ACO President Pierre Fillon says canceling this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans was never in question although he admitted organizing the event was “huge challenge” even with it eventually being held behind closed doors.
This weekend’s postponed French endurance classic, undertaken amid the coronavirus pandemic, marked only the second-ever running in September in its 88-year history in what Fillon has hailed as a success.
“It was a challenge,” said Fillon. “In the beginning of March we couldn’t imagine that we would be obliged to postpone the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“After that we postponed [the race] to September. At that time we thought COVID would have been behind us, in July.”
“We then realized that would not be the case.”
Fillon explained that an effort to initially allow limited spectators, grouped into 5,000-people “villages” spread around the circuit, quickly turned into finding a way to preserve the race without fans amid increased COVID-19 infections in Europe through the summer months.
“In France there is a restriction where you cannot organize an event with more than 5,000 people,” he said.
“Unfortunately after the 15th of August, we realized that COVID [would still be here] and it would not be reasonable to have a good race security, to organize the race [with fans] was too big.
“We are very sad on that. But it was very important to organize the race.
“It was a challenge because we worked with the local authorities. It was a big, big work for all of the teams and the ACO to be able to apply this protocol.
“Today the race is launched and it’s a big success for us.”
When asked if the race was in question of being canceled, Fillon stressed the importance of holding the event in order to preserve teams’ economic models, which largely center around the race each year.
The entire paddock was placed into a ‘bubble’ limited to 5,000 people, with marshals and other staff located outside of the Bugatti circuit enclosure not permitted inside.
Each person admitted to the bubble was required to provide results of a negative COVID-19 test, while wearing a mask at all times.
“I’m happy for all the teams and people that worked to organize this race,” Fillon said. “Of course we were very afraid to be able to have the race.
“It was no question to cancel the race because the economic model for the competitors, it would have been so difficult for them.
“Today I’m very proud that we achieved the race. Thank you to the FIA because they helped us to organize the COVID-19 protocol.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report