On Tuesday afternoon, Donington Park was confirmed as the host of the British MotoGP round for 2015. Next year actually represents the first of a five-year deal awarded by DORNA, the MotoGP commercial rights holders, to the not-yet-built Circuit of Wales. As we know, construction of the new facility has yet to even begin so Silverstone and Donington Park both submitted their pitches to play host for 2015, and the Leicestershire circuit was chosen.
Bike Social sat down with Christopher Tate, Donington Park’s Managing Director, to get the full detail on how the deal was constructed, what swayed it for them and what changes have to be made to the circuit and its facilities.
Congratulations. How the deal come about and when did you know you’d be hosting the British MotoGP in 2015?
Well, of course it’s exciting but it’s been exhausting and a little nerve wracking to be honest. I’ve tried to maintain a silence throughout all this because I thought that was the appropriate way to deal with it. It was obviously always going to be a possibility that this was going to happen. I do know something about building and opening a race circuit, maybe others didn’t.
I learnt during that time at Rockingham (Christopher was co-founder) that never to say never. When a couple of likely lads stood up and said they’re going to build an oval circuit on an old ironworks in central England and everyone said it wouldn’t happen. But it did. So I’ve never doubted the seriousness of the intentions of those behind the Circuit of Wales. A lot of people knew that Silverstone’s contract was for 5 years and they were going to have quite a major re-think if they were going to carry on. Circumstances have changed, DORNA’s changed, the world’s changed. And so I learned very early on in my time here, and dealing with DORNA (via World Superbikes) that the strong possibility was that if someone was going to build a shiny new circuit in Great Britain then an organisation like DORNA was going to be more than attracted to it.
It always seemed to me that it was a little optimistic to be looking at 2015. Once it was clear, and this was some time before the public announcement, that DORNA were going to sign a contract with Circuit of Wales, then the only discussion to be had was with the Circuit of Wales. There’d be no use standing around in Barcelona saying “this is not fair, why can’t we have a crack at it”. So there was a conversation which went something like, “should you find that you’re not going to be ready, we’d like to be considered”.
That’s how it started. And in recent weeks it intensified. Silverstone put forward their best pitch and we put forward our best pitch and we ended up where we were on Tuesday (when the announcement was made).
But it was a question with Chris Herring (one-third of the Circuit of Wales leadership team) and his colleagues of finalising it on Tuesday.
We were prepared to make an announcement for a little while but the fact that MotoGP was held at Silverstone over last weekend, a number of discussion were inevitably going on and indeed at one stage I met Richard (Philips – Silverstone MD) and John Grant, Chairman of the BRDC. We all shook hands and had a little chat, making sure there were no cameras around and carried on. But the position is that we have been awarded the contract to be the theatre supplier to the Circuit of Wales; it’s their show and we’re going to do it for them.
Donington Park for hire
As things stand, this is a one-off opportunity for Donington Park to hire out its theatre to a major theatre troupe who don’t have its own theatre!
As things stand, this is a one-off opportunity for Donington Park to hire out its theatre to a major theatre troupe who don’t have its own theatre! The Circuit of Wales has a long-term contract with DORNA to run MotoGP in Britain but given their construction schedule, at the moment, they need an alternate theatre. What we needed to do is to see that we could manage it and we studied and worked for a long time to see if it was worth pitching, which of course we did do. And we also wanted to understand a great deal more about the Circuit of Wales’s internal structure. I knew we had the potential to work well together, I’ve known Chris Herring since the Rockingham days. It will become a competitive situation at some point in the future, not necessarily for MotoGP because that seems fixed, but for motorcycle track days and rounds of this or that series. For now we have to be realistic, we’re all in the same industry, there are 17 tracks already but there are only two in Great Britain who could have possibly competed for this job.
With the Circuit of Wales’ build schedule in mind, would you be in pole position for 2016 or even 2017 if needed?
Everybody’s eye is on what will happen. They are due to start building in the middle of this winter with a view to being ready in 2016. Having been through the agony all I can say is that I hope it works. It’s a tough business and this is a huge project they’re talking about, so in some ways to offload the 2015 race makes a lot of sense.
The plans are comprehensive and the rest of the industry, including the car world, may have had their doubts but we know that Carmelo and Javier (from DORNA) are astute business people and they are content to have what they have.
How do you think your pitch differed to Silverstone's and what swung it for you?
Let’s be honest, the easy default position would be to say to Silverstone “how much do you want to run it again, we could probably just press a button and we’ll carry on?”
I should imagine a discussion rather like that took place and I should imagine Silverstone came up with a number. We’ve taken an approach that reflects a higher fee and agreement on how one handles the costs of fulfilling DORNA’s operations manual. You have to provide what is required from the Medivac helicopter through more showers and toilets at the camping area.
Much like the new race this year in Argentina, they were given the very large, fat file and that’s what you have to do, tick all the boxes. Silverstone has a highly developed infrastructure, lots of tarmac and smart buildings but we have a rather different proposition to offer. Even though our facilities have been hugely upgraded and many millions of pounds have been spent here in the last four years, and I stress that we are with new owners, we are a new company and we are four years old. We are going to do it our way. We are right in the centre of Britain and we are right in the middle of the motorcycle industry where most of the motorcycles in the country are own so we want them all to come.
I was at Silverstone at the weekend and much as I enjoyed the high quality of the facilities, if you stand on a bank on the outside of the corner or in a grandstand, you are a very long way from some very small machines. Whereas if you stand at the Craner Curves next year when Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi are three-a-breast and not only does it set the heart a flutter but you are only 30-40 yards from the action, that’s the difference. And with that in mind, we have spent the last three winters completely re-shaping the whole area of infield at the end of the circuit near the airport, damaged by previous owners, but we have now got spectator banks which will open after this winter all the way from the side of Craners to the inside of McLeans and new viewing platforms all the way around and back down the straight towards the pits again, it will be accessible by a new tunnel and hard-core roads on the infield. It will be a great centre for the action. The layout for the spectators is going to look very different. And I’ve been a little mystified by some of the statements recently about people like to sit in grandstands. Not in our experience. At British Superbikes or World Superbikes we find that people like to move around so they can watch from different corners.
What about the circuit? Are we going to see any changes?
Donington is homologated by the FIM up to grade 2 which is suitable for World Superbikes. We had not gone the extra mile for MotoGP because Silverstone had the contract. There are now some requirements to do some updating. We have been told what they are by DORNA on behalf of the FIM and we are expecting a circuit inspection soon and that then sets our works-in-progress.
There are now some requirements to do some updating.
We are about to embark on another winter of massive expenditure, in fact we’ll be shutting the track from the middle of December and won’t be reopening until 1st February in order to do a great deal of things. We are now a profitable company and we are reinvesting that money. So, yes, there’s a bit to do but nothing extraordinarily alarming. But given that it’s to be a one-off event we are absolutely satisfied that we can satisfy the Circuit of Wales, DORNA and the FIM in what we have to do.
There are points to be addressed at one or two corners. There are barriers to be moved, fencing to replaced and the surfacing to be addressed, there’s nothing terribly alarming in there but every time you stop doing things to the track and you start doing things to its edge or its core or its perimeter, the bills start rushing past six figures very quickly. That will form part of all our winter works and we’ve costed all those out in consideration to our whole pricing structure for 2015.
A lot has changed here since the last time MotoGP was here. Don’t judge us by an experience you had ten years ago, come and see us, test us out.
Has a date been confirmed?
The date is an interesting one and something that slightly delayed this (the announcement). DORNA are not ready to announce a date yet because there are some possible new races for next year and possibly some that won’t continue next year. Traditionally MotoGP’s calendar follows the four-wheeled version and I understand that the first draft of that has left Mr. Ecclestone’s office so I’m sure all those things are beginning to get matched up. There’s no secret that we’d love to do it at the end of July because that’s the traditional date of MotoGP at Donington Park, I think it’s a cracking date and it suits us for a number of different reasons. We agreed to not say anything about a date on the press release.
To us that has a downside because I’m very proud to say that, on behalf of everyone who works here, that we have ludicrous over-demand for racing here next year. We have a very full calendar seven days a week already and that’s before we’ve started to talk to the motorcycle track day operators so not to know when we’re giving away a week is not something we want to sit with for too long.
Are you governing the ticket prices and car parking prices?
The commercial decisions for the ticket pricing will be controlled by the Circuit of Wales and we will implement them. We will go on sale with a limited amount of early bird tickets for a limited period and will use our experience of our famous June tenant, the Download Festival, where 120,000 turn up, so we know how to run an event in terms of renting fields from farmers and putting in bridges over roads and so on. If we are to replicate that then there will be a small charge. We are also talking to local authorities about park-and-ride. All of my staff who were in the Towcester postcode vicinity last weekend were trying all of the travel options available, we’re always happy to learn.
I think you’ll see highly competitive ticket pricing for the first batch and there’ll be sitting down and head scratching for the more complex camping and grandstand packages. Camping we’re very keen on, that’ll be a new experience, largely to the north and east of the circuit, beyond the airport and heading towards Castle Donington.
For the fans
what really matters is the fans interaction with the stars
Chris Herring and I share a philosophy that what really matters is the fans interaction with the stars. Albeit there’s not a lot you can do with the DORNA paddock being something of a sealed time capsule for the ‘ordinary fan’, for perfectly good reasons. But you can make sure that the fans’ whole experience is much more ‘in your face’ that what they’ve been used to at the more clinical, newer circuits.
Will the admission fees find their way back into the Circuit of Wales’ pot?
We have plenty of commercial incentive, if we do well and attract more people then we can share and so on. I won’t go into the commercial detail but we’re not just standing back and offering the facilities. Far from it, we’re going to be actively involved. What impressed the Circuit of Wales people is our genuine commitment to bringing on young people and they have to train up a lot of young people to run their event in 2016. So they’ll be bringing their people to shoulder-hang over all areas from ticketing to marketing to circuit ops. These are large complex operations, to actually make these things happen is an immensely complicated task and if we can help the people who will one day work at the Circuit of Wales then they saw this as a bonus.
Will the Day of Champions come too?
Absolutely yes. Chris is very involved with that and Riders for Health were kind enough to ask us if they could do something with World Superbikes this year which was worth doing for them. I’ve long supported the charity and it’s important we do it.
Chris Herring’s vision is that it should very much be a four-day festival. If people don’t want to go until Monday morning then that’s fine. We have a booking but we won’t be able to use the track! He’s talking about music and diversity in the campsite and on a large stage in the middle of the circuit on the flat surface there.
I suspect it will be on the same sort of date (as this year – last weekend in August). It was right that we were to make this announcement as soon as possible after the MotoGP 2014, I’m sure the fans will agree.
Like I said, we are the theatre that’s being hired so I have to sit and wait. There might be calendar issues but we’ve got to work around that. DORNA will set the date for MotoGP and then all the other championships can slot in.
It’s important for the British fans to see British riders. Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow are likely to be on almost identical bikes next year, who’s your money on and will it impact on attendance?
Let’s hope they’re much further up the grid. And that is important. As much as I enjoyed Silverstone this year and as impressive as their crowd was, I think the reason why the attendance was slightly down on the previous year, might be down to the fans ‘knowing’ they’d not see a Brit on the podium in the top class. Last year Scott was a favourite to do well at his home race which may have contributed to the crowd numbers, and he delivered.
As Jackie Stewart use to say “the most critical part of any car is the drivers’ mind management”. I suspect the same is true for those on a bike. So if you’ve had a rotten season, you moral might be down and you begin to question all sorts of things so at the moment I think maybe not Cal but who knows how they will adapt and how much testing they get over the winter.
Finally, I must say that it is a team here that really knows what it’s doing across all the disciplines required and they'ved worked so hard even though I’ve been the one talking to DORNA and talking to Chris and so on. Kevin Wheatcroft could not have been more supportive too.
Early Bird Ticket Offer
Donington Park are offering a limited numbers (10,000) for a limited time (until the end of September or until 10,000 are sold)
Visit the website for more information visit the Official Donington Park website