With the arrival of Donington Park there was finally a challenger to Brooklands' crown as the leading British motorsport venue. These superb photographs really bring it to life
As the UK's oldest race circuit still in use, Donington Park makes for a fitting venue to host a historic festival. Next month's race weekend will feature nine decades of motorsport reflecting the track's illustrious past.
Based in the grounds of Donington Hall, which was used as a prisoner of war camp during the First World War, former TT motorcycle racer Fred Craner connected up the park tracks to create the basic circuit layout. Just five weeks later the first race was staged on Whit Monday in 1931, and from then on it challenged Brooklands' monopoly as the country's only purpose built track.
Thanks to the LAT Archive, AutoClassics looks back at the well-loved venue's early days.
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1933: Britain's first road course
Two years after England’s first true road course opened, in 1933 for £12,000 the surface at Donington was widened for its first car race – only the third ever meeting at the circuit. The track was yet to be tarred, however, and it was only after this race that passengers were no longer permitted to ride in the cars.
1936: 300-mile grand prix
From 1935, the first 300-mile grand prix were held. Three overseas entries – Giuseppe Farina and Gino Revere in Maseratis and Raymond Sommer in an Alfa Romeo – helped to boost the numbers for the 120-lap race. Richard Shuttleworth, also driving an Alfa Romeo, took the win. In 1936 (pictured) Alfa claimed back-to-back victories courtesy of Hans Ruesch and Dick Seaman in a Tip C 8C-35 after almost four-and-a-half hours of racing, despite colliding with the Maserati 8C of Prince Bira.
1937: year of the Silver Arrows
For 1937 the layout was expanded, adding in the Melbourne Hill. Land speed record chaser Bernd Rosemeyer, in his Auto Union C, took the first win on the new circuit with Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola completing the top three in their Mercedes-Benx W125s. In fact, the top five spots were taken by Germans with Earl Howe the best placed Brit in ninth – despite failing to finish in his ERA.
1938: Nuvolari at 170mph
It all came together for in 1938 when 50,000 fans lined the circuit as cars topped 170mph. Tazio Nuvolari headed the order in an Auto Union, over a minute-and-a-half ahead of Hermann Lang’s Mercedez-Benz W154. When Neville Chamberlain wrongly declared ‘Peace in our time’, Donington was closed at the outbreak of the Second World War. It was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to be used as a military vehicle depot, before being recovered in 1971.
Images courtesy of LAT Archive