INDIANAPOLIS — Currently, the NTT IndyCar Series is pushing forward with starting their 2020 season in May. As we sit here today, the series is on lockdown until at the very least the end of April. That decision was made on Friday.
In wake of that, the first four races of the season, last weekend in St. Pete, the race at the Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala (April 5), the one of the streets of Long Beach (April 19) as well as the race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX (April 26) have either been postponed or canceled. So has any on track testing including the open test at Richmond, Jimmie Johnson’s at Barber as well as the Indy 500 open test on April 30.
The series was in a wait and see approach with all hands on deck attempting to restart in May.
“Obviously, this is an incredibly fluid situation,” Mark Miles, President and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp, said on Friday afternoon. “The entire world is dealing with it. It changes by the hour.
“Really there isn’t a sporting event left that feels comfortable running even without fans. I just think that’s reflective of what’s going on in the country and in the world.
“In this country, as you know, very few universities are unaffected. Schools at other levels are closing and asking families to stay home. Businesses are banning travel and asking their employees in many cases to work from home. Really I think it’s just the reality that our society right now is discouraging getting people together.
“We are so excited about this season. We remain that. We’re going to race as much as we can race. We want to have as full a season as we can. We want to race in all of our cities.
“But the bottom line is we just don’t know enough now to know what’s possible when. What we can do is monitor the situation endlessly and to be in a great communicator with our promoters and all our officials and to focus on May. From our perspective, our hope, our ambition, our plan is to restart in May and to get in as much of a season as we can.
“I know that our promoters are going to assess their individual situations, as well. We’ll be every day, every hour talking to suppliers, to the paddock, to our sponsors, our broadcasters and our promoters. We’ll put on as big a show as we possibly can this year.
“I would just say we are absolutely focused on May. We’re all going to go home and keep doing what we do. We’re going to be absolutely ready. That’s with the normal schedule. We will obviously evaluate everything every day by the hour. We’ll make any changes we have to make. But our mindset and our efforts are completely dedicated to being ready to put on a great show throughout May.”
On Sunday though, the CDC made another statement about the COVID-19 and gatherings inside of the United States. According to their updated guidelines, they’re urging that large events and mass gatherings should adhere to new rules which limits guests to less than 50 people for the next eight weeks. That’s down from 250 people that were in place at the end of last week.
“CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.
“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”
So, what does that mean for racing, most notably the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Their new plan at the moment is to open with the GMR Grand Prix at IMS on Saturday, May 9. That’s right at the eight week deadline. Then, they’d have 15 days until the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
IMS and the series are pushing forward at the moment to still host these two races. But, they are planning contingencies just in case. I mean, this new protocol is pushing the limits to get these races in.
As an example, reports on Sunday night were saying that the NBA is looking at a resumption of their season sometime in June and even the first several weeks still will be without fans. Can IndyCar really kick off their season at the end of the CDC warning with hundreds of thousands of fans in one venue in a world renowned event?
I mean, there’s a lot of risk here for both sides. The Indy 500 isn’t just a local event. Fans from all across the globe come here for it. Right now, there’s travel restrictions on even getting into the country. Will those restrictions be lifted by then and if so, do we really know everyone coming is healthy?
The first sporting event to not only conduct business as usual again, but to host fans, has a lot of risk. If one person ends up being sick with this virus that was in attendance, think of the liability that’s on the series and venue for holding. It’s going to take a lot of stones to be the first, but someone has to do so and if it’s Indy and this can be that world event to bring us back to normal, it can also reflect in a huge positive in the opposite direction.
Right now, plans are in place to move forward with the Month of May as planned, but don’t also be shocked if those plans are altered too.