IMSA: Felipe Nasr returns at Sebring from positive COVID-19 test

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Felipe Nasr will make his return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Saturday’s Cadillac Grand Prix at Sebring International Raceway (5:30 p.m., NBCSN), his team announced Friday.

Nasr missed IMSA’s July 4 return at Daytona International Speedway after a positive test for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).  After a “full recovery,” the team said Nasr had been cleared by doctors to return.

“It was frustrating not to be behind the wheel at Daytona after such a long wait,” Nasr said in a release. “In the end, it wasn’t something I couldn’t control but it happened.

ENTRY LIST: Who is racing at Sebring

“I did the right thing, which was to tell the team as soon as I felt something different, unusual. I wanted to protect everyone on the Whelen Engineering team, which was my goal. It was difficult to watch it [the race] from home. But, I was happy to see the car perform well with Gabby Chaves and Pipo Derani behind the wheel. They were able to score some important points for the championship.

“Now, I’m looking forward to Sebring. I’m super excited to be back in the Whelen Engineering Cadillac with Pipo. I just can’t wait to feel the speed, to go around Sebring and feel alive again.”

Felipe Nasr drives the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Action Express Cadillac in the IMSA DPi division with co-driver Pipo Derani.

Here’s the release from Whelen Engineering Racing:

DENVER, N.C. (July 17, 2020) – Whelen Engineering Racing drivers Pipo Derani (Brazil) and Felipe Nasr (Brazil) can’t wait to return to Sebring International Raceway for this weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring July 17-18.

IMSA Felipe Nasr missed the race two weeks ago in Daytona due to testing positive for COVID-19. After making a full recovery, he will make his return to the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Action Express Cadillac DPi-V.R. this weekend at Sebring.

“It was frustrating not to be behind the wheel at Daytona after such a long wait,” Nasr said. “In the end, it wasn’t something I couldn’t control but it happened. I did the right thing, which was to tell the team as soon as I felt something different, unusual. I wanted to protect everyone on the Whelen Engineering team, which was my goal. It was difficult to watch it [the race] from home. But, I was happy to see the car perform well with Gabby Chaves and Pipo Derani behind the wheel. They were able to score some important points for the championship.

“Now, I’m looking forward to Sebring. I’m super excited to be back in the Whelen Engineering Cadillac with Pipo. I just can’t wait to feel the speed, to go around Sebring and feel alive again.”

It’s understandable why Nasr is looking forward to his and the team’s return to Sebring. It’s because the Whelen Engineering/Action Express crew has enjoyed some recent success at the historic road course. Derani and Nasr, along with Eric Curran, won the 12-Hours of Sebring a year ago. This year, the duo hopes to make a return trip to victory circle and, given the team’s recent win at that track, it could very well happen. In fact, Derani has won the 12-Hours of Sebring three of the last four years.

 “Sebring is a track that I really love,” Derani said. “I’ve had a lot of success there in the past. I’ve won three 12-Hours of Sebring [races] in the last four years. But, I think this time it’s going to be different. Instead of it being a 12-hour race, it’s going to be only two hours and 40 minutes. For sure, strategy is going to play a big role. It’s going to be a sprint, which at a track like Sebring, it’s never easy. With the success we’ve had there in the past, we expect nothing less [than a win]. Hopefully, we can finally get our championship started. There’s nothing better than winning at a track we won at last year.”

“It’s hard to beat that red Whelen Engineering Cadillac,” Nasr said. “We’ve had so much success in the past – especially at last year’s 12 Hours with Curran, Pipo and myself. It was an amazing memory. It was one of the best wins we had with so much dominance and pure speed. I credit that to the whole Action Express team because they do such an incredible job. Getting the car to victory is the goal. Action Express has always given us a pretty good car to fight for victories. So, I expect more of the same.”

Both Derani and Nasr know just how challenging the 3.74-mile, 17-turn track at Sebring can be. The track features both asphalt and concrete surfaces. The bumpy transitions between those surfaces can be physically taxing on the drivers, which forces the drivers to be mentally focused on maintaining car control.

“It [the track] always beats you up pretty well,” Derani said. “It’s such a hard track on everyone – on the drivers, on the car – it’s very bumpy. But hey, we’re ready for the task. I love driving around those bumpy tracks like Sebring.”

“The race could have some surprises as the weather is going to be much warmer [than it is during the March race],” Nasr said. “Sebring is hard on the tires. The bumps, you have to respect them. It could influence the race. There is a lot of action on that track. Basically, you’re non-stop on the wheel. It takes a lot out of the driver physically and you have to overcome that. It’s a place where our car always seems to handle pretty well.”

IMSA kicks off this weekend’s schedule with its first practice at 6 p.m. (ET) Friday, July 17, Practice #2 gets underway at 10:15 a.m. Saturday, July 18, followed by the 15-minute LMP/DPi qualifying session at 2:45 p.m. The Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring starts at 5:35 p.m. and fans can watch the live race coverage on NBCSN beginning at 5:30 p.m.