Following the decision taken on Wednesday night by the FIA World Endurance Championship promoter to cancel its upcoming race in Sebring, we spoke to CEO Gerard Neveu in Florida to find out some more details about the decision.
When did you make the decision to cancel the race?
"As you know we had been monitoring the situation closely but, as soon as President Trump made the announcement about the ban on flights from mainland Europe [9pm EST, 11 March 2020], 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."
Could you have made the decision earlier?
"Working in conjunction with IMSA and Sebring Raceway, and taking into consideration the advice from the World Health Organisation and US federal and state health authorities that we had on each day leading up to 11th March, it wasn't necessary to take this decision any earlier. We were going ahead. There were concerns, of course, especially regarding the situation in Italy which we were evaluating but, at 5pm yesterday, it was still possible at that time to race."
Will the race be run at a later date?
"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. 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. SuperSebring 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 favourite for almost everyone involved. We are facing a very challenging situation that is totally unprecedented and unpredictable, and one that is changing every day."
What happens to all the freight and infrastructure already in place?
"Our WEC logistics and sporting team were already on site in Florida for the set up. They, together with our logistics partner DHL Global Forwarding, will ensure that the freight is all safely packed up and shipped back to Europe. It is a huge job, but we have an excellent team working on this. I would like to use this opportunity to say a big thank you to the whole organisation 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."
What implications does this have for the WEC?
"Before answering this, our first and biggest concern is about the people affected by the virus, wherever they are. 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 organisations, 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 revitalise 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."
Will other races be cancelled?
"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 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."