Update: Sebring cancelled, Portimao subbed in
Updated: 14:20 22nd January 2021. The opening round of the 2021 World Endurance Championship at Sebring has become the latest casualty to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. The 1,000 mile race, which was set to support the Sebring 12 Hours in March will no longer take place, replaced instead with a race in Europe, at Portimao in the Algarve region of Portugal.
The tie-up with the Sebring 12 Hours began in 2019, with a highly successful double-header weekend, which saw the WEC cars race in a 1,000-mile race into Friday evening before the IMSA cars battled for the historic 12 hours on Saturday. The two series used separate paddocks and a second pitlane was constructed for the WEC cars to use on the back straight. The double event was due to take place for a second time after proving popular with both fans and teams in 2020, but was a victim of the pandemic, along with the 12 Hours, at short notice. While the 12 took place later in the year, the WEC stayed away for 2020, but expected to return in 2021. Now the continuing global uncertainties have meant that the WEC has chosen to move the round to Europe, with most WEC teams based on the continent.
Explaining the decision, a statement from the WEC said: “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."
There are upsides to the decision though, with US-owned, but EU-based, Glickenhaus now more likely to take part in the event. With the time needed to ship the cars across the Atlantic for Sebring taking the cars out of commission for several weeks, Glickenhaus was due to keep its Glickenhaus-Pipo 007LMH testing in Europe. With the opening round now only a truck drive away, the chances of the team making its debut in the opening round have increased.
While Portimao has held European Le Mans Series races several times, and hosted its first Formula 1 race in 2020, it will be the first time that the WEC has raced in Portugal. As well as a move for the opening race, the traditional pre-season test will now also take place at the circuit a week ahead of the race, allowing for teams to focus their travel on just one area.