IMSA drivers hunker down together in Florida awaiting season restart

0 Comments

They’re playing golf and video games, cycling hundreds of miles in the Florida heat and sampling each other’s cuisine.

It’s a good thing that IMSA drivers, whose full slate of sports car endurance racing ensures they already spend an ample amount of time together in close proximity at the track, seem to enjoy each other’s company.

Because several are making the most of being stuck with sharing living quarters while waiting for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series to restart its season. With a few dozen drivers who are from or based outside the United States, it made sense for many to be here well ahead of the series’ restart  (which was announced May 15 but has been tweaked a few times since) because of potential travel and visa complications from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that had sidelined the series.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Porsche drivers motivated to end program with another title

DAYTONA NEWSEntry list for the returnwhich will include a limited crowd

Corvette Racing drivers Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia arrived June 18 from Europe and have been sharing a place on the Gulf Coast in Clearwater, Florida, while preparing and training for Saturday’s race at Daytona International Speedway

Antonio Garcia of Corvette Racing (IMSA).

They are planning to keep the arrangement through the July 31-Aug. 2 race weekend at Road America (after Daytona, IMSA will head to Sebring International Raceway in two weeks).

“It’s another new experience,” Garcia, who has roomed in a house with Gavin before at the 12 Hours of Sebring, said before adding playfully, “So far it is going OK. We don’t hate each other yet.”

There are many ways to stay occupied for the drivers, who are working out daily to adapt to the summer heat (Gavin bikes; Garcia runs).

Though they aren’t under quarantine restrictions, they also have observed isolation (aside from exercise and trips to the store) during the pandemic. So it helps that Garcia also bought a PlayStation that has allowed them to race the virtual versions of the Corvette C7.R (the team switched to the mid-engine C8.R this season).

“Antoino has some pretty good skills with his cooking, which is good,” Gavin said. “I’m not so hot at that, so I’m doing some shopping, tidying up, doing the dishes. Just filling the days and trying to get acclimated.”

Similar scenes are playing out around the Sunshine State. The GTLM championship duo of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor are sharing a place in nearby Dunedin, which is a longtime favorite vacation spot and “second home” for Vanthoor (Bamber jokes that he has enrolled in his Porsche teammate’s cycling academy).

It’s an even fuller house for Mazda drivers Tristan Nunez, Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell, who also have been waiting out the layoff together while training for the race the past few weeks. Fourth Mazda driver Jonathan Bomarito has been working on pit stops for the DPi team at its facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, and eyeing his teammates’ setup with some envy.

“These guys have it so good, it’s crazy,” Bomarito said with a laugh on a recent Zoom conference call with reporters. “They live like rock stars over there. We’re all jealous. Everybody should be jealous.”

Mazda driver Harry Tincknell (IMSA).

Tincknell, a Brit who describes himself as “golf-obsessed,” admits it’s been nice having a couple of dozen courses nearby.

“I’m not making as many birdies as I’d like, unfortunately, but a few popped in every now and again,” Tincknell said. “But it’s been fun. We’ve been real lucky to be out on the farm in central Florida. It’s been really good for me. To be out here two to three weeks has been great. We’ve been going on runs every morning. We’ve been doing some circuits together.

“I was cooking for everyone last night and so far so good. No one seems to have come down with any illnesses. It’s not been a bad life considering what the weather can be like in the U.K. at the moment. … We’ve been making the most of it, but at the same time, we’re in a quite isolated area that we’re not having too much exposure to other people or anything like that. Just trying to stay as healthy as we can while still training and having fun.”

It still can be taxing for the international drivers who could end up being away from their families indefinitely.

Corvette Racing driver Oliver Gavin (IMSA).

While Gavin, a native of England, and Garcia, who hails from Spain, are committed to staying in the United States through at least the end of July, the uncertainty around travel restrictions could keep them from returning home beyond that.

“It is going to be a difficult period and something my wife and I spoke about, and also my kids,” Gavin said. “There are going to be lots of things that not a lot of us really want to do, but we have to in order to fulfill our jobs to get back racing and do the thing we love. We know there will be some sacrifices. My wife has been supportive 100 percent, and my kids have been as well.

“We’ve had a fantastic time together these last three months. It’s three months at home with my wife and my kids that I just have never had before. So that side of it has been a huge positive.”

The Corvette C8.R made its debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and will be racing again Saturday at Daytona International Speedway (David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).