THIS weekend sees the British Touring Car Championship return to Cheshire's Oulton Park circuit, but unlike previous years the motorsport event will be taking place 'behind closed doors'.

Normally the Little Budworth, Tarporley track attracts tens of thousands of spectators to its annual meeting, which had traditionally been held in May/June, until the coronavirus pandemic postponed this year's event until late August.

However, while the circuit will still play host to three races of the touring car championship on Sunday, August 23, along with a usual packed programme of support races including the Porsche Carrera Cup and the Ginetta GT4 SuperCup, all the action will be 'behind closed doors', with no spectators permitted.

This is despite the fact the circuit has already hosted the British GT Championship round on August 1-2, which spectators were able to attend.

The reason is circuit owners Motorsport Vision (MSV) had obtained clarification from the Government's Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) that the British Touring Car Championship was classed as 'elite sport', which means spectators have not been permitted at any BTCC events throughout August.

The same applies for the British Superbike Championship, which is due to be held at Oulton Park on September 18-20.

Currently, the guidance for September has yet to be finalised, with MSV selling tickets to the BSB Oulton Park event on its website.

Should spectators be permitted to that event, the number of spectators will be significantly restricted, with social distancing guidelines and extra hygiene and safety measures in place, with admission by pre-booked tickets only.

One event which spectators can definitely attend will be Oulton Park's annual Gold Cup event, a celebration of vintage motorsport, to be held at in its traditional August bank Holiday slot on August 29-31.

In a statement published when it was announced no spectators were allowed to its BSB or BTCC meetings in August, MSV said: "MSV has followed the government's guidance at every stage in our event planning.

"Regrettably, in our most recent consultation with DCMS, their interpretation of the definition of Elite Sport has widened to include BTCC and BSB, as the leading national championships in the UK.

"This position coincides with the government's decision to postpone any further test events with spectators at Elite Sport fixtures. Unfortunately this classification means that these events must now follow the government's Elite Sport pathway, with spectators presently unable to attend.

"In line with the wording of Elite Sport guidance, we have not considered these events to be Elite Sport, with the guidance focused towards sports such as Premier League football and Rugby League, which tends to attract huge crowds, mostly in stadiums, and typically rely on public transport.

"By contrast, circuit venues are by their very nature wide-open spaces like parks, with ample room to enable social distancing across dozens of spectator viewing areas. To be clear, the decision not to allow spectators at BTCC and BSB events has nothing to do with MSV's comprehensive Covid-Secure procedures for keeping our customers and staff safe.

"We hope that we will be able to welcome spectators back to these events soon, and will maintain a dialogue with DCMS and our local authorities to pursue that agenda, always with public health as a priority. We will provide further updates on BSB and BTCC events beyond August in due course.

"We understand that this news will be hugely disappointing and difficult to understand, and we are so sorry for the inconvenience this will cause.

"We were really looking forward to welcoming fans to these events and have worked extremely hard to provide a totally safe environment, liaising closely with local partners, so this development is very frustrating for the entire team at MSV."