The FIA World Endurance Championship has canceled the 1000 Miles of Sebring for the second year in a row and brought in Portimao to host its 2021 season-opener in April.
The WEC announced on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic drove a decision to call off the planned Sebring race on March 19 before teams shipped their equipment to Florida.
In a statement, the series said that “due to the rapid evolution of coronavirus, as well as various changing directives from governments in different countries including travel restrictions, the WEC did not want to take any unnecessary risks.
“With freight due to be sent to the USA imminently, a decision needed to be made early to help teams prepare for the 2021 season.”
The new six-round season is now due to begin with the 8 Hours of Portimao on Apr. 2-4.
The Algarve International Circuit in Portimao, which hosted its first Formula 1 Grand Prix last year, is also set to host an official pre-season ‘Prologue’ test on March 30-31.
It means that the first four races of the campaign are to be held in Europe with the provisional dates for the 6 Hours of Spa, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 6 Hours of Monza all currently unchanged. Races at Fuji and Bahrain are also planned for later in the year.
The WEC has never previously visited Portugal, however the nation has been a regular fixture on the European Le Mans Series schedule since 2014 with races held at Estoril and most recently at Portimao, which joined the calendar in 2017.
Sebring’s cancelation marks the second consecutive year that the coronavirus pandemic has led to the WEC abandoning its planned race at the Florida circuit on the same weekend billing as the IMSA Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
The 2020 edition of the WEC race was called off less than two weeks before the event was due to take place, following the introduction of a U.S travel ban on arrivals from European Schengen countries.
IMSA is still currently set to stage its 12-hour enduro at Sebring on Mar. 20.
“Over the past few months we have seen that the pandemic is extremely unpredictable and after several discussions with key parties, the decision was made for the beginning of the season to remain in Europe where most of our teams are based,” said WEC CEO Frederic Lequien.
“The consequences of a last-minute cancellation would have economic implications for the entire WEC family, so we took a responsible decision.
“Portimao has provided some extremely close racing in ELMS and has excellent facilities, we are very much looking forward to getting our new season underway with an eight-hour race there in April.”
Portimao had been rumored as a potential Sebring WEC replacement for several months, with early indications of a 2021 venue swap extending back to the middle of last year under the expectation of an increase in winter coronavirus cases.
ACO President Pierre Fillon said that the WEC and Le Mans organizer is eager to return to Sebring in the future despite needing to make two consecutive cancelations.
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause issues worldwide and the decision to cancel Sebring and replace it with a race in Portimao was made following consultation with the FIA, IMSA and management at Sebring,” he said.
“We are saddened not to see our American friends and can’t wait for the day when we can return to the USA to race alongside IMSA for Super Sebring.
“We remain focused on continuing to build our long-term relationship with both IMSA and the Sebring International Raceway and the intention will be to return to Sebring in the future.”
The WEC yesterday announced a 33-car grid for its ninth season, which will signal the arrival of the new Hypercar class and the Le Mans Hypercar breed of top-level prototype.
2021 FIA World Endurance Championship Schedule:
March 30-31 – Prologue test (Portimao)
April 4 – 8H Portimao
May 1 – 6H Spa
June 12-13 – 24H Le Mans
July 18 – 6H Monza
Sept. 26 – 6H Fuji
Nov. 20 – 6H Bahrain