Perhaps Palmer’s greatest achievement is that these venues, whose activities have expanded in variety and customer numbers, are now solidly viable. That’s quite a feat when running race circuits has traditionally been regarded as financially precarious, especially when potential customers have more leisure-time opportunities than ever.
“I enjoy business even more than I enjoyed F1.” admits Palmer, now 61. “When you’re a driver, there are pretty stark limitations on your ability to influence the complete operation you’re working in. Your job is to keep fit, stay out of trouble, drop into the car from time to time and do a good job of testing and racing.
“But in business, at every hour of every day you have the opportunity and excitement of making decisions that make a difference. I find that very rewarding.”
Two new venues have recently expanded the MSV stable. Palmer acquired a 1300-acre former airbase near Laon, northern France (pictured below), planning to turn it into a driving centre for customers right across Europe. Then came the acquisition last year of the UK’s original road circuit, Donington Park, whose chequered history reaches back to the early 1930s. In 1937 and 1938, Bernd Rosemeyer and Tazio Nuvolari took successive, legendary wins there in their rear-engined, 550bhp, skinny-tyred Auto Union single-seaters.
Donington’s one-and-only modern F1 race was the European Grand Prix of 1993, during which Ayrton Senna is said to have driven F1’s greatest-ever first lap, passing Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Alain Prost and Karl Wendlinger in torrential rain to win at a canter for McLaren.
Although the initial deal was done more than a year ago, MSV has only had proper tenure of Donington Park since the beginning of this year but has already completed an extensive array of typically Palmer improvements, with more on the way. A couple of imposing modern office blocks, one occupied by Formula E’s administrators and the other rapidly filling with MSV people, now stand just inside a grander, neatly manicured main circuit entrance.
Vast acreages of paddock space formerly covered with gravel (JP spits out the word “gravel” the way others say “cow dung”) are now extensively Tarmacked. Other big Tarmac expanses – called Black Lake and Heritage Loop – stand ready at the western end of the 680-acre property, perfect for car club gatherings and drift schools. There’s a welcoming new restaurant in the middle of the paddock called Garage 39 (there are 38 ‘proper’ race car garages nearby) and practically everything else that’s still standing has been renovated, repaired or painted in MSV’s signal red-and-white.