ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Faced with a major health crisis involving the COVID-19 pandemic, IndyCar officials and the city of St. Petersburg were able to salvage Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from cancellation.
But with five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the immediate area, the annual street race that kicks off the NTT IndyCar Series season will be staged without spectators.
Also, non-essential team personnel and team guests will not be allowed on site.
“The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race will continue and will be televised,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said at Thursday’s announcement at the St. Petersburg Police Department. “The race will be closed to spectators and all public events associated with the Grand Prix are canceled as well. All public events. We want to encourage everyone to watch the race on NBC Sports Network. Show your support for City of St. Petersburg, for our promoter, for the race car drivers and for IndyCar. I’ll be signing an emergency declaration and ordinance related to coronavirus which addresses things like congregating around the race location as well as price gouging, procurement policies and emergency housing.
“It’s a very chaotic time in our city. This is a time when this city tends to shine the brightest and come together as a community. Continue to be what St. Petersburg is. Be kind to each other. Be compassionate with each other. Be patient as we go through this difficult time. We’ll get through this together. We’ll keep all that in mind. Remember to be kind.”
Kriseman, Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles, race sponsor Firestone and other key public health safety officials all met throughout the day working a revised two-day format.
Friday’s IndyCar activity will be cancelled. The teams will practice and qualify on Saturday. The starting time for Sunday’s race remains unchanged.
“We have listened to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the Department of Health,” Kriseman said. “Other than use common sense, make sure if you’re going to be with someone else, take precautions to be as safe as possible. If you are not feeling well, you probably shouldn’t be going. You can watch from your own home as well as someone else’s.
“We are all frustrated by the position we find ourselves. The reality is we need our entire community to be safe. Mass gatherings in public places like this do impose risks, especially when you see those risks being elevated. This thing is just changing so quickly. The person saying that might feel very different by tomorrow because the situation may have changed by then.
“We have internal policies in place for all staff to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure our first responders our safe in addition to the rest of the staff in the city. Each one of whom play a vital role in this wonderful community we call home. We continue to look at policies and procedures on a daily basis because things are changing that frequently. And making adjustments where we need to. I’ll keep saying this. This is very fluid because it truly is.”
Because it is a street race, it cannot be rescheduled because of strict deadlines and guidelines in its contract with the city to return the streets back to public use.
“From a series point of view, that would be very difficult,” Miles said. “Nobody knows really what the next several weeks or months are going to look like. You have multiple considerations. We’ve built a track. It’s tough to build it twice. There are television considerations. So as we sit here today, it would be highly unlikely with any predictability to be able to reschedule this. We felt like we can make the accommodations we need to make and that have been discussed so that we’re doing what needs to be done.”
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