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Team Bosses Reflect on COVID-Affected Season’s Completion

Directors from four WEC teams look back on the hurdles and solutions of the 2019-20 season…

Photo: Michelin Motorsport

Senior figures from four FIA World Endurance Championship teams have expressed satisfaction at the completion of the 2019-20 season despite the delays, increased costs and uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The WEC intended to finish its eighth season at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, but the headline round of the series was postponed to late September as a health precaution.

The new Le Mans date then overlapped with the projected start of the 2020-21 campaign, prompting the WEC to extend 2019-20 through to mid-November and convert next season’s calendar to a single year format with fewer races to reduce costs.

At the completion of a heavily disrupted 2019-20 WEC that lasted almost 16 months from the Prologue official test at Barcelona to the final round in Bahrain, directors from United Autosports, Jota Sport, Aston Martin Racing and TDS Racing explained the importance of completing the season and maintaining customer relationships through a difficult period.

United Autosports co-owner Richard Dean, whose team won both the WEC and European Le Mans Series LMP2 championships this year, described the fulfillment of the season and associated commercial obligations as “quite an achievement” for both series.

“We went into a phase of saving the business and keeping it alive, ensuring we could keep everybody employed so that we were ready to go at the best level possible,” he said.

“Clearly this final sector has been all about delivering the best job that we possibly can, on a very condensed calendar with additional logistical problems and legislation requirements.

“We’re not different from any other team in those stages. Some have successfully managed to keep everyone together and I would imagine some have struggled to keep their teams together.

“Putting the results aside, it’s quite an achievement from the whole motorsport world.

“It’s typical motorsport: the people involved are doers and problem-solvers.

“That credit also goes to the promoters. If we hadn’t put any races on, I would imagine we’d all be in a different position with some pretty serious issues.”

Jota Sport’s Sam Hignett, whose business runs two Oreca 07 Gibsons including one under the Jackie Chan DC Racing banner, added that the move to a single-year format will help teams to work through the economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.

“It’s a good adjustment, to go back to the standard calendar,” he said. “It was difficult running over the winter season, especially when we’re involved in other things as well.

“Next year is going to be difficult financially so it makes sense. This year, to finish what we started: all bar a couple of teams have done that.

“The teams need to be grateful to their customers for having stuck by them through it all. That’s the most important thing.”

Aston Martin Racing managing director John Gaw praised the work of national governments to ensure race team businesses could operate both home and abroad.

“It’s really important that we were able to do that and be able to finish the job in the championship,” Gaw told Sportscar365.

“It’s been tough for everything. I think governments have been really quite helpful in all the countries.

“Number one, they’ve enabled engineering and manufacturing businesses to operate during lockdowns, and at the same time they’ve supported companies with furlough arrangements.

“We were able to keep all the team intact by taking advantage of the [UK] government furlough scheme.

“I think the WEC have done a terrific job to finish the season and get the races run. We were quite lucky getting Le Mans done before the second wave started because France was particularly affected.

“Bahrain has been exceptional in terms of the way they’ve handled things. Yesterday the UK government announced that Bahrain has done such a good job that they’ve been put on the quarantine exemption [list].

“That shows you the job that Bahrain has done and shows you what can be achieved. It’s been really important to finish the season.”

While the WEC is running its expected eight races this season, this weekend’s second edition of the 8 Hours of Bahrain is effectively an extra event because most teams had already spent parts of their 2019-20 budgets on the canceled 1000 Miles of Sebring.

The short-notice cancellation of the Sebring round upon the introduction of travel restrictions for arrivals into the U.S came when the paddock had already been set up.

“This event [Bahrain] is one event on top of the agreement we have with our customer,” said Xavier Combet of TDS Racing which runs Racing Team Nederland’s WEC program as well as the G-Drive Racing LMP2 and Realteam Racing LMP3 entries in ELMS.

“For sure it affected the business a bit, but we try to work in the long term with the customer so it’s good that we maintain a good quality and performance.

“We are not complaining or afraid about what 2021 will be like, but of course we have done some compromises that have affected the business.”

Combet added that the pandemic’s challenges made 2020 a “strange year” to look back on. 

“It was a tough season because we had to adapt a lot of things in the process and the organization, with the crew and the customers,” he explained.

“People were a bit anxious about what happened, so we got a lot of questions from customers: ‘are we able to do the championship? What will happen if we can’t?’

“So we had to adapt and say, ‘keep calm, we are in control, we will do our best.’ I think the [WEC] organization did a good job on the relationship and all the information they share with us.

“In ELMS, they only cancelled one meeting in Silverstone. We of course had a look at the budget and removed that budget for the customer, because we had to be fair to them.

“It was just an adaptation but not a big hole in the budget. In the end I will say that it was a strange year, but we have made it.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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