FIA World Endurance Championship drivers have reacted to this week’s news that public access won’t be allowed for spectators to attend the 24 Hours of Le Mans next month.
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest confirmed on Monday that Le Mans would be going ahead behind closed doors on September 19-20 after attempts to establish controlled public access were scrapped.
The race was set to have a reduced capacity while ‘fan villages’ had been suggested as a way of keeping groups of spectators contained to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Porsche GTE-Pro driver Gianmaria Bruni said that a complete lack of fans takes away the “engine” from live sport and that their presence would be missed, however he acknowledged that staging races alone must be the priority.
“Le Mans without fans is tough, but without fans everywhere is tough,” the Italian told Sportscar365.
“The fans are the engine for all sports. When you watch TV, with F1 or football matches, there are no fans, no engine.
“Fans are really important because it’s everything about them if they are here. But at the same time, we are lucky in the current situation that we can go racing and we can finally start racing again here [at Spa] and then we go to Le Mans.
“It’s a bit disappointing that there are no fans, but good news that we can go racing.”
Jota Sport LMP2 driver Anthony Davidson described the prospect of racing at Le Mans without spectators as “hard to imagine”.
“There is so much electricity there, such a vibe when the fans are around,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest single-day sporting events in the world, so without the fans there it certainly won’t feel the same.
“Having attended the British Grand Prix without fans, it’s probably on par with that in terms of the lack of emotion. It hit home when I went to Silverstone and saw it first-hand how strange it is without the fans there, particularly at the start of the race.”
However, Davidson agreed with Bruni on the point of ensuring that putting on races without public access is necessary to ensure that motor racing businesses can survive.
“The fact that we are racing at Spa and will be at Le Mans, the most important thing is that the show can still go on,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s not the same show, but it’s essential that teams continue to survive in these times.
“That’s why there’s such a push to be back at the racetrack and to have drivers in LMP2 and GTE who are funding teams. That’s how this business model works, and you would simply have teams struggling to survive without being at the racetrack.
“Fingers crossed, step by step the motor racing community will start to heal. It is an expensive sport and this pandemic hasn’t been kind on any business out there.
“But you feel like there’s a real can-do attitude amongst all the teams in the paddock. There’s no negativity. Everyone is just happy to be back at the racetrack.
“That’s the main thing. But the show won’t be the same, and I can’t wait for this year to be over and for things to hopefully return back to normal one day.”
“People Will Remember” 2020 Le Mans Winners
Rebellion Racing’s Gustavo Menezes suggested that the winners of this year’s Le Mans will be remembered in a special light considering the unusual background to the race.
The lack of public access means the traditional post-race track invasion during the podium ceremony is no longer possible, while the stands opposite the pits will be empty.
“The compressed schedule means the margin of time for fixing failures and errors is very tight,” said the American.
“The mechanics should be changing a lot of stuff the Friday night before, getting little sleep and then going into a 24-hour race. It’s going to be tough for them, especially not seeing that main stand full is really a blow. It gives them a lot of motivation.
“And then obviously, if we can fight for a win, not seeing people from the podium is going to be memorable.
“People will remember the guys who won Le Mans with no-one there. But it’s nonetheless still Le Mans and we’re still in front of a worldwide audience.”