FIA World Endurance Championship CEO Gerard Neveu has given further insight into the series’ decision to cancel its round at Sebring which was scheduled for next week.
The sixth round of the 2019-20 season was called off on Thursday morning following the U.S. government’s enforcement of a 30-day travel ban on foreign nationals from the 26 Schengen Area countries in Europe.
This was done to control the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, which now has 124,954 recorded cases globally according to the World Health Organization.
The subsequent pressure that the U.S. government’s ruling put on the European-based drivers, team personnel and series staff resulted in the WEC deciding to cancel its race.
It was soon followed by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which announced separately that the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – which formed part of the shared ‘Super Sebring’ weekend – would be postponed to a later date.
Neveu explained that the 1000 Miles of Sebring was “going ahead” right up until Wednesday evening when President Donald Trump revealed the travel restrictions.
“Working in conjunction with IMSA and Sebring Raceway, and taking into consideration the advice from the WHO and U.S. federal and state health authorities that we had on each day leading up to Mar. 11, it wasn’t necessary to take this decision any earlier,” said Neveu.
“There were concerns, of course, especially regarding the situation in Italy which we were evaluating but, at 5 p.m. yesterday, it was still possible at that time to race.
“We had been monitoring the situation closely but, as soon as President Trump made the announcement about the ban on flights from mainland Europe at 9 p.m. EST, we knew that we had little choice but to cancel immediately.
“So many members of our paddock come from within the Schengen zone that it would be impossible to hold the race without them.
“We acted quickly as so many team members – our own within the WEC and our competitors – were about to get on planes to come to Florida.
“We released the news as early as possible in Europe to give people warning to cancel or change plans.”
WEC logistics partner DHL is on-site at Sebring and will start to pack up the cars and equipment before shipping them back to the teams for the final two races.
Sebring would have been the last leg of the championship’s five-race international freight schedule which started at the 6 Hours of Fuji last October.
“It is a huge job, but we have an excellent team working on this,” said Neveu.
“I would like to use this opportunity to say a big thank you to the whole organization team and the different suppliers involved in this very difficult situation who are working day and night to resolve matters.
“Very sincere thanks too to our partners from IMSA, all the WEC competitors for their full support in these unique and challenging circumstances.”
Neveu added that the WEC will continue to monitor the global coronavirus situation.
“Our first and biggest concern is about the people affected by the virus, wherever they are,” he said.
“Firstly, we have to look after each other and stand together, supporting each other, to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
“Having said that, like so many other racing championships, companies and organizations, the commercial, sporting and human impact this will have for the future is considerable so we must work even harder to adapt, refine, renew or revitalize our championship.
“We are not saying that it will be easy, but this is what we have to do.
“In the short term, what we must remember, however, is that we are in the middle of a transitory situation – even if it is one without a definitive end.
“We must stay calm, take care of those we are closest to, and take each day’s challenges as they come.”
No Decision on 6H Spa, 24H Le Mans Plans
The next event on the WEC calendar is the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in late April, while the 24 Hours of Le Mans is set to take place on June 13-14.
The status of these two events is currently unclear, although both are currently scheduled to go ahead as planned.
Neveu ruled out the possibility of rescheduling the canceled Sebring race to another date, as IMSA has done with the 12 Hours, which will close out the 2019 season in November.
The short gap between Le Mans and the opening round of the 2019-20 WEC schedule at Silverstone in September has made it virtually impossible for the 1000 Miles to be held another time.
“With our season being run over two calendar years this option is more difficult for us than, say, IMSA which could feasibly postpone a race to later in the year,” said Neveu.
“It’s difficult to say more on this right now. At this point, it probably doesn’t need to be said but we are all desperately disappointed.
“Super Sebring was not just a hugely important event for sports car racing, as far as visibility in the USA and results are concerned, but on a personal level it was a favorite for almost everyone involved.
“We are very, very aware that this is a rapidly changing situation, and one that none of us have faced before.
“Honestly, right now, we can’t answer that question [of future called-off races] because it’s not just our decision to take.
“We will keep you all informed as soon as possible. Of course, we will maintain our existing Covid-19 monitoring group and will continue to keep our paddock informed of any developments.”