IMSA driver Felipe Nasr tests positive for COVID-19; will miss Daytona

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Felipe Nasr is out of IMSA’s return at Daytona International Speedway after testing positive for COVID-19, his team announced Friday morning.

Action Express will replace Nasr with Gabby Chaves to team with Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi this weekend at Daytona, which will mark IMSA’s first race since the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The series had been on hiatus during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will return Saturday with the WeatherTech 240 at Daytona.

Nasr said in a release that he wasn’t feeling right while driving to Daytona Beach to Miami and went for a test Thursday that was positive. He had been living in Miami for the past month after arriving in late May from his home in Brazil because of concerns about travel restrictions.

Felipe Nasr (IMSA)

“I felt I had been doing everything correctly,” Nasr said in the release. “I have been in Miami for about a month, staying away from anyone in racing. Before I went to the track or met with my team or anyone in motorsports, I went and got tested and, unfortunately, I tested positive.

“I want to keep everyone on the Whelen Engineering/Action Express team and those around the series safe. I am going back to Miami to quarantine. Hopefully, I will recover quickly, and my doctors can clear me to return to racing soon. For now, I will follow all instructions, guidelines and recommendations from my medical team, my race team, and the IMSA Officials.”

During a Zoom call with the media last Friday, Derani, a Brazilian who also has been living in Miami, said he’d been training for the race with Nasr, and he posted a tweet last month of a photo on a boat with Nasr and former IMSA driver Christian Fittipaldi.

The team has told IMSA officials that it had been more than 14 days since Derani and Nasr had been within 6 feet of each other. According to IMSA, Action Express said the drivers’ last interaction was on June 10 (which is the date on Derani’s tweet from the boat).

Asked by NBCSports.com whether Derani or other team members also would be tested for COVID-19, an Action Express spokesman referred questions to IMSA.

In a statement, IMSA president John Doonan said, “We share Felipe’s disappointment that he will not be able to join his Action Express Racing teammates this weekend in Daytona. He followed all necessary steps, sought medical attention when he wasn’t feeling well and has not been to the racetrack. He has had no direct interaction with any members of his team or any other participants in this weekend’s race. He is a champion of our sport and we expect that he will attack this virus with the same spirit that made him a champion.”

IMSA doesn’t test for COVID-19. But drivers, team members and anyone else entering Daytona International Speedway this weekend will undergo screening that includes a temperature check and completing a health questionnaire that includes a question about being within 6 feet for at least 5 minutes of a person for who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson said in the team’s release that Nasr had not been to the track and would avoid any contact with the public until being cleared.

“All of us at Action Express were stunned when we heard that our friend and teammate, Felipe Nasr, has tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday,” Nelson said in a release.  “We are certainly going to miss having him competing in our Whelen Cadillac DPi-V.R on Saturday at Daytona. But, more importantly, he is a great friend to us all and we know he will fight hard to beat this virus the same way he fights for trophies on the racetracks. We wish him a speedy recovery.”

Nasr, 27, has been running full time in IMSA since 2018, winning the prototype championship as a rookie. He also finished second in the DPi standings last season and has three career victories in the class.

Prior to IMSA, the Brazilian raced in Formula One from 2015-16.

Here’s the release from the team:

DENVER, N.C. (July 2, 2020) – Gabby Chaves will replace Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R for this weekend’s running of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship WeatherTech Daytona 240 July 3-4.

Nasr tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and is heading back to Miami to quarantine.

“I’ve been waiting so long for this weekend to get back to racing,” Nasr said. “I felt I had been doing everything correctly. I have been in Miami for about a month, staying away from anyone in racing. Yesterday as I was driving to Daytona, I wasn’t feeling just right. So, before I went to the track or met with my team or anyone in motorsports, I went and got tested and, unfortunately, I tested positive. I want to keep everyone on the Whelen Engineering/Action Express team and those around the series safe. I am going back to Miami to quarantine. Hopefully, I will recover quickly, and my doctors can clear me to return to racing soon. For now, I will follow all instructions, guidelines and recommendations from my medical team, my race team, and the IMSA Officials.”

“All of us at Action Express were stunned when we heard that our friend and teammate, Felipe Nasr, has tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday,” Gary Nelson, Action Express Racing, team manager said.  “We are certainly going to miss having him competing in our Whelen Cadillac DPi-V.R on Saturday at Daytona. But, more importantly, he is a great friend to us all and we know he will fight hard to beat this virus the same way he fights for trophies on the racetracks. We wish him a speedy recovery. Felipe has not been to the track and will avoid any contact with the public until he has been cleared by his medical team.

“We made the quick decision to bring in Gabby Chaves who is familiar with our team to partner with Pipo Derani this weekend. We will get Felipe ready to hopefully join us again at Sebring in 15 days.”

Gabby Chaves drove for the team in 2018 at Petit Le Mans, finishing eighth.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.