IMSA’s contingent of international drivers have been taking different approaches amid ever-changing travel restrictions and mandates.
With cases of COVID-19 increasing in many parts of Europe, and the U.S. continuing to see high rates of infection, a number of countries have imposed specific mandates for those arriving from overseas, causing logistical challenges for foreign-based drivers.
While having gained approval from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to travel to the U.S. through IMSA’s agreement with government agencies, drivers and manufacturer support personnel are now faced with the dilemma of whether to fly back home after each event or to remain in the U.S. for the balance of the season.
The majority of drivers, including Porsche’s Laurens Vanthoor, first came over in late June to quarantine for 14 days ahead of IMSA’s season restart at Daytona, with some staying through Road America before returning home.
They are now headed back to the U.S., for this weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway, but some are set to stay for longer than others.
“It’s not been an easy decision,” Vanthoor said. “Things are changing the whole time. I remember the first time we came over the problem was more going into the U.S., now it’s changed to going back [to Europe].
“When I go back to Germany, I have to do a COVID test directly at the airport, which is good when everything is negative. But if it’s a positive test, you probably have to quarantine for two weeks.
“If that happens it means I can’t leave the house or travel for two weeks. With the situation of VIR and [Road] Atlanta, it would make life difficult to travel to Atlanta.
“I’ve decided to stay in America because I don’t want to risk anything to miss a race.”
Fellow Porsche factory driver Fred Makowiecki, however, plans to continue flying back and forth between races, even under new French law that requires a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours at the time of arrival.
“For sure the situation changes every week,” he said. “That’s why it’s always difficult to judge. In France, you have to get a negative test before you board the airplane.
“That’s why it can also make a decision for you because for any reason if you have a positive test, [it would mean] I’d stay in the U.S.
“I will try as much as possible to protect myself through the situation and be aware of what can create a problem and be able to make the roundtrips safely.
“For sure the worst thing that could happen is to miss a race but I also want to spend time with my son in France.”
Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia, who along with Oliver Gavin shared a condo in Florida for a nearly six-week period this summer, is set to follow a similar strategy to Makowiecki in the coming weeks.
“So far Spain has been a little bit flexible on [travel],” Garcia explained. “I don’t think I’ll have any problem coming back between VIR and Atlanta.
“My plans so far are to come back, then go back after Atlanta for sure.
“Everything changes so fast. We just need to be ready to adapt and make everybody happy and not get caught into any situation.
“Now with schools starting again, it might get a little bit more tricky. Our kids go to school, so we need to see how the situation goes and plan race by race.”
Mario Farnbacher, who was initially planning to fly back after the six-hour race at Road Atlanta in early September, revealed that he may now be U.S.-based through the middle of October with duties for Honda Racing Development and Acura.
“I packed my IGTC stuff for Indy [8 Hour] already and have taken it to the States this weekend and see,” Farnbacher said. “If I don’t fly home in between [Road Atlanta] and Indy, I will be in the U.S. through the week of Spa .
“Until November, I’ll be on the road every weekend.”
In addition to France and Germany, the UK has also imposed new regulations, including a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival from a number of countries, although essential workers are understood to be exempt from that mandate.
Despite the constant travel challenges, Nick Tandy has praised IMSA for its efforts through the pandemic.
“I think we’re all really impressed with how IMSA has looked after everyone involved in the paddock over the last few weekends we’ve done,” Tandy said.
“We’re still playing it by ear at the moment.
“Similar to Fred, I’ve got people at home that depend on me also. When it’s logistically viable, I’ll be traveling back home.”
And there’s some drivers like Earl Bamber, who doesn’t know where or when he’ll return home.
“Whether it will be Malaysia or New Zealand, we’ll have to see the situation with the ongoing virus and which country is easier to enter to at that time,” he said.
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report