Portugal replaces Sebring as WEC opener due to pandemic

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Race cars compete during the start of the final race of the 2013 WEC Six Hours of Bahrain at the BIC in Sakhir

(Reuters) - The World Endurance Championship (WEC) plans to start the season in Portugal in April instead of Sebring, Florida, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers said on Friday.

The series, whose showpiece is the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, said an Eight Hours of Portimao race on April 2-4 would replace the 1,000 Miles of Sebring in March.

"Due to the rapid evolution of coronavirus, as well as various changing directives from governments in different countries including travel restrictions, the WEC did not want to take any unnecessary risks," it added in a statement.

"With freight due to be sent to the USA imminently, a decision needed to be made early to help teams prepare for the 2021 season."

U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday requiring international air travellers to quarantine upon arrival.

Most of the championship's teams are based in Europe.

The WEC said Portimao's Algarve circuit will also host the official pre-season test from March 30-31, and hoped to keep the rest of the calendar unchanged.

Portugal is also facing the rapid spread of a new, more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus. The government imposed a lockdown last week, closing all non-essential services.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)