Brexit, Covid slows down cross-Channel motorsport

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Chichester (United Kingdom) (AFP)

As vintage vehicles of all shapes and sizes from the last century roared around the Goodwood racing circuit in England this past weekend, something took hold of seasoned observers: far fewer European cars and drivers.

Meanwhile, historic racing events on the European continent have seen a dramatic drop in the number of classic vehicle owners and British teams competing – a bigger loss for a pursuit that Britain has always dominated.

Industry insiders attribute the change to the coronavirus which limits travel and Brexit, which has made transporting cars and tools across the Channel more expensive and more expensive.

Opinion differs on the long-term impacts of the two on the economically valuable sector, with some predicting busy but more insular UK events as well as less competitive races on the continent.

“The British are number one in terms of classic cars … so without the British you will probably have 50% less crowds and competition,” said owner Calilo Sielecki, whose collection includes a 1954 Aston Martin DB3S based in the UK.

Twice runner-up in the famous French races at Le Mans – and a model similar to those driven by James Bond, the British agent of the 007 blockbuster movie franchise – he was among the British absent from the Monaco Historic Grand Prix in April .

This event saw almost half the number of UK based drivers or vehicles compared to 2020.

“We didn’t go (…) because it was complicated because of the pandemic and also because of the movement of cars,” Sielecki told AFP from the annual Goodwood Revival meeting, where his son Mathias participated in the DB3S.

The 63-year-old Argentinian said taking him to Monte Carlo next year was “not impossible” but the new “harsh” transport requirements could prove to be an obstacle.

– ‘Damage’ –

Carol Spagg, editor of Historic Motor Racing News, warned it was “too early to say” whether Britain’s departure from the European Union would have a lasting effect.

“The Covid situation has meant cars have not crossed borders in numbers as usual,” she noted.

Spagg is keeping a close eye on next week’s Spa Six Hours in Belgium, another major event, where 106 “healthy” British drivers are entered for their main endurance race.

Patrick Peter, France’s Tour Auto events manager, noted that his signature rally from Paris to near Marseille this month only attracted three UK-based drivers, up from 18 in 2019.

“We don’t know what happened for what (reason),” he explained. “But it is clear that there is a negative impact of Brexit.”

Others argue that the end of the easy cross-Channel movement of cars on trailers and mechanical parts since January could mean a permanent and damaging change.

Enthusiasts bringing cars to the Goodwood Revival meeting in southern England across the Channel had to deal with tons of paperwork ADRIAN DENNIS AFP

“You have to sort through all kinds of paperwork … it’s damaging – mainly on the continent,” said Hans Hugenholtz, a Dutchman living in Belgium who owns a fleet of classic cars, seven of which are racing.

“We like to race with the British and against them. But on the continent now the competition is just different and that’s a shame.”

– ‘Art pieces’ –

Hugenholtz, 71, was among the handful of Europeans at Goodwood, along with his 1959 Lister-Jaguar “Costin” and two other cars.

He moved it from Britain to Europe two days before Brexit took full effect in January to minimize looming bureaucracy.

Now when the veteran driver brings the valuable car to English events he faces “a tremendous amount of hassle” and expense.

Owners have to fill out lengthy paperwork for all cars crossing the Channel on a trailer and itemize each of the hundreds of tools that could accompany them.

The post-pandemic and post-Brexit world had made transporting cars and tools across the Channel more expensive and more expensive
The post-Brexit post-pandemic world had made transporting cars and tools across the Channel more expensive and expensive ADRIAN DENNIS AFP

They must also provide a deposit to secure customs duties and taxes, which owners say make up 40% of the value of their vehicles, typically hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Hugenholtz’s visit required the listing of 2,100 items on documents, which took three weeks and cost thousands of dollars in addition to down payments.

He urged London and Brussels to exempt vintage cars from the carnet regime.

“These are collectibles – they are works of art,” Hugenholtz said.

– ‘Roadblock’ –

Others in the industry seem less concerned but still have more questions than answers.

James Walker, whose Classic Automotive Relocation Services company ships cars to events, said the industry has yet to see “the full extent of Brexit.”

But he doubted it would prove to be a future deterrent.

“You mean very passionate people … who love to drive the streets of Monte Carlo. Is that really going to put you off in the long run?”

One such person, Andrew Hayden, who owns a 1962 Jaguar E-Type, takes a wait-and-see approach.

“There are a lot of races in the UK… there are a lot of choices,” he said, noting that European events now come with “a lot of hassle and a lot of cost”

Historic racing events in Britain and mainland Europe have seen a dramatic drop in the number of classic vehicle owners and British teams competing.
Historic racing events in Britain and mainland Europe have seen a dramatic drop in the number of classic vehicle owners and British teams competing ADRIAN DENNIS AFP

“It’s a roadblock,” Hayden added. “Right now, it fits in the ‘too hard’ box. The question is, will it get easier over time?”


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