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Doonan: NASCAR Return Will Benefit IMSA Season Restart

IMSA “cognizant” of avoiding potential clashes with SRO America if events need rescheduling…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

Elements of NASCAR’s return to racing this month will “easily be applied” into the protocols and plans IMSA is working on for its own season restart, according to IMSA President John Doonan, who expects more details on its schedule to be confirmed next week.

NASCAR is set to hold its first race in more than two months this Sunday, with a 400-mile Cup Series round at Darlington Speedway, followed by additional mid-week races from both the Cup Series and Xfinity Series at the famed South Carolina oval. 

While planning to hold seven races across its three national series over the course of a 11-day span, all will be run behind closed doors with limited crew members and under strict safety protocols in mostly single-day formats.

Speaking to Sportscar365, Doonan said that procedures of its own are being developed through IMSA’s ‘Back to Racing’ task force, although the sanctioning body will be able to also take lessons learned from sister company NASCAR as motorsports works to resume racing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s fantastic that [NASCAR] can go back and they’ve got very strict protocols that they’re going to need to follow, which is great because it has safety as the number one priority,” Doonan said.

“The things that they learn will easily be able to be applied and that’s one of the benefits of IMSA and being part of the NASCAR family as well as the facilities that are in the NASCAR portfolio.

“Similarly, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and Sebring, we can then apply the learnings they have from the early [NASCAR] races and try and do [that] as soon as possible.”

IMSA is not slated to restart until late June at the earliest, although both the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and round at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park are currently in question due to the possible extension of government mandates.

New York recently extended its state-of-emergency order to June 7, while Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s four-stage reopening plan lists “entertainment/recreation” at Phase 4, although some counties in upstate New York, where Watkins Glen International is located, could be closer to meeting Cuomo’s criteria than in New York City.

The borders between the U.S. and Canada, meanwhile, remain closed for non-essential travel until at least May 30, with people arriving into Canada required to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

That measure, if extended into July, would not allow IMSA teams to travel directly from New York to CTMP on consecutive weekends.

Doonan admitted the developments amid the coronavirus pandemic have been “ever-evolving” but said they hope to have more clarity for teams and stakeholders in its next scheduled videoconference update on May 19.

“Number one, we want to be able to go back to racing as soon as we can and in a safe manner with with respect to our participants and some day, hopefully real soon, with our fans,” he said.

“Everybody’s really excited and itching for details and that’s our goal. We promised a two-week window of being able to do that. 

“We’ve got all of our promoters engaged on what’s going on in their particular state in the union and the different mandates that are coming from governors and local authorities and things like that.

“May 19 is a big day for us in hopes to be able to give [everyone] more details as we have them.

“If we have it before then, we would obviously try to get it out to the teams and personnel around the world so they can plan.”

IMSA “Cognizant” to Avoid Potential Clashes With SRO America

Should additional events need to be rescheduled, Doonan indicated they will make efforts to avoid clashes with SRO America.

Two series, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and GT World Challenge America powered by AWS, share a number of drivers, crew and PR members that could prove to be detrimental if both were to race on the same weekend.

“Through ACCUS, which is the U.S. ASM for the FIA, we’ve been in very close contact with all the other sanctioning bodies,” Doonan explained.

“Everybody’s got calendars that are moving like a chess board, but I think there’s a professional agreement between all of us not to step on each other as best we can even though it’s really challenging.

“There’s also a lot of factors where you don’t want to spread fan bases out and having fans choose. You don’t want to in any way make drivers and team personnel have to choose. 

“But I think everyone’s also cognizant of the fact that there are potential conflicts that are going to arise this year because it’s just not normal [circumstances].

“I’ve been in very close contact with Greg Gill [SRO America President and CEO] and his team at the SRO and Stephane Ratel as well to make sure that we are kind to one another and make sure that we don’t do that now or in the future in normal times.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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