Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Sunday, 1 November 2009

Donington Park track owner dies

Tom Wheatcroft

BBC F1 team remember Donington owner

Donington Park motor racing track owner Tom Wheatcroft has died after a long illness, his spokesman has confirmed.

Mr Wheatcroft, who was 87 years old, bought Donington for £100,000 in 1971 and restored the circuit.

He brought the European Grand Prix to the site in 1993, an event widely remembered as one of the late Ayrton Senna's best races.

But last week hopes to hold the British Grand Prix there were dashed when site redevelopers failed to raise the cash.

Martin Whitmarsh, principal for Formula One team McLaren Mercedes, said Mr Wheatcroft had made a massive contribution to motorsport in Britain.

"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.

Tom Wheatcroft
Tom Wheatcroft began watching racing at the circuit in the 1930s

"He was a larger-than-life character and an always-engaging conversationalist. 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 be very much missed."

Mr Wheatcroft's interest in motor racing was sparked in the 1930s when he would watch races at Donington, his local track.

He went on to build up a successful property business and when the estate fell into disrepair, after being used as a World War II Army base, he restored the track to its former glory.

The father-of-seven rebuilt the circuit and amassed the largest collection of motor racing cars in the world at the site.

In 2007 he agreed a 150-year lease of the land on which the circuit and Donington Grand Prix Exhibition museum are sited to Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd.

It was Donington Ventures which failed to raise the cash to upgrade the track so that the British F1 Grand Prix could be staged there.

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