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Donington Park owner Tom Wheatcroft dies

NEWS STORY
01/11/2009

Less than an hour before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix got underway, it was announced that Donington Park owner Tom Wheatcroft had died.

Wheatcroft, a lifelong motor racing fan, bought the Derbyshire circuit in 1971 and immediately set about restoring the track which had hosted numerous legendary races and racers in the 1930s, the events which had first turned him on to the sport.

In 1993 one of his great dreams came true when Donington hosted the European Grand Prix, and though the track was merely used as a stop-gap by Bernie Ecclestone - Wheatcroft even having to pay for the TV coverage - the event went down in history as one of the true classics, most notably due to the performance of Ayrton Senna.

However, there was tragedy also, with Wheatcroft's protege Roger Williamson - a driver many tipped as a potential World Champion - perishing in a horrendous accident in the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

Wheatcroft was a true fan of motorsport, and his commitment to Donington and his cherished collection of classic racing cars is clear proof.

Sadly, in recent months, as he fought the cancer that was to kill him, Donington was in the headlines for the wrong reasons and only a few days ago it was officially confirmed that the Derbyshire track - now being run by Simon Gillett's Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, which secured a 150-year lease on the land in 2007 - was unable to come up with the funding to update the track and thereby host the British GP from next season.

On hearing the news of Wheatcroft's death, McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh summed up the feelings of many, not only within the F1 paddock, but race fans also.

"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.

"A tank driver as a young man during World War Two, he was a larger-than-life character and an always-engaging conversationalist, but 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, of course, be very much missed," added Whitmarsh. "So, on behalf of all at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, I would like to convey to his large family and his many friends our sincere condolences at this very sad time."

Pitpass and its readers joins Martin in sending its sincere condolences to the Wheatcroft family, after all, Tom was one of us, a true fan. However, more than that, he actually gave to the sport he loved so much.

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