Tom Wheatcroft, the owner of Donington Park race circuit, has died after a long illness at the age of 87.

Wheatcroft had been ill for some time and passed away at home with his family on Saturday morning.

The motorsport enthusiast was responsible for breathing new life into Donington in the early 1970s, when he used some of the fortune he had amassed through the construction industry to purchase the venue; which had closed during the Second World War.

Wheatcroft set about rebuilding the circuit and it re-opened for business in 1977 while the current Melbourne Loop was added in 1985 to allow the venue to host the British motorcycle Grand Prix, which it did until earlier this season when MotoGP visited for the final time before heading to Silverstone in 2010.

As well as on-track, Wheatcroft created the Donington Grand Prix Experience at the circuit to host his collection of F1 machinery - with one of the main attractions being the McLaren MP4/8 that carried Ayrton Senna to one of his best ever F1 wins in the 1993 European Grand Prix.

That marked the only time that F1 raced at the circuit under Wheatcroft's ownership - something which had always been his dream - although the sport was due to return next season after circuit leaseholders Donington Ventures Leisure Limited inked a 17-year deal to host the race from 2010.

However, that deal has since fallen though after DVLL was unable to raise the funding required to complete upgrade work, with the race set to return to Silverstone instead.

McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh was amongst the first names to pay tribute to one of British motorsports most respected figures.

"The term 'legend' is maybe used a little too liberally in the world of sport, but without doubt it is justified in the case of Tom Wheatcroft," he said. "A tank driver as a young man during World War Two, he was a larger-than-life character and an always-engaging conversationalist, but he was also an able and successful businessman who contributed a lot more than many people perhaps appreciate to the story of motorsport in Britain.

"He will, of course, be very much missed.

"So, on behalf of all at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, I would like to convey to his large family and his many friends our sincere condolences at this very sad time."

All at join the entire motorsport community in extending deepest sympathies to the Wheatcroft family.