On the surface, IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials are saying and doing all the right things.
Behind the scenes, however, it’s a good bet they’re working harder on contingency plans and alternative dates than they are preparing to run the Indianapolis 500 on its scheduled date of May 24. Anyone watching the growing numbers of positive coronavirus tests and cringing at the mounting death toll being reported daily, it’s hard to believe that his national emergency will be over in the next six-eight weeks.
Sure, the Indianapolis 500 is closer to nine weeks out, but this isn’t a race that can be locked in in a week or two before the green flag. Fans aren’t going to flip their “go back to normal” switch that quickly.
The Centers for Disease Control issued recommendations on March 15 that included no gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks, in effect shutting down all major sporting events until at least after May 10. That CDC recommendation, which IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are adhering to, wipes out the GMR Grand Prix at IMS on May 9, despite the series’ best-case scenario.
It’s difficult to imagine that on May 10 or May 11 the series would give the all-clear, full-steam-ahead message that the Indianapolis 500 schedule for just two weeks later would be a go. It’s even harder to imagine 300,000 fans excitedly heading to their hotel rooms, rental homes, airline flights and ultimately their close-quarters seating to watch the race just two weeks after the CDC’s current lockdown ends.
No one wants to see an Indianapolis 500 run with half-empty, or worse, grandstands. And no one wants to put any fan, competitor, crew member (at least one crew member and one Pirelli Tires staffer from the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix tested positive in Melbourne), race official or volunteer worker at risk at a motorsports event that draws fans from all over the globe. And, no, no one will be taking the temperatures of all fans coming into the venue.
IMS and the series put out the following statement on Monday:
“We are aware of the CDC’s interim guidance suggesting the postponement of events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks.
Our priority is to do our part in protecting the public health while still conducting the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge as scheduled on May 24.
This continues to be a dynamic situation which we are monitoring constantly in coordination with federal, state, local and public health officials. We are planning for all contingencies and will be prepared to run the GMR Grand Prix and Indy 500 as the COVID-19 situation permits.”
Major sporting events in May and June are already being canceled. The Kentucky Derby, scheduled for May 2, has been pushed back to Sept. 5. Major League Baseball is hopeful of a late-May/early-June startup, but even that date is anybody’s guess at this moment.
The ACO, governing body of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, says that it will announce its decision on the 2020 24-hour sports car classic on April 15. Le Mans, arguably the biggest race in the world, is scheduled for June 13-14, and you can bet that event will be next-to-impossible to pull off three months from now given worldwide travel restrictions and the continued spread of the disease in Europe.
Then, there’s the ugly specter of spending good money that might be flushed down the toilet on tickets or hotel reservations. Consider the recently canceled Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Fans who bought tickets for that canceled race are being told, “Sorry, no cash refunds.” Fans are being offered vouchers for future races run by promoter Green Savoree Racing Promotions.
Granted, different races, different series (not to mention hotels, rentals, airlines) will have different refund policies in the case of canceled races, but what’s happening in St. Petersburg is not a good look for the sport. We’re surprised that the series hasn’t stepped in to address that one. Seriously, who’s actually buying tickets or booking rooms today for races scheduled to take place in May—even the Indianapolis 500—after learning about what’s going on at St. Pete?
We’ve all seen rainouts where the race is run a day or two later and fans can make the decision to stay the extra day or two. However, asking a fan to come back weeks or even months later—or next year—is a tough ask.
Here’s hoping IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway don’t string this decision-making process out much longer regading the 2020 Indianapolis 500.
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