Confusion and worry are not emotions you would usually associate with the build up to a new motorsport season, but with the Covid-19 pandemic situation still escalating, many races in the first/second quarter of the year look to be under threat.
Already 2021 motor racing calendars are seeing changes with circuits and event promoters trying to not only put on events this year, but recover from missing events last year. Formula One has already seen what should have been the opening race of its 2021 season – the Australian Grand Prix – pushed until later this year, with Bahrain now taking the opening slot and also taking pre-season testing week from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The worry is that the FIA World Endurance Championship will fall under a similar fate.
The 2021 season, now back to a one-year season as the global pandemic broke the chain that had been set up through the 2018/19 Super Season to have the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the season closer, is currently due to start March 19 as the undercard round to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 12 Hours of Sebring. The first (and currently only) rendition of WEC’s 1,000 Miles of Sebring took place in 2019 and was deemed enough of a success for the two events to share the same card again. With the new LMh/LMDh regulations coming in 2021/22 respectively, the event also makes for a great way to bring WEC and IMSA together on one track, promoting the two race series to the global audience. However, Covid-19 saw the event fall to the wayside in 2020, and WEC is keen to make sure that does not happen again in 2021.
IMSA seem to be set on running the 2021 12 Hours of Sebring on the currently scheduled weekend in March, but some of the WEC teams feel more apprehensive about the race event.
“Yes, we are concerned: we are looking every day at what is going on and what is happening,” Toyota Gazoo Racing‘s Team Director Rob Leupen told Motorsport.com at the launch of the new Toyota GR010 Hybrid Le Mans Hypercar. “We need to know as early as possible, but for the moment I cannot confirm what the situation will be. We understand that in the coming days there is a decision from the WEC and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest on whether we are going or not.”
A spokesperson from the endurance series has confirmed that WEC is still pushing to make an appearance at the IMSA round, and also complete the 2021 pre-season test at the venue a week before the race. However, a full decision is expected in the coming days to provide complete clarity on when/where the season will start. The decision will need to be made soon because the freights for the cars to America must leave at the start of February to make sure everything arrives in time for the pre-season test. Once the freights have departed, it will be impossible to schedule a different season opener before May’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, so if the American event is cancelled after the freights have left, Belgium will inherit the opening race of the 2021 season.
Contingency plans are in place, however, and when the 2021 calendar was announced last year it was underlined with the fact that if the Sebring race failed to go ahead a European alternative was ready to take its place. The venue that has been confirmed is Portimao’s Algrave Circuit which hosted one of the replacement F1 races last year and has hosted the European Le Mans Series for the last few years. This race would take place on the final weekend in March (27th/28th).
Moving to this date would also likely allow Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus to compete in the full 2021 season. As the calendar stands, the Glickenhaus car has its final test scheduled for the week before the Sebring round, meaning they would not have enough time to sign off and homologate the 007 LMh design, then ship it to America in time for the race. With the Portimao race falling a week later, and the freight transport not as far, the Glickenhaus 007 could complete its final test, be homologated and make it in time to the opening round of the season.
“On March 16 we will be ready to race and if there is a rescheduled opening round in Europe after that we can be there with two cars.” Jim Glickenhaus, Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus owner, confirmed.
Following on from the concern about the start of the season, talk has started about the 24 Hours of Le Mans and if it is safe back on its traditional mid-June weekend. A spokesperson from the ACO has played down this talk, stating that there is currently no plan B as the prestigious endurance spectacular is expected to go ahead on its scheduled date. However, concerns remain about the spectator size that would be able to attend the race. Last year, the ACO tried to host 50,000 fans separated around the track in ‘Bubble Villages’ of 5,000, but this plan had to be scrapped when the event was moved behind closed doors.
Rumours currently stand that the event could find a new date in late August, falling between the July Monza race and September’s Fuji race.