United Autosports managing director Richard Dean says the British outfit is “looking at” establishing a satellite facility in Europe to ease pressure on its staff amid the United Kingdom’s tight coronavirus travel restrictions.
The LMP2 and LMP3 title-winning squad has been involved in several international races and pre-season tests in the early stages of 2021, while the UK government’s measures to limit the cross-border spread of COVID-19 have stretched its human resources.
The restrictions include a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine for arrivals from ‘red list’ countries, which affected some of United’s staff returning home from its LMP3 championship-winning Asian Le Mans Series campaign in the UAE last month.
The Yorkshire-based outfit ended up sending some of its 50 Asian LMS staff into quarantine hotels while others headed elsewhere for testing and further races.
United fielded an Oreca 07 Gibson in last weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Sebring, while March has also involved sending personnel to Barcelona for a Goodyear LMP2 test and to Paul Ricard for a pre-season run with its new McLaren 570S GT4s.
Dean told Sportscar365 that United has effectively needed to have a “new department” to address the complex and variable travel situation, and is considering a satellite base in Europe where several of its racing seasons are taking place this year.
“Financially is one thing because you have to pay for the privilege of being in the COVID detention center,” he said. “But it’s hard to get your guys to work while they’re locked in.”
“So some we had to send back [after Asian LMS] and just do the 10 days because we needed them in the workshop on the 11th day. Some came out to the States. I’ve been on the move since.
“We’re obviously trying to keep working and operating. I just hope that as the numbers continue to improve in the UK, those measures make it a little bit easier.
“Working out of a little base in the U.S and contemplating about doing the same in mainland Europe is on our list, if things don’t improve back in the UK.”
Dean suggested that a satellite base in continental Europe could ease pressure on United’s staff having to quarantine after every race event.
A new wave of European infections has led to recent reports in the British national press of European additions to the hotel quarantine ‘red list’ including France.
A European workshop could also save on the continual transportation of equipment across the English Channel through the new post-Brexit border controls. British citizens without a visa can stay in the European Union for up to 90 days in a six-month period.
“We’re genuinely looking at that [a European base],” said Dean. “What you can’t do is a three-day test and then 10 days locked in a COVID detention center, and then back out to another event.
“Because that 10 days is valuable prep and turnaround time. There’s a whole new department at United Autosports that I never realized we needed until the last 12 months.
“But it’s the same for everybody. I think probably it feels a lot for us because we’re in lots of different series and have lots of different activities.
“But we’ve managed to get our way through it successfully, without breaking any rules or putting anyone at risk. But it’s certainly not been easy.”
United has established a sub-base in Florida, where it plans to employ a small number of full-time staff as it returns to the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup with an LMP2 entry.
The American program has added another layer of complexity to United’s international operations, not least for team manager Dean who stayed out of the UK – his home country – during the six weeks between leaving for the Asian LMS season and Sebring.
“Travel for everyone has been difficult, when you’re trying to move 20 people here and 40 people there,” said Dean, who co-owns United Autosports with McLaren CEO Zak Brown.
“We’ve got lots of people moving around. It’s thankfully just starting to look like it might get a bit easier.
“It’s perhaps sometimes hard to fathom why the decisions are being made, but they are what they are, and you have to try to abide by them.”
John Dagys contributed to this report