Back in June the 24 Hours of Le Mans was scheduled to go ahead with limited spectator tickets. Thankfully on Monday the ACO announced that it would scrap that plan and refund all spectator tickets, opting for a closed-doors race on September 19/20 instead. The smarter plan, to be certain in light of the continued spread of the global coronavirus pandemic.
That plan from a couple of months ago would have seen the track split into four separate “bubbles” to keep contact between attendees limited, with completely separate track entrances, grandstands, concessions, restrooms, camp sites, and vendors. The track also planned to have cleaner facilities and put the onus of masking and distancing on the gathered crowds. Anyone who has been to the track knows that this is was a pipe dream at best.
French public health and safety authorities were skeptical of the plan, and issued a recommendation that the race either not happen at all, or that it happen without spectators gathered. A festival-scale environment which sees tens of thousands of fans travelling from all over the world is currently not a tenable situation. While it’s an obvious exaggeration, the long-standing axiom is that there are more Danes in France during Le Mans week than there are in Denmark.
Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest:
The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans will go down in the annals of history as, sadly, the world’s greatest endurance race will be run this year with no spectators trackside. Over the last few weeks, we have looked at many ways in which we could hold our event in September with fans present, albeit in limited numbers. However, given the constraints involved in organising a festival-scale event over several days in the current situation, we have opted with the local government authorities to hold the race behind closed doors. There were still too many question marks regarding health and safety. We know that our fans will be as disappointed as we are by this decision but, with public health in the balance, it really wasn’t a difficult call to make. You don’t compromise where safety is concerned. Fans will not miss out altogether. They may not be at Le Mans, but our media teams and service providers will bring Le Mans to them! We are sure that we can count on everyone’s support and understanding at this time.
There are currently nine American drivers on the Le Mans entry list, including Porsche factory driver Patrick Long and WeatherTech, um, heir (?) Cooper MacNeil, and ace gentleman driver Ben Keating. There is currently a travel restriction barring Americans travelling to France, so it is currently not known whether they will be allowed to compete.
Even without fans in attendance, the paddock will be a risky enough proposition, as 60 teams will be participating in the race with between three and four drivers per team, plus a few dozen support staff. Let’s say each team is 45 people deep, that’s 2700 people right there. Add in tire staff, catering, officials, corner workers, security, track staff, international journalists, and more, you’re probably looking at a gathering of several thousand people from all over the world.
As much as I love this event, having traveled to see the spectacle twice in recent years, I would not want to be in that mess this year for anything. Especially as this year’s race is probably going to be an all-Toyota affair at the front and only seven cars in LM GTE Pro.
It’ll be back when all of this is over. Let’s all be patient. Good times are (probably) ahead. Eventually.