, I'm no fan of modern Formula One motor racing, but the old Grand Prix machines of the thirties are just bloody gorgeous. Grand Prix car racing in those days was dominated by the two main brands of Hitlermobile: Mercedes and Auto Union, known collectively as the Silver Arrows as they ran with bare metal bodyshells; the traditional German racing white paint would have added a couple of kilos to the weight of the car and was therefore omitted.

These two companies might have been Nazi-sponsored at the time (much of their engineering expertise went on to help out the German war effort) but their cars were technological marvels. The all conquering Mercedes machines were given a good run for their (Hitler-sourced) money by the much smaller Auto Union company (now Audi), whose outrageous rocket-fuelled, supercharged V16 cars were driven by geniuses such as former bike racer Tazio Nuvolari, the Italian who was a legend on two wheels and four. These German "Silver Arrows" were best known for having outrageous amounts of power and speed (200mph on the right track) but virtually no brakes whatsoever, and their drivers were heroes: Nuvolari, Rosemeyer, Caracciola, Lang, Seaman.

Donington hosted these magnificent machines until war broke out, at which point the parkland track was turned into a military depot. Decades later, it was revived and rebuilt by the late Tom Wheatcroft, becoming a race track again in the 1970's.

Holding British Championship races was good, but the track was extended with the Melbourne Loop to increase the length to world championship distance in 1985. (Named so because the loop extends towards the local village of Melbourne, not because of the Aussie city.) It might be a nadgery little Mickey Mouse section, but it allowed Donington Park to attract some proper championships. Boremula One visited once, when psychotic genius Ayrton Senna won in torrential rain, but more interestingly the track managed to bag Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

The track's parkland swooping curves and hills made for excellent bike racing, with the scary-fast Craner Curves at the start of the lap being especially exciting. The Melbourne Loop was daft, but very technically challenging, particularly where it rejoined the original track in the final left-hander, a bumpy, dodgily-cambered corner where many top racers have fallen off trying to shave a few thousandths of a second off their lap times. That was also the corner where Carl Fogarty, in a rare GP wildcard outing, hit the wrong gear and was passed by Scotsman Niall MacKenzie on the last lap, with Fogarty hilariously claiming he ran out of fuel, despite riding around the entire slowdown lap to the pits... It was also the site of the first premier class victory by a certain Signore Valentino Rossi.

Unfortunately, the track was leased from Tom Wheatcroft by some people without his foresight and business acumen.

These clowns embarked on a multi-million quid plan to attract Boremula One back. They dug up the track in preparation for creating a new track configuration. Then ran out of money.

The track's still dug up.

MotoGP has been attracted to Silverstone, who actually have the money to alter their track for MotoGP use and will do so. Their head honcho is Damon Hill, who might be a former F1 champ and son of another F1 champ, but he started out on bikes and retains an utterly genuine love for two-wheeled racing. Make no mistake that he will do the best by MotoGP. The Silverstone track also has plenty of GP bike racing history, including the legendary battle between Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, with the cheeky Englishman flicking the V sign at the grumpy Californian hero at high speed (King Kenny got his own back by winning the race.)

The British Superbike championship has also decided to skip Donington in 2010, incredibly choosing to have an extra round at the very dodgy Cadwell Park track, which is completely unsuited to modern superbikes but is certainly interesting.

The organizers of the World Superbike championship have not yet decided to bin their Donington round, but who knows? If the track is still a building site they will have no option but to skip it.

So is Donington Park finally screwed?

Well, for 2010, probably. But cynics are predicting that Jonathan Palmer, the former (not very quick) F1 driver who owns several British racetracks, will step in and snap up the Donington Park circuit, tart it up and bring it back to racing condition. It's not clear whether that will really happen, but we'll have to hope so. It was a great bike track and it can be again, if somebody spends several million pounds putting it back in the condition it was in before being trashed by pie in the sky dreams of F1. Here's hoping.

1 comment:

mxyz250newb said...

I had heard the news about motogp ditching donnington a whlie back, and I for one am excited, silverstone is damn exciting, can't wait.