Spectators will not be allowed at this weekend's British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) season opener at Donington Park after the UK government classified the series as an 'elite' sport.
The Autocar-backed championship will begin a delayed nine-event, 27-race season this weekend at the Leicestershire circuit, which had planned to allow a limited number of fans to attend.
Circuit owner Motorsport Vision (MSV) has allowed a limited number of spectators at club events held at its various circuits since 11 July and it said plans to allow fans who had pre-booked tickets to attend this weekend's BTCC event had been signed off by local authorities.
But MSV said the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has classed the BTCC, the country's highest-level championship, an 'elite' sport. That requires it to adopt additional measures as part of a 'pathway' to return, which currently prevents spectators from attending.
In a statement, MSV said: "MSV has been allowing the safe return of a modest number of spectators to its race events since 11 July, with a comprehensive range of measures in place to comply with government Covid-Secure guidelines. These race meetings have all run extremely successfully, with much positive feedback from visitors.
"We have worked closely with North West Leicestershire District Council and Leicestershire County Council on our plans to welcome spectators to the BTCC event this weekend. A multi-agency Safety Advisory Group approved MSV's Covid-Secure policies and confirmed its support for our plans for the opening round of BTCC at Donington Park.
"This approval was subject only to the DCMS being satisfied that BTCC is not elite sport. Regrettably, following consultation, DCMS has confirmed today that this is not the case.
"This decision has nothing to do with MSV's comprehensive Covid-Secure procedures for keeping our customers and staff safe, but requires that an event including a round of BTCC, as the leading car championship in the UK, must follow the government's five-stage elite sport pathway with spectators presently unable to attend."
MSV added that although it supported the need for rules to reintroduce crowds to venues such as football grounds, "circuit venues are by their very nature wide open spaces and have ample room to enable social distancing across dozens of spectator viewing areas.
"We are therefore very disappointed and frustrated by this turn of events and are so sorry for the inconvenience this decision will cause to the fans we were expecting to welcome this weekend."
Circuit bosses said they will contact season ticket holders and those who have already purchased tickets, and noted that spectators will be allowed at all its non-BTCC events.