The disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. RACER.com is sharing stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.
With the COVID-19 situation continuing to hit the motorsport industry hard, privateer teams are all busy behind the scenes working on a solution to see them through until racing resumes. Anglo-American FIA World Endurance Championship team United Autosports is no exception.
Based in Yorkshire, England, the team has been expanding in recent years. Last year it moved into a new facility and has continued to invest in its world-leading LMP2 and LMP3 operation that runs multiple full-season cars in the European Le Mans Series’ LMP2 and LMP3 classes, the Michelin Le Mans Cup and a single ORECA in the FIA WEC.
Team co-owner Richard Dean tells RACER he’s it’s been difficult, but that he is thankful that the team is in a better position than many at the moment due to the size of its operation.
“We’re all responsible right now for our own businesses and staff, bearing in mind that motor racing isn’t the most important thing,” he says.
“It’s been tough because we moved into a new 62,000 square feet facility a year ago and we’ve got 40-46 staff that rely on us for their income. We’ve done what everyone else has had to do. Everyone that can work from home is at home, and we have a skeleton staff doing what we really need to do that can’t be done from home. When you have a building that size now and a fleet of nine articulated trucks and vans, there’s an element of security and health and safety that doesn’t go away.
“We’re operating on the bare minimum. We’ve had a push to ensure we can come out and race on short notice, whenever we can. It’s a decent position. I’d prefer not to have the overheads we have, but we’re in a better position than most. We’ve had an incredible response from our customers and staff. Everything is in position to ride it out. We’re probably a week away from being able to load and go.”
2020 is set to be the first year for the new generation of LMP3 cars from Ligier, Ginetta, Duqueine and Adess, which have all homologated their cars ready for competition in the European Le Mans Series, Ultimate Cup, Michelin Le Mans Cup and Asian Le Mans Series.
Last weekend would have been the race debut of United’s brand-new Ligier JS P320 LMP3 cars at Barcelona. But the ELMS and Le Mans Cup calendar has been, predictably, revised, with the opening races pushed back to later in the year.
United is ready to go racing with its new chassis despite the delay and the inability to go testing. It received and tested its brand-new JSP320s chassis before the COVID-19 situation worsened back in early March.
The pandemic has put the brakes on this transition to the new generation of LMP3 cars, the team having all its ducks in a row but no race meetings to attend – a stark contrast to the transition United underwent last year when it changed from Ligier to ORECA in LMP2 during the racing season.
As for the WEC side of things, the team was already out in Sebring with the car and equipment when the race was cancelled. The freight, which was sent back to Europe immediately after the cancellation, is due to arrive back at the workshop any time now.
“I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a long lead time for when we need to get into the containers and onto that equipment,” Dean says. “Everything was ready for a two day test and a race weekend, so the preparation was already done.
“It’s hard to find positivity out of this, but when the WEC race was postponed, that’s what we did. We got everyone in and took a look at all the jobs the we always run out of time to do on the job list, our ‘wouldn’t it be nice?’ list. We’ve subsequently started on those projects, delegated them all out. We had 10 days before we’ve had to work from home.
“There’s always plenty to do. What we wanted to do regarding the new workshop requires further investment, and right now it’s a brave time to be investing your money into nicer things.
“But the important thing is that nobody wants to see anybody in dire trouble, be it health or business. I’m hearing of some teams that have closed their doors and laid people off immediately. We haven’t laid anyone off, everyone that relies on us to get their income is getting their income. We’ve deferred outgoings where we can, as our priority is our staff.”