ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With more cases of COVID-19 being diagnosed by the day, IndyCar officials had no choice but to cancel Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — the season-opening race to its 2020 season.
IndyCar also canceled all races through April, a total of four, which means the season won’t start until the May 9 GMR IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
“What’s happening in the country broadly, we just felt like it was the right thing to do to not allow the opportunity for the racers to go racing here,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said. “…I think what happened subsequently was the sense that it’s not responsible to ask people to get together.
“You have communities all over the country that are saying they don’t want 250 people, gatherings of 250 people, even for private events. So that’s where we are as a country right now.
“I think our drivers would be at much less risk. But mass gathering social events are being called off.
“There’s a public health risk any time people are getting together. That’s why since our announcement, our prior announcement that we were going to race without the crowd, we learned that Disney was shutting down, we saw the Players Championship and Ponte Vedra (Fla.) go from their announcement they were going to play a major tournament without a crowd, to canceling.
“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.”
Miles stressed that the situation continues to develop.
“Obviously this is an incredibly fluid situation,” Miles said. “The entire world is dealing with it. It changes by the hour. The President of the United States is going to make another statement later today (President Trump declared a National Emergency shortly before 4 p.m. EST). We certainly don’t know what’s coming. It just underscores I think the gravity of the situation.
“We are so excited about this season. We remain that. We’re going to race as much as we can race. It was clear to us from overnight and this morning that the right thing to do right now was to suspend our competition, really all on-track activity through April.”
Miles stressed IndyCar will attempt to run “as complete a schedule” as possible, meaning some races that are currently canceled may be held later in the year.
However, street course races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach may not have a window to reschedule.
“I will say that Long Beach has said they’re canceled,” Miles said. “We don’t see any opportunity to reschedule later in the year.
“Long Beach could not stage an event because of the California local governmental regulations. We’re in close regular multiple-times-a-day communication with all of our other races, particularly before May. They were finding it increasingly unlikely that they were going to be able to stage races.
“We’re in touch with all of our business partners and couldn’t be more appreciative of the support of NBC and NTT and Firestone and Honda and Chevy. They’re all businesses. They are dealing with the situation themselves both as a business and as an employer and with their customers, including us. So, there is a lot of empathy and a lot of support.”