Since the British Grand Prix contract was handed to Donington a year ago the project has slipped downhill. Its chief operating officer departed, its PR firm fled and one of its backers pulled out. More recently it has been on the receiving end of a lawsuit from Donington's owners, the Wheatcroft family, over £2.5m in unpaid rent. Nonetheless, Donington's chief executive, Simon Gillett, has continued proclaiming how he will host the race next year despite these hurdles, yet it has now come to light that he has tried, and failed, in this field before.
Writing in the Telegraph, Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt reveals that Gillett was a director and co-owner of a motorsport company which ultimately went bust with a £200,000 deficit in the amount it allegedly owed to its creditors. The company went under in 2005 and Gillett told Sylt that he had no involvement with it for a year before it collapsed. However, according to official company documents he never sold his share in the company and he resigned as a director just six months before it went into liquidation. The most worrying aspect of this is that the company was trying to get a motorsport centre off the ground. Sound familiar?
Six years ago Gillett fronted a plan to transform 400 acres of disused mining land in Wales into a motorsport centre complete with a 60-room hotel and conference centre. It is eerily similar to the second phase of the Donington project which is also set to see a hotel built onsite.
Gillett's Donington dream could come unstuck on 30 June as that is the deadline for the Wheatcrofts to sign off paperwork which will give him planning permission to make the modifications needed to host the GP. It would be no surprise if the Wheatcrofts don't play ball given that they claim to be owed £2.5m but if Gillett doesn't get their signature, he could lose the planning permission and the GP. Interestingly, this is precisely what sent his Wales project into the wall.
Gillett was managing director and joint-owner of Innovate Motorsport which hoped to raise £20m to fund the project. However, its planning permission application was turned down in 2004 for noise reasons and the impact on a local world heritage site. The financial mess that Innovate left behind is still being cleaned up.
Innovate was established in January 2004 and the business was registered at Gillett's address in Monmouthshire. Company documents show that he was Innovate's sole owner until February 2004 when off-road motorcycle race promoter Gareth Hockey took a 50% stake. In the same month Gillett and Hockey were joined on Innovate's board by Nicky Grist, former co-driver to late rally champion Colin McRae. When Innovate failed to get planning permission for the site in Wales its attention turned elsewhere and Grist resigned after only eight months on the board.
"Wales...soon became a non viable option, so other venues were sorted out. Donington soon became the target," says the circuit's spokeswoman. But whilst Gillett got Donington off the starting grid, Innovate went into the barriers.
Innovate's creditors forced the company into liquidation in August 2005 and the winding-up documents clearly state the reason for its demise: "the Company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business." It owed a total of £220,000 but had only £16,000 of assets leaving a deficit of £204,000. Legal firm Clarke Willmott was left out of pocket more than any other creditor with £64,116 still allegedly owed to it by Innovate. Publishing firm Haymarket, owners of Autosport, and motorsport clothing company Sparco were also due money from Innovate and its affairs are still being investigated by the liquidators with the winding up expected to be completed in the next nine months.
According to Donington's spokeswoman, Hockey took control of Innovate in March 2004 after Gillett sold the business to him. "Simon was not involved with the company for at least one year prior to its liquidation...and it never traded whilst Simon was there," she says, adding "the deal to give Gareth Innovate happened ... in early 2004, with Simon finally and quite unremarkably leaving the business at the end of the year, as he had been passive throughout that year, instead concentrating on Donington Park."
The spokeswoman says that Innovate's debts "had nothing to do with Simon, as his involvement had finished over a year before." She adds that "if records show any difference then it will be down to a records filing error."
But, there is a difference. Not only does official company documentation filed by Innovate conflict with Gillett's chronology of events, it also bears his signature.
On 26 January 2005 Gillett signed an official company document confirming that he then held a 50% stake in Innovate and the company never apparently filed any documents about the alleged sale of his share to Hockey. Donington's spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on this and we can only but wonder as to why.
What's more, in December 2004, months after Gillett claims to have ceased his involvement with Innovate, the company filed a document changing its registered address to that of Gillett's new address when he moved. If Gillett really had ceased his involvement with Innovate then why was it still registered at his address and changing with him as he moved? The final point revealed in the documents is perhaps the most telling as Gillett's resignation as a director was dated 14 February - just six months before the company went into liquidation.
So, aside from giving us a great insight into Gillett's track record, what does this entire episode tell us? Perhaps the most interesting revelation is how wrong Gillett's projections turned out to be.