How racing is adapting to a socially-distanced world – National

UK club racing finally resumed earlier this month in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. But just how have things changed for the regular competitors taking part in their hobby, and what has become the new normal? STEFAN MACKLEY shares his experiences from Snetterton last weekend

For thousands of people – whether they be drivers, team owners or simply fans – the return of UK club racing earlier this month can’t have come soon enough. Driving into Snetterton on a grey and drizzly Sunday morning certainly couldn’t dampen this writer’s enthusiasm to finally be back at a race meeting for the first time in 2020.

Even before Sunday, my enthusiasm had reached fever pitch by attending the test day on Friday – in much warmer and sunnier conditions – when the paddock was full of racing machines from Formula Vee and Sports 1000 to Toyota MR2s and Renault Clios ahead of the 750 Motor Club’s meeting. It was great to see first hand that, certainly at a club level, competitors are more keen than ever to get back out racing following the coronavirus lockdown.

There was another reason to be even more excited than usual, as I wasn’t just there in my capacity as a journalist, but also as a competitor. I’d very kindly been given the chance to take part in the opening round of the 116 Trophy alongside ex-Formula 1 driver Martin Donnelly (below) for a feature that will appear in next month’s National supplement. It all added together to make the trip to Norfolk a special one.

PLUS: How Donnelly’s F3000 gamble set him on the path to F1

What was immediately apparent and really positive to see were the safety precautions that MotorSport Vision has taken at Snetterton – and its other venues – since reopening in May for trackdays and testing.

Hand sanitiser was widely available, social distancing measures were in place and strict limits on numbers allowed into the paddock certainly made me, and I’m sure other competitors, feel safe.

Safety in motorsport is certainly nothing new and, perhaps more than any other sport it takes the topic very seriously. Fireproof overalls, helmets and frontal head restraints are continually being developed and improved, and that’s before delving into the specific safety features of the cars. Safety is always on the agenda. And, from Formula 1 down to club level, it seems that motorsport has once again taken a lead when it comes to dealing with COVID-19.

The 116 Trophy was a perfect example. The two mandatory pitstops during the 90-minute race were both extended by 30 seconds to ensure that the main touch points inside the car – steering wheel and gear stick – could be sanitised before the next driver took over.

Attitude is perhaps the biggest stumbling block. You can have all the safety protocols in the world, but if people – some of whom have been carrying out the same routines for decades – don’t abide by them, then it makes little difference to how effective they are

Any crew member helping to secure the driver during a change was also required to wear a mask (below) and 750MC officials were patrolling the pitlane ensuring only one crew member from each team was on the pitwall at any time.

Nobody complained about the procedures and everyone understood the need for them. But this isn’t to say that motorsport has got things perfect or there isn’t room for improvement, and certainly the biggest change has to come from people themselves.

The previous norm of shaking hands was mostly bypassed from what I saw, replaced by the now-customary elbow bump, and at times it was noticeable that keeping socially distanced wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds during the cut and thrust of preparing/fixing cars – perhaps understandably.

It would have been nice to see more people wearing masks within the paddock as well. Attitude is perhaps the biggest stumbling block. You can have all the safety protocols in the world, but if people – some of whom have been carrying out the same routines for decades – don’t abide by them, then it makes little difference to how effective they are.

Certainly, it will be a few weeks, and maybe even months, before these new procedures become the new normal for all taking part. It certainly wouldn’t take very long for the message to sink in should a surge in cases within a specific championship or club suddenly appear.

It’s not just at the track where there have been changes either, as behind the scenes the 750MC has worked hard to ensure that competitors remained as safe as possible by allowing them to carry out online sign-on and self-scrutineering, as well as having a written drivers’ briefing.

When the frontal head restraints were made mandatory in UK motorsport there was uproar from a small group – as there always is when things change. I’ve no doubt there is another minority who feel the same about the social distancing measures.

The FHR and many other safety features before them became accepted over time, and I hope it will be exactly the same for the COVID-19 protocols – which are ultimately there to help save lives.

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