Pierre Fillon : We are acting responsibly

Pierre Fillon : We are acting responsibly

The president of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest answers the questions we're all asking in the light of the coronavirus situation.

Pierre Fillon, the ACO organises national and international events. You host events at your Le Mans circuits and organise others all over the world. Every day brings more postponements and cancellations. Have you any idea what the new calendars are going to look like? 

The current environment is extremely unstable, both in France and abroad. New restrictions and recommendations are announced frequently. They differ from country to country, depending on how the virus is spreading and the precautions taken. 

We are all in this unprecedented situation together. Flexibility is key and we are being as proactive as possible, working on a different set of hypotheses for each event. The ACO’s overriding priority is health and safety and throughout the organisation, including LMEM, ALMEM, M&A Prevention and 40 MA; the leitmotiv is professionalism and responsibility.  Following the latest government announcements, the circuit, museum, karting track and training school are all closed until further notice. These measures are necessary. It’s a question of public health. We know now that such steps are decisive in this matter. 

-How do you operate on a day-to-day basis? 

We are guided by our number one principle: safety at our events. And that extends to everyone involved: spectators, club members, partners, volunteers, competitors, security officers, emergency services and the members of the venues we go to.

We have been holding small and larger-scale meetings several times a day to monitor the situation. We have drawn up several plans and mapped out schedules according to championship, competitor, circuit, spectator and organisational requirements. Our ticketing services are also adapting to the situation. We are in regular contact with motorsport bodies, the FIA, FIM, FFSA and FFM and government authorities. 

- How is the sporting world going to be affected? 

The sporting world is shaken, but sport isn’t everything. We mustn’t forget that. We have to take a lot more into account: health and safety first, overall postponements, availability of organisation staff and spectators, and the financial impact for the whole ecosystem. It’s a question of common sense, coordination and heeding advice. We are acting in the best interests of all. But nothing is ever ideal. We can only minimise the impact of an unprecedented situation. In most cases we are opting to postpone events so as not to affect the whole championship. It’s like doing a big jigsaw puzzle together. 

- A few days ago, you announced the postponement of the 24H Motos and published a list of cancelled events scheduled for March and April. The start of the European Le Mans Series has been put back too. Two rounds of the World Endurance Championship, Sebring and Spa, are also affected. What about the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June? 

We postponed the 24H Motos because the date was looming, and it was better to give teams and spectators ample warning. The race was scheduled for April – just a few weeks away – and we had very little doubt as to how the situation would evolve. We chose to give everyone plenty of notice. Following the government announcements, we cancelled or postponed other events scheduled for March and April. 

For the 24 Hours of Le Mans (13-14 June 2020), we are monitoring the situation and following instructions issued by the authorities. We shall announce our decision on 15 April. Whatever happens, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will go ahead this year. 

- Is all this affecting the bottom line, for the European Le Mans Series and the FIA WEC?  Is the remainder of the season in jeopardy? 

Sebring was cancelled in light of the travel restrictions applied by the USA. We were planning to present the ACO-IMSA merger project and the technical details for LMDh at the event. We’ll set up a separate press conference as soon as possible. As for the European Le Mans Series, we had to assess the situation and act accordingly. We consider the national and international picture every day. It’s not easy, it’s not simple, but we’re doing our best to soften the blow for all concerned. Yes, our schedules are affected, but we have no choice but to rework them and draw up new ones.  

- What is the economic impact on the ACO? Have you looked into it yet?  

Now is not the time to be looking at balance sheets. We’re concentrating on finding solutions to suit everyone. Health and safety take precedence at all our events. We know our limits and we can estimate the economic impact, but for the moment it is time to take action. We have to pull together. Rather than single out problems, we are busy trying to stabilise the situation and stay on top of things. We prefer to postpone events so they can go ahead later and we can honour our contracts with clients, suppliers and partners. 

- The ACO employs 200 people. How are you coping? Are your staff working from home? Is anyone ill? 

Since the announcement that schools would be closed, working from home has been encouraged when viable. Staff who need to look after children are allowed paid leave. Protective measures are applied in the workplace and we encourage others to comply too. Business travel has been restricted. Meetings are in small groups, with the appropriate distance between people. We use videoconferencing whenever possible. Generally speaking, we comply strictly with guidelines. These are all sensible – vital – precautions. 

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