Wheatcroft family in pledge over Donington Park race track
Donington Park's future as a race track will be secured and work to reopen it is under way, according to the family which own it.
Kevin Wheatcroft was speaking for the first time since businessman Simon Gillett's multi-million-pound plans to upgrade the track fell apart, leading to 40 job losses and casting doubt on its continued existence.
As worries over the mothballed track grew, over the weekend, almost 2,000 motor racing fans signed up to a social networking group dedicated to saving Donington Park.
After reading details of the campaign, Mr Wheatcroft, whose family own the venue, has been moved to speak out.
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"I can reassure people we are doing everything we can to get things back to normal at Donington Park," said Mr Wheatcroft, who worked there alongside his father, Tom, for almost 32 years.
"It has been a very difficult time for the whole family, especially with the death of my father being played out against the problems at the circuit."
Mr Gillett's firm, Donington Ventures, which had a 150-year lease on the circuit, was placed in administration in November, just over a week after Tom Wheatcroft died, leaving 40 staff to be made redundant.
Speculation over whether it would become a Formula One British Grand Prix circuit from this year raged throughout most of last year.
Mr Gillett, chief executive officer of Donington Ventures, has spoken publicly only once since the attempt to bring F1 to the track failed late last year, attacking the lack of public money to back his bid. Administrators failed to find a buyer for the lease and it reverted to the Wheatcroft family on Christmas Eve.
Tom Wheatcroft's son, Kevin, said: "We were given back the keys to the circuit and immediately started to work out what happens next.
"The first thing has been to try to save as many jobs as possible.
"As of this week, we have re-opened the museum and cafe and race control office."
Distressingly for Mr Wheatcroft large sections of the circuit were dug up last year as work started in anticipation of Donington Ventures finding the money to create a Grand Prix standard venue.
He said: "We have been assessing what is required to put things back as they were. We reckon this will cost in the region of about £600,000, but to get it up to Grand Prix standard you could add a couple of '0's. We want to get the place operational again.
"We owe it to the many people who have been loyal to us throughout this, including the fans, the race and rally organisers and our staff.
"We never ceased to be amazed by the level of love people have for this place and no-one has shown it more than the people signing up to the social networking group."
While all the speculation over the future of the Grand Prix – now bound for Silverstone instead – has gone on, Donington has lost the right to host the British Superbikes and Moto GP events.
Mr Wheatcroft said: "Hopefully we can get up and running again as soon as possible.
"We are in talks about British Superbikes and its return can't be ruled out at some point, and maybe even the dream of a Grand Prix will be realised one day.
"First we need to sell the lease to someone who can run the circuit on a full-time basis.
"It's too big a job for us and we want to identify someone who can take it forward.
"There are no shortage of people interested and we have found 12 potential buyers for the lease in just 12 days."
Mr Wheatcroft thinks people are more likely to be interested in buying the lease now the Donington Ventures era is history.
He said: "In my view, the debts and problems associated with the whole nightmare put people off. I think everyone felt misled by the situation."
However, Mr Wheatcroft is particularly upset that the bitter wrangling over the circuit took place as his father was dying from a long-term illness.
Tom Wheatcroft first watched motor racing at Donington Park in the 1930s and after becoming a successful businessman was able to buy it and restore it in the 1970s.
Mr Wheatcroft said: "My father lived for his work and motorsport. He put his heart and soul into Donington Park and he was very upset by what happened to it and the mess it was left in.
"I am particularly upset because the Donington problems took up time that should have been spent with my father as he was dying.
"Whatever happens in the future, I will make sure this name will always be synonymous with the park."
The Wheatcroft family were very moved by the tributes paid to Tom after his death.
"A great many came from the hierarchy of motorsport but it was messages that came from ordinary people that moved us most," said Mr Wheatcroft.
"At the funeral, we raised £12,000 for cancer charity Hope."
Mr Wheatcroft hopes to announce in the next two or three weeks who has bought the Donington circuit lease.
"We know the circuit needs a revamp – everywhere needs redecorating from time to time – but most of all we don't want it to lose its atmosphere," he said.
"It's a difficult time to speculate with the world economy as it is, but I worked with my father for all those years and loved it alongside him enough to know what it means to everyone to ensure it will be still be there for the future."