LONDON (Reuters) - A cast of top drivers will race in a virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans in June but the postponed real-life version must also happen this year, even if without spectators, World Endurance Championship (WEC) boss Gerard Neveu said on Monday.
The race at the Sarthe circuit in north-west France, now in its 88th edition, is the crowning glory of the WEC season and was attended by 250,000 people in 2019 with a large number coming from Britain.
It has been rescheduled from June 13-14 to Sept 19-20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but whether it will be held on those dates, and with a crowd, remains an open question.
“Will it be a regular event or an event behind closed doors? It’s impossible to say now,” Neveu told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
“When you organise Le Mans, you want to organise Le Mans with the public because Le Mans is more than the race. It is really a celebration that you share with a lot of people. It’s a very special event.
“It would be very frustrating if we have to do it behind closed doors.”
The WEC chief executive said the key thing was to guarantee the race, which is run by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest who set the dates, would happen because many teams had built their business model around it.
“If we cannot organise this race we will considerably affect and damage the business model and stability of many teams, many competitors,” he said.
“I am not speaking about the manufacturers, I think they have the capacity to jump from one year to another. But for the majority of the private teams it will be seriously a big problem.”
The new coronavirus has also led to the restructuring of the WEC season, which will now start in March next year and end in November instead of September to June with Le Mans as the showcase finale.
That will also allow coordination with the North American IMSA endurance season.
“The super-season is a model that worked once because it was 16 months, it was very special,” said Neveu of a 2018-19 championship that featured Le Mans twice.
“It was following the sudden departure of Audi and Porsche in LMP1 (the top category). But now we are not facing the same situation. We have the Le Mans Hypercar (category) arriving in March and ready for next year.”
Neveu said the main things the competing teams would be looking for in the coming months were stability and visibility.
“It looks crystal clear that the target for everyone in coming months will be to save budget and spend the minimum money.”
The esports event announced last week is also attracting plenty of interest.
Neveu said the grid was already full, with a reserve list needed.
“We will be able to do something very different from the real (race),” he said.
“The question is not to compare, it’s just to replace the empty box on the 13th and 14th of June by a real celebration of the Le Mans 24 with a very special race.
“We already know that we will have Formula One, Formula E, Formula Two, sportscars, professional racers and top sim racers,” he added.
The event will be broadcast around the world, with plans also for a virtual concert in the night and VIPs visiting the virtual paddock.
“It’s a fully dedicated event to celebrate Le Mans,” said Neveu. “Professional teams will engage the drivers and manage the drivers.
“Some will have the same simulator for four drivers in the same place, some others will manage the four drivers in different places all around the world.
“I know that Toyota have drivers in Argentina, some others in Europe or New Zealand, but they will manage that very well.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.