6th April 2018
Ayrton Senna produced a standout drive at this Leicestershire track to win the European Grand Prix of 1993. Follow Jamie Stanley’s track guide to Donnington Park and you could deliver a performance worthy of the Brazilian motorsport ace.
Donington Park is one of my favourite circuits and I’ve been lucky enough to drive it in single seaters, sportcars and GTs. Its fast and flowing nature provides a great challenge to drive and always makes for exciting racing with various overtaking opportunities. Donington Park recently joined the MSV group of circuits and will benefit from a big investment this winter from Jonathan Palmer’s organisation.
Located just off the M1, Donington Park is one of the truly great circuits in Europe, with a mix of fast and slow corners and one of the most famous sections in the world – the Craner Curves. Highlights in the circuit’s history include the 1993 European Grand Prix, probably the most famous race won by Ayrton Senna.
The circuit itself is regarded as one of the big three in UK motorsport and is a firm favourite with spectators, drivers and riders alike. As a regular fixture on the British Touring Car Championship and GT calendars, plus many club racing events, most drivers will have had the pleasure of driving down the Craner Curves. Donington Park test days are famous for having a broad mix of cars, ranging from an Austin Mini to a 2002 Arrows Formula 1 car, plus everything inbetween. It will be interesting to see how MSV adjusts the test days to cater for this diverse range of cars that wouldn’t mix at any other UK venue at the same time.
Redgate is the first corner and is essentially a hairpin – the braking reference is the end of the chevrons at the end of the pit lane exit. The turn is very late and it is easy to be tempted into the corner too early. The apex is late and you can use the flat kerb on the inside and all of the exit kerb on the exit of the corner to give you more room to carry more speed.
The first part at the top of the Craner Curves is called Hollywood, but is usually forgotten about. This should be approached from the middle of the road and the car eased to the right gently to arrive on the right just as the circuit straightens out before the lefthand part of the Craner Curves, a slight dab of the brakes or a lift will settle the car before the left. In some cars this may be easy flat, but the challenge is not to take the left part flat, but to get the car back to the left before the old hairpin. At the apex of the Craner Curves you can use the kerb on the inside if needs be. It is important to let the car run out to the right-hand side of the circuit so as not to load the car any more than is necessary.
At this point you should be aiming back towards the kerb, about two thirds of the way along on the left-hand side. This is your turn point. You will be approaching this diagonally across the track and braking in a straight line to your turn-in point. The apex kerb has been extended with green concrete, but it remains to be seen if MSV will install track limit sensors here this winter. You will need to use all the road on the exit of the old hairpin, but be wary of the grass crete that is on the outside of the exit kerb. This can catch out even the most experienced drivers. You only need to come two thirds of the way back across to the right before Starkey’s .
As you take the apex, be careful not to be greedy and drop a wheel inside the kerb – this can cause a moment that you really don’t need at a very fast part of the circuit. Arguably, this “kink” is one of the trickier parts in the wet and you should avoid the kerb completely. As you head up the hill towards Schwantz you will want to turn in at the end of the kerb on the right, this gives you a straight line through Schwantz. If you take the kerb on the left this gives you a good straight brake for McLean’s. A late turn-in here and lots of the apex kerb, but be patient with picking up the power as you can easily induce understeer. Use all of the kerb on the exit, but be wary of the track limits and likely addition of cameras over the winter.
The run up to Coppice is steep so a good reference point to help with braking is the kerb on the left-hand side or the seam in the tarmac that runs across the track. The turn-in is very difficult to spot – it is actually just as the circuit crests. It is easy to take too much kerb here, so take as much as your car will allow without dropping a wheel behind the kerb. As the corner continues to open all the way through you want to open up the lock to minimise as much scrub as possible.
The run down the back straight is featureless, even more so now with the loss of the iconic Dunlop Bridge. Braking for Goddard’s is bumpy and your turn-in reference point is the chicane that would take you onto the GP loop. You want to take the apex very tight to the first kerb on the right to open up the second kerb and exit as much as possible. If you are pitting on that lap it is advisable, unless you are racing, to indicate before the chicane and stay to the left throughout the chicane. There have been many close shaves over the years with drivers cutting back across into the pit lane entrance that follows almost immediately after the chicane.
The longer GP circuit leaves the main track just before Goddard’s so on your approach down the back straight you will be on the right-hand side of the track and braking will be just before the crest in the road. Fogarty’s chicane is very tight, but to ensure a good run down the hill to the Melbourne Hairpin don’t forget the sleeping policeman kerbs that are installed for race events – these can do a lot of damage to your car.
Braking for the hairpin is tricky because of the downhill approach, so use the kerb on the left-side to judge your braking distance and then turn late and take a late apex to make as straight an exit as possible. Don’t be surprised to find some cars using first gear here. The final hairpin is difficult as it seems to get tighter all the way through. The turn-in point is around the final grid space, which you can just see painted on the track, but has been blacked out. It is important to be careful here as too much power too soon will either force you wide or cause you to spin.