By Your Side
The global COVID-19 pandemic is putting a great deal of pressure on Britain’s 720 motor clubs, but Motorsport UK is pushing back. With all motorsport event permits suspended until the end of June in line with government restrictions, many clubs have found themselves with outgoings far in excess of money coming in.
Motorsport UK’s unprecedented funding package, the £1m Club Continuity Fund, has been put in place to support them. “Motor clubs in this country are the backbone of our sport; the fabric of it,” comments David Richards, Chairman of Motorsport UK. “Our community looks to us to provide leadership and help protect motorsport from the financial fallout of this pandemic. We have launched a series of financial measures that member clubs can access in order to try and mitigate some of the hardship they are inevitably suffering.” As has been proven time and again, in moments of great stress the UK’s motorsport community unites.
“There is a spirit that we are all in this together,” adds Richards, “be it the volunteers who have been helping the NHS or Formula 1 teams manufacturing medical equipment. “It is only right that Motorsport UK takes practical measures to reduce expenditure while launching these funds to preserve those responsible for organising events, without whom there can be no motorsport. We are custodians of motorsport in the UK and have a responsibility to our clubs to do all that we realistically can to sustain their operations at this uniquely challenging time.”
The purpose of the Club Continuity Fund, adds Motorsport UK CEO Hugh Chambers, is to ensure that the motorsport sector can rebound as soon as possible. “The fund has been created to support clubs that are most at risk due to the pandemic,” he says. “We are absolutely determined to keep up our role in supporting all of our members and making sure we are well prepared to restart motorsport as quickly as we can.”
“There is a spirit that we are all in this together, be it volunteers helping the NHS or Formula 1 teams manufacturing medical equipment” David Richards
Accordingly, the suspension of event permits is under rolling review. The fund is just one of a number of extraordinary measures Motorsport UK has implemented to offset the economic impact that the pandemic has wrought across the sport. The £1m fund has been divided into two equal parts: the Motorsport UK Club Continuity Loan Fund and the Motorsport UK Club Continuity Grant Fund.
Member clubs can apply for support and a panel will review each application and decide the amount to be awarded, as well as the funding mechanism. Those clubs that are most at risk will receive either a grant up to a value of £10,000, or an interest free loan up to a maximum value of £25,000. Clubs are expected to use all government guidance and support available to them before applying.
The Club Continuity Fund should therefore be considered a last resort for clubs who are able to demonstrate that, after taking all reasonable steps and without a level of intervention, they will struggle to resume activities as a direct result of COVID-19. The application form and further information can be found on Motorsport UK’s website (www.motorsportuk.org/covid-19/). Although motorsport activities have been suspended for the time being, many of the UK’s clubs have found creative ways to adapt. A Scottish club, for instance, has begun using video conferencing tools such as Zoom to prop up the social aspect of motorsport, while another in the southwest of England has created a virtual racing series to enable its members (and others besides) to get their racing fix from their own living rooms.
In his role as Chair of the Motorsport UK Regional Committee, Peter Weall has been in regular contact with many motor clubs over recent weeks. “The mood is mixed,” he says. “Many of the clubs I have spoken to across the country are worried just now. It varies depending on the size of club. Some are very small, only running one or two events a year, so they have low overheads and shutting down for the time being isn’t difficult for them. On the other hand, those clubs that have facilities such as a track or clubhouse – and so have overheads with no revenue coming in – are clearly more at threat.
“This isn’t only a problem for bigger clubs, though. Many of those are well-structured and can call on cash reserves. But the vast majority of the 720 clubs are small, volunteer-run organisations, often run by a tiny handful of people, and they can’t do so. In addition to the Club Continuity Fund, Motorsport UK has also put in place a series of webinars to impart practical advice to clubs of all sizes.” The clubs facing the most immediate threat, suggests Weall, are those with events cancelled at very short notice. In one case, a Scottish club had paid £6000 in venue hire fees for an event that couldn’t go ahead. The venue in question is now working with the club to find a new date.
“Many of the clubs I’ve spoken to are taking some time out to look at themselves, which is something I would recommend to every club in the country. They’re looking at themselves strategically to prepare a short-term exit plan for when the government restrictions are lifted, as well as thinking longer-term about their own sustainability. “Meanwhile, others are finding new outlets for their energy. For example, the Scottish Motorsport Marshals Club has set up virtual coffee mornings so that people who are used to seeing one another week in, week out, but now aren’t doing so, can stay in touch. I would encourage all clubs to keep in touch with their members during this time – some are proving to be better than others in that regard.” The Bristol Motor Club has taken a particularly proactive approach not only to staying in contact with its members, but also giving them an outlet for their competitive urges.
“The first event of our MX5 Challenge was scheduled for May, which meant it had to be cancelled,” comments Andrew O’Malley. “We wanted to give all the guys and girls involved in that championship something properly competitive to do to help them through this lockdown period – but it had to be something that could get their families involved as well.” O’Malley and his Bristol Motor Club colleague Andy Laurence came up with the idea of an Esports racing series, using the PlayStation 4 game Gran Turismo Sport. “Lots of our members had the console already,” says O’Malley, “but we figured those who didn’t, but were getting refunds for events that were cancelled, could use the money to buy one.
“Many clubs are taking some time out to look at themselves, which is something I would recommend to every club in the country” Peter Weal
“We tried to make the virtual racing challenge relevant to what we as a club stand for – affordable motorsport. That’s why expensive racing simulator setups are banned and everybody has to use the basic PlayStation hand controller. That creates a level playing field, making the challenge even more competitive.” From standalone week-long time trials, during which the competitors could spend as much or as little time as they liked putting down a marker, the club then progressed to live sprint events at weekends. “These are streamed over various social media platforms and they’re really enjoyable to watch. We release one competitor at a time around a lap of a given circuit and the fastest time wins. We regulate the type of car they’re allowed to use to keep it fair and accessible for all.” The virtual racing challenge is an ongoing championship and there’ll even be a trophy awarded to the winner at the club’s awards night later in the year. Upwards of 30 people have been taking part in each event and, crucially, not all of them are existing Bristol Motor Club members. “Everybody’s welcome,” says O’Malley. “We want to get new people involved in the club. Hopefully they’ll realise what we’re all about and become paid-up members once real-life motorsport is back underway.
“We tried to make the virtual racing challenge relevant to what we as a club stand for – affordable motorsport” Andrew O’Malley
Just like the MX5 Challenge itself, the club’s virtual championship has proven to be extremely competitive. “The fastest people have been knocking on the door of the top-ten times worldwide,” says Laurence.
“But it’s also a really good social occasion and everybody taking part has lots of fun doing so.” Nevertheless, the threat posed to motor clubs up and down the land at this time is a very real one. With measures like the Club Continuity Fund, Motorsport UK is doing all it can to ensure the UK’s 720 motor clubs emerge from the COVID-19 crisis fit, operational and well-prepared to get motorsport back underway in this country just as soon as it’s safe and proper to do so. More details of the application process to access Club Continuity funds can be found at www.motorsportuk.org/clubcontinuityfunds Here you will find a link to the application form, a Q&A sheet, a finances template and a guide to the application process.
Check out What’s On to find out about the Bristol Motor Club’s next virtual racing event, or visit the website