Stephane Ratel revealed there were concerns in the “last days” prior to the Total 24 Hours of Spa on whether the GT endurance classic would go ahead amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in Belgium and further lockdown measures enforced by government authorities.
This year’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli and GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS centerpiece took place three months after its traditional July date due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has since ravaged Europe again amid a second wave in recent weeks.
While having been announced as a closed-door race — running without spectators for the first time in the event’s history — Ratel said the race, which permitted up to 5,000 people at Spa-Francorchamps to put on the event, was still in jeopardy even after teams arrived and unloaded early last week.
“We had concerns in the last days,” said Ratel. “When we were here, the situation in Belgium got very bad. One of the biggest clusters is in Liege [the closest major city to Spa].
“You always have an uncertainty when hospitals are filling up and the fact that the [Deputy] Prime Minister in Belgium is in [intensive care]. She’s only 45 years old.
“Every day there were government announcements. At some point we were like, ‘We hope it’s going to be OK.'”
A first wave of country-wide restrictions was announced last week, which included the closure of bars and restaurants and an overnight curfew between midnight and 5 a.m.
More than 16,000 positive cases were reported on Fri. Oct. 23, marking the highest single-day of infections since the pandemic’s onset and compared to the 2,454 cases on April 15 that had been the most reported prior to the last month.
According to the Washington Post, Belgium’s infection rate is second only to the Czech Republic in the European Union and five times higher than in the U.S.
It was announced late Sunday that Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps would be closing its doors from Monday through Nov. 19 due to the high rates of infection in the region, with medical equipment at the track to be made available to local hospitals, which have been overcrowded in recent days.
Ratel said he’s “very happy” to have been able to put on the event as planned with extra protocols in place such as required negative COVID-19 PCR tests from all participants prior to arrival at the circuit.
The event ran to SRO’s Phase 1 operations protocol for COVID-19, which included the limitation of crew members and other measures.
“In the last couple of days we had a diffused concern,” Ratel said. “You feel like [the event] would not be entirely safe [of being canceled].
“We were reading the news, seeing the protocols and everything that has been put in place [in Belgium] with controls of everything.
“The seat was getting a bit hot.”
No Current Cause for Alarm for Paul Ricard Finale
The SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO said there’s no reason for concern over next month’s GTWC Europe finale at Paul Ricard, particularly with the Marseille region of France currently seeing lower infection numbers than in Belgium.
The Endurance Cup round is currently scheduled for Nov. 13-15.
“The Paul Ricard region, for the moment, is not a super red [zone],” Ratel said. “We will have no public so I think it will be OK.
“You always have an element of risk. You never know what’s going to happen.
“For the moment the Silverstone 500 should happen [this week].
“I know it’s all complicated but it’s different than Asia. With Asia [international racing is] not happening. But here, we can make it happen.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report