DONINGTON COLLECTION, DERBY
Don’t pass by this Treasure Trove
It’s the finest assessment of the Grand Prix cars on earth. So why haven’t you been?
The museum at Donington houses the largest collection of Grand Prix cars anywhere in the world. There are over 130 Formula 1 cars, and if you include bikes, military vehicles and other road cars, there are over 300 exhibits. The Donington Collection is absolutely staggering.
However, it’s not just the numbers that amaze as the collection includes cars that were driven by Nuvolari, Moss, Senna, Fangio, Prost and Stewart. In other words, these are proper Grand Prix cars. Few people would deny that this group is worth well over £100 million.
The museum is open seven days a week, 359 days a year and it only costs an adult £7 to look round. Surely there are people queuing at the door? According to Kevin Wheatcroft, owner of the collection and of Donington Park, there aren’t. In fact only 22,000 pass through its doors a year. In other words, 61 people a day. After the disastrous attempt by Simon Gillett to host the British Grand Prix at the Derbyshire track and Kevin Wheatcroft’s subsequent reassumption of control there were rumours that the Donington Collection was being sold off to cover a £6m black hole.
“It’s like everything, isn’t it?” Kevin tells me in the Collection cafe. “There are always rumours. If anything goes wrong with Silverstone, the first rumour is that Bernie is buying it… You can see for yourself, we’re here and it’s open. Yes, one or two things have gone, but there are one or two new cars in, and that happens all the time.”
Born out of the late Tom Wheatcroft’s private passion, the collection is only still here, given the low numbers of visitors, because of Tom and Kevin’s personal enthusiasm. “The collection wouldn’t be here if it was a stand-alone business and you had to pay for the content. Absolutely no question, you couldn’t do it,” Kevin admits. “It’s only for the love of wanting to keep the cars together that we are here. You could argue the fact that it gives another dimension to Donington, but most of our income is from people who are here for twoor three-day events. They are on site, and they’ve got some spare time to fill.
“I suggest one of the reasons [for the low visitor numbers] is that many of us are so focused on what we’ve got, we think everybody should be as excited about it. In reality, this is historic motor sport. You’ve only got to look at the crowd levels at any historic motor sport event… The collection is just somewhere to look at old cars. That’s the bottom line.”
Kevin has many plans for Donington Park and the collection is certainly part of them. However, the main aim this year and next is to get the track back to what it was. After that, there are possible plans for a hotel at the track that could house the collection, or a building in the style of the McLaren Technology Centre that would be dedicated to the collection and to motor sport engineering. “We opened this building in March 1973 and it’s long overdue for a revamp, but I don’t really want to update an old building. I want something that stands the test of time. I’ve also looked at taking the collection on tour to promote it round the world, but it’s all so costly and there aren’t any guarantees.
“What I want to see is that Donington remains a motor sport venue. We’d like to build a hotel and various other things, and the museum could then play a much bigger role as an educational asset and a centre of excellence.”
If the cars quietly sitting outside Donington track are worth upwards of £100m, the thought of selling them must have crossed Kevin’s mind. Surely if this money could then be used to develop the track it would be worth looking into? “If someone knocked on the door with a cheque big enough do you say ‘OK, I’ve had a good 30 years doing that, I’ll do something else now’? You can never say never. Personally I wouldn’t want to but the reality is if the money was there to sell it, you would have to consider it. At the end of the day we are in the business of keeping Donington Park open as a motor sport venue. In order to do that it needs revenue. If the cash from the cars could be injected to make the revenue a more realistic achievement it would have to be considered. My heart is in the cars though, like it was with Tom, and I personally see there always being a collection here.
“I have to pinch myself constantly because when you walk round it four or five times a week it’s very easy to become blase with the fact that it’s there. I’d really like to see the cars out on track being demonstrated.” Although 98 per cent of the cars are on the button thanks to restoration and race preparation specialists Hall and Hall, Kevin is wary of how much this would cost. “The wear and tear factor is one thing, and then my strong issue is that we’re attacking their originality. By running a car you’re chucking a lot of the originality away in order to make it safe.
“In fairness we’ve had cars that have stood here for 30 years, then gone to Hall and Hall and they’re running in half a day, so the environment we’re keeping them in is a sound one, they’re not deteriorating.”
Donington was always popular with journalists, as a couple of times a year Tom Wheatcroft would take four or five cars out of the museum and ask various hacks to come up and drive them. To motor racing journalists this understandably amounted to all their Christmases come at once. Kevin has already pencilled dates into the 2011 diary to start the tradition again, but is keen to make them into something larger that includes the public. If this happens then there are enough cars in the collection to account for two Goodwood Festivals of Speed. In the meantime, I urge you to go and visit the collection. It truly is amazing.
Boys from the Blacktop
This may have been the slowest lap ever of the US speedway
On July 5, after the Coke Zero 400 race, work began on repaving the Daytona Speedway. The 2.5-mile tri-oval has been repaved once in its 50 years in 1978 and the latest project involved up to 80 workers, 50,000 tonnes of asphalt, 1,435,000 sq fJ of paving and 50 truck loads of concrete for the pitroad alone.
However the sheer size of the operation was of liffle concern to Bill Braniff, the senior director of construction, compared to repaving the 31-degree banking. “The biggest challenge is the banking,” he told me by phone from the US, “as you’ve got to hold all the equipment up and you can’t just manipulate it into position with brute force. What you end up doing is using heavy machinery to hold it up, but that can’t be so stiff as to not allow the roller leverage to move back and forwards.”
But not everyone is excited about racing on the new track, which will be used first for the Daytona 24 Hours in January and then the Daytona 500 in February. There are fears that the new smoother surface will produce NASCAR racing more akin to that at Talladega where cars run twoand three-wide. With this comes the added fear of a multi-car accident.
“You can’t be too cavalier when you’re smoothing it out as part of the challenge is being true to the original geometry,” Bill countered. “There’s definitely a bit of art mixed in with the science. Firstly, you can’t just rip off the old asphalt and repave what’s there it would be just as bumpy as it was before. So you have to smooth it out, but of course without changing the transitions into the turns otherwise the drivers will notice straight away. We’ve repaved tracks in the past and drivers have said ‘it’s too smooth, it’s too black, we can’t tell where we’re at on it’. You then end up striking it.”
The old track lasted 32 years, but as Derek Muldowney, executive vice-president at International Speedway Corp’s design and development subsidiary, pointed out it was definitely time to resurface it. “The surface was aging, it was essentially worn out. There was also the incident last February when a pothole shut the 500 down. We knew it was coming, so we were preparing for it; that incident made us think ‘right, that’s it’.”
Both Derek and Bill were cagey on the repave cost, but admiffed that a $20 million (£12.7m) figure isn’t far off. For that sum, though, Bill expects the new surface to last for 20 or 30 years. As for what the drivers will think, Derek says: “We know one guy who’ll like it next February and that’s the guy who wins the Daytona 500.”
Meet the Rocket Man
Brains behind Bloodhound bid has an unusual background
When Andy Green and the Bloodhound SSC try to break the Land Speed Record in 2012, a Eurojet EJ200 turbofan engine will take the machine up to 300mph. At that point a hybrid rocket will fire up, providing 25,0001b of thrust for 17 seconds an amount that will hopefully propel the Bloodhound, and a very brave Green, to 1050mph. The man in charge of this, the most advanced hybrid rocket ever to be built in Britain, is Daniel Jubb a 26-yearold who “illegitimately left school at the age of 13”.
Green is in good hands, however as Jubb is considered to be one of Britain’s leaders in rocketry. While talking to the rest of the Bloodhound SSC team last month for an update in On The Road, I caught up with Daniel.
Were you ever interested in anything apart from rockets? It’s always been rockets. From the age of three or four it’s been rocket-related in some way, shape or form.
How do you get involved in rocketry at the age of three? There’s a common young lad’s interest in firing things up in the air and making them explode. My grandfather got me a chemistry set and although there are certain procedures you can do with the manual, you always try to make other things. We started off with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar and trying to pressurise straws and baffles. It sat of went from there.
What did you study? I have an unconventional background for someone who is now involved in a project so strongly focused on education. By the age of 12 I was on the army ranges at Offerburn in Northumberland launching reasonable sized rockets, and at the age of 13 we (Daniel and his grandfather) decided to turn the operation into a company. I left school, probably not legitimately, and stated the company.
How did you persuade people to use Falcon Projects (Daniel’s company) without certain qualifications? It took a huge amount of effort and financial backing from my grandfather to get the business to a point where it had credence on the merit of what we were actually doing. When we approached people and were bidding for contracts everyone else would write a proposal, but we almost had to build the rocket that they were after, completely on spec, and then demonstrate it to them. Obviously if that was successful then great, but if it wasn’t it didn’t look so good…
How did you get involved in Bloodhound SSC? I’ve been involved since November 2005. In the early stages I became involved in the project to provide some consultancy on the selection of propellants and the capabilities of various rockets. Since then we’ve become involved as a product sponsor and we’re designing and manufacturing the entire rocket system.
Have you always had an interest in the Land Speed Record? I followed the Thrust SSC programme very closely as at the time, in 1997, we were making the transition from an amateur rocket programme to a commercial one. When Thrust SSC went round the country I remember gaffing my poster signed by Andy Green and Richard Noble at the NEC in Birmingham. It’s quite an interesting circle for me.
How far through testing are you? The full-sized rocket has only been fired once to date (top), but we’re now making the transition from the R&D programme to the safety and acceptance firings. We’ll complete five full duration tests and we’ll do some beyond the operational limits it will be subjected to in the car. It’s a bespoke system so it will never be fully tested until the car makes its last run and hopefully claims the 1000mph record. The chap who’s writing the risk assessment asked when the rocket is signed off for the application test. Well, when we complete the final run.
He must have loved that… Oh, he did.
Necks on the line…
A new system is helping drivers prepare for the strains of F1
A great opportunity any would-be F1 driver is the rookie test at Abu Dhabi after the final race of the season, where long runs mean they’ll be exposed to more g-forces on their necks than they’ll ever have experienced before.
If they can’t cope, it won’t look good. As Lotus Racing tech chief Mike Gascoyne told GP2 racer Rodolfo Gonzalez, “You can’t prove you are ready for F1 today, but you can show you’re not ready”.
Dean Stoneman drove the Williams FW32 at the test as pat of his prize for winning the Formula 2 title and spent time beforehand in a new style of neck training. Sports physio Don Gatherer is promoting the use of load cells. Instead of using a (now dated) weight attached to a helmet, Gatherer uses a load cell from BERU Fl Systems to measure how much force is put through the neck. He can simulate any F1 track and a full GP distance for this purpose.
When I arrive at Gatherer’s clinic in Aylesbury, Stoneman is strapped into a head basket. This is attached to a handgrip, which has the load cell inside. 411 Within five minutes Don has simulated a third of a GP distance and Stoneman has had 2.7 tonnes (the same weight as a Discovery 4) of force put through his neck.
The system has been used by a current F1 driver this year who manages five or six tonnes a session and will no doubt be adopted by many more next year.
The possibilities are endless and not confined to motor sport for example recovery from spats injuries and testing for muscular pain. As for Stoneman, the system provided him with one of the strongest necks among the Abu Dhabi rookies.