IMS Grandstands Stay Empty as the Race Goes On

In the end, it came down to a decision to save lives. I didn’t expect the announcement this soon, but it is better for fans who have travel and lodging reservations to cancel.  It will be sad to see empty stands while activities leading up to the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 move along at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the next two weeks.  Today’s decision to run all track sessions, including the race without fans is sending shock waves through the Indycar fan community.
The postponement of Mid Ohio and the moving back of opening day by 24 hours led me to suspect something bigger was coming. While I halfway expected the announcement of no fans at the race, a total ban on fans for practice and qualifying came as a shock. Practice day crowds are quite small and distancing would be easy. On qualifying days the crowds are larger, but nothing approaching Race Day. Carb day was the one day other than race Day that concerned me crowd wise.
COVID cases in Marion County have been going up. The have tripled since mid June and have increased the past two weeks. I think IMS and Indycar are erring on the side of safety.  Yes, they had a plan which was approved by state and local health officials. It is an excellent plan, very thorough and well thought out. i have no doubt IMS would execute the plan well. The one thing that troubled me was the enforcement of fan requirements. I wonder if that is the component which made the track decide that having fans was too big a risk.
The decision is a huge financial blow to IMS, Indycar, and the teams. How many of the smaller teams will still be in business next year, or even be able to finish the season? Will the purse for the 500 be diminished? It will be a struggle to get 33 cars this year, and it may be a struggle to reach that number for the next couple of years.
 Here is the full statement from IMS:

Update from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway today issued the following statement:

“It is with great regret that we announce the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Aug. 23 without fans. This tough decision was made following careful consideration and extensive consultation with state and city leadership.

“As dedicated as we were to running the race this year with 25 percent attendance at our large outdoor facility, even with meaningful and careful precautions implemented by the city and state, the COVID-19 trends in Marion County and Indiana have worsened. Since our June 26 announcement, the number of cases in Marion County has tripled while the positivity rate has doubled. We said from the beginning of the pandemic we would put the health and safety of our community first, and while hosting spectators at a limited capacity with our robust plan in place was appropriate in late June, it is not the right path forward based on the current environment.

“We encourage Hoosiers to continue making smart decisions and following the advice of our public health officials so we can help get Indiana back on track.

“Penske Corporation made a long-term investment to be the steward of this legendary facility. While we were very excited to showcase the investments and enhancements we have made in the guest experience, we know we have reached the right decision. As much as Roger Penske and everyone associated with the ‘500’ wanted to race with fans this year, we ultimately reached this conclusion in partnership with the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis.

“Our commitment to the Speedway is unwavering, and we will continue to invest in the Racing Capital of the World. We encourage everyone to watch this year’s race on NBC, and we look forward to welcoming our loyal fans back to ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ on May 30th of 2021.”

Further Information from IMS

  • All on-track activity during the month of August, including practice and qualifications, will be closed to the general public.
  • Individuals who still have tickets to this year’s Indy 500 will be credited for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 and will retain their seniority and their originally assigned seats.
  • The first Indy 500 practice will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 12, with a full schedule available on IMS.com.
  • All of the action from IMS can be viewed via NBC Sports Gold, NBCSN or NBC. Visit IMS.com or INDYCAR.com for a comprehensive streaming and broadcast schedule.
  • The 104th Running of the Indy 500 will take place Sunday, Aug. 23, with national coverage beginning on NBC at 1 p.m. ET.
  • Local Central Indiana coverage of the race will be available on NBC affiliate WTHR.
  • Broadcast coverage of qualifications on Saturday, Aug. 15 begins on NBC at 3 p.m. ET.
  • Sunday, Aug. 16 broadcast coverage of Pole Day begins on NBC at 1 p.m. ET.

Opening Day Moved

Practice for the 104th running of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will begin on Wednesday, August 12, rather than Tuesday, August 11. No official reason for the move has been given, but Wednesday will be split between veterans and rookie orientation/refresher sessions.

In effect, Thursday will be the only full practice day before Fast Friday.

The move is likely a cost saving move for the track and the teams. It may also be an attempt to allow more time to have 33 entries. My count comes up a couple short of a full field right now. If this year has taught us anything, it is to be prepared for things to change. I think this may not be the only change we see before the 23rd.

Please check on the day of your track visit just to make sure things are scheduled as you thought.

 

Mid Ohio Postponed

From Indycar this afternoon:

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be postponed to later in 2020
LEXINGTON, Ohio (August 1, 2020) – INDYCAR and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Coursehave agreed to postpone The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio scheduled for Aug. 7-9 until a date to be determined in September or October. This decision was made through communication with local health officials given the current environment.
Our team continues to work with all of our partners and our local government to identify a date later this year when we can host The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. More information will be forthcoming as it becomes available. Visit midohio.comfor ongoing updates.
We appreciate the patience and understanding of our fans as we navigate this postponement.
ABOUT MID-OHIO SPORTS CAR COURSE
A comprehensive motorsports facility in Lexington, Ohio, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course sits on 330 acres and features a permanent road-racing circuit with two primary track configurations: 2.4-mile, 15-turn or 2.258-mile, 13-turn layout. Located 60 miles north of Columbus and 75 miles south of Cleveland near Mansfield, the natural terrain road course is commonly referred to as the “Most Competitive in the U.S.” and annually hosts a diversity of locally, regionally and nationally sanctioned race events for amateur, club and professional drivers and riders. It is also home to The Mid-Ohio School, featuring over 20 driving and riding courses, for teenagers to professional racers using Honda vehicles. Opened in 1962, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is owned and operated by Green Savoree Racing Promotions since 2011, just the raceway’s third private ownership group in its history.

Controversy- a 500 Tradition

I used to officiate high school basketball. After a game, my partner and I would say, ” We must have had a good game because both sides were mad at us.” If we apply that standard to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they are doing a great job. At least two entities have issues with the track. Controversy is nothing new to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It even predates the 500 mile race at the track. There was the original, deadly surface which caused several fatal  accidents, followed by the somewhat controversial finish of the first race in 1911, qualifying controversies, and more arguments about the finishing order of certain races, notably 1981 and 2002. This is not new, but it is more about what happens off the track.

IU Health, the Speedway’s medical partner, issued a statement asking the track to hold the race with no fans. Their plea comes after IMS produced what I think is a thorough and comprehensive plane for fan safety which has the approval of the Marion County Health Department and state medical officials. The track responded with a strongly worded rebuttal.

IMS requested input from IU Health and received no response. I would think if you are investing sponsorship in a place that asks for input, you should give it, rather than wait until a plan comes out and then take issue with the contents.  IU Health actually seems more concerned with the activities outside the track- fans going to restaurants, staying in hotels, and shopping. The speedway has no control over what the fans do outside the track. Businesses have plans in place which I hope will mitigate any spread of the virus.

While I am not a fan of running the race at all this year, I understand why Roger Penske feels the need to have it. I get why he wants to have fans. Like everyone else, i made my choice about attending. I agree that IU Health has a point, but where were they when the plan was being put together? Their statement seems like a blindside attack. I wonder how this issue will affect their partnership with IMS in the future.

Fickle Fans

When the Speedway asked ticket holders to state their preferences about reassigned tickets or credits, some fans had a difficult decision. Some decided to skip this year’s race while others requested the maximum number of tickets allowed.

There was a period of tension while those that chose to keep their seats waited to see if they would receive their full allotment and if their new seats were close to their original places.

That phase soon was replaced by relief upon learning that their order had been fulfilled, many for the maximum number they requested. As fans began receiving tickets this week, the joy has turned to some grumbling. I saw one person on Facebook complain about the spacing and stating their intent to sit with their friends anyway. The fan practically dared the track to enforce the seat assignments. If they feel that way about their seats, are they feeling that way about the mask requirement too?

From what I have seen and heard of the seating plan, it is well done. There is plenty of space between groups of assigned seats. I don’t know why people are complaining about getting seats when tickets are limited to a small percentage of capacity.  If you are unhappy with your seats, stay home and watch the race on television. But first, turn in your tickets so that someone else who wants to go has a chance.

I’m not worried about IMS weathering this storm. It has gone through much worse. Remember 1964 and 1973?

I will wait until next year when with luck and hopefully a vaccine we can enjoy the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 on its proper date of May 30.

 

 

August Tickets, Test Drives, ECR’s New Engineer

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has sent out new tickets with modified seat assignments. The ticket for the scheduled August 23 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 is different from the original tickets for May 24. The new ticket has a shot of Simon Pagenaud standing on his car after winning last year’s race.  Sadly, Norman did not make the photo again. I was disappointed he wasn’t on the original release. I hoped a second chance wold allow him the opportunity. The photography is amazing.

Jimmie Johnson Test Drive

After two failed tries, seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson finally got his dream drive in an Indycar yesterday.  Johnson’s first scheduled test at barber was cancelled when Indycar shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. His second scheduled test day didn’t happen because Johnson had tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days ahead of the test.

Johnson turned about 120 laps in Felix Rosenqvist’s car and impressed five time Indycar champion Scott Dixon and Ganassi team manager Mike Hull. Both felt Johnson could fit right into Indycar and be competitive.

Johnson has said he has no interest in driving in the Indianapolis 500, but he seems to be changing his mind. the aeroscreen might be ther thing that persuades him. I look for Johnson to run more than one road course race in Indycar next year. The 500 may wait until 2022, but we’ll see.

I think it would be an amazing crossover if the master of one racing discipline gave Indycar more than a one-off attempt. We are starting to see more drivers try different disciplines as they did in the 50s and 60s. I would like to see different series coordinate their schedules more to accommodate more crossovers.

Pearn to Engineer Daly’s Car for 500

Cole Pearn will be the engineer on Conor Daly’s number 47 entry in the Indianapolis 500. Pearn had stepped away from racing in 2019 after helping Martin Truex and Furniture Row Racing win the 2017 NASCAR championship. I have heard a lot of praise for his skills.

I don’t know much about him, but he worked with Pete Craik, the engineer for Ed Carpenter’s number 20 car at Furniture Row. Their former relationship should help Daly. I still think this is a huge leap for his first Indycar venture. On the plus side, the Carpenter are usually strong at Indianapolis.

A Dark September

After the double header at World Wide Technology Raceway, Indycar has the entire month of September off. How does the series stay relevant for 32 days between races?

In  my weekly call with Roger (kidding!) I will offer a few suggestions:

  1. Announce the elusive third OEM
  2. Lay out the final configuration for the new 2.4  engine, including whether a hybrid component is included.
  3. Unveil the new chassis.
  4. Present the 2021  Indycar schedule.
  5. Announce the 2021 schedule of events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  6. Purchase Iowa Speedway.

You’re welcome, Roger and Mark.

 

 

Laguna Seca Drops Off Schedule;Double Headers Added to Compensate

Laguna Seca dropped off the Indycar schedule today, meaning no west coast races for the NTT Indycar Series in 2020. the follow is from Indycar with the latest revised schedule. I think we are the oint in the season where any further races that are cancelled will not be made up.

INDYCAR Announces 2020 Series
Schedule Update

14-Race Calendar Highlighted by Additional Doubleheaders

INDIANAPOLIS (July 27, 2020) – The NTT INDYCAR SERIES released an updated 2020 race calendar today featuring several modifications.

Three events already scheduled on the series calendar will now become doubleheader weekends, including INDYCAR’s upcoming race weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Prior to the originally scheduled Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Sunday, Aug. 9, the stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will square off in another championship-points paying event Saturday, Aug. 8.

In addition, the race weekends at World Wide Technology Raceway in August and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in October will become doubleheader weekends. WWTR will feature races Saturday, Aug. 29 and Sunday, Aug. 30. IMS will add a road course race Friday, Oct. 2 before the already scheduled event Saturday, Oct. 3.

“Our race fans have loved the exciting doubleheader action of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this year at Road America and Iowa Speedway,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President & CEO Mark Miles said. “We look forward to giving them even more world-class entertainment this season at three of the most exciting racetracks on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar.”

INDYCAR’s race at Portland International Raceway and doubleheader weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation of both event weekends was a mutual decision between the series and promoters following close consultation and monitoring of the local situation. The series looks forward to returning to both venues in 2021.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES remains on track to run 14 races in the 2020 season. The full, updated schedule can be found at INDYCAR.com/Schedule.

Indianapolis 500 Schedule-Some New Times, More Than 7 Hours on NBC

First, my condolences to the family of Maurice Petty, who died Saturday at age 81. The master engine builder and brother of Richard Petty was a cornerstone of racing in the 60s. It has been a tough few days in the auto racing world with the loss of Chuck Hulse and Ralph Liguori as well.

The time schedule for every day of Indianapolis 500 activity is out. NBC will more than seven hours of track time including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.  NBC will qualifying on Saturday, August 15, from 3-5 pm ET, and the network returns Sunday for the last row shootout beginning at 1 pm. The Fast Nine follows on NBC from 1:45-2:30. The rest of qualifying can be seen on either NBC Gold or NBCSN.

Opening Day Tuesday August 11, is a short day. Veterans practice from 11-1, and Rookie Orientation runs from 1-4. Wednesday through Friday practice times have changed from the traditional times. Practice runs from 12:30-5:30 each day.

The track is open to the public every day, but only at 25% capacity. The only day I see this as a possible issue is Carb Day. Many fans who have chosen not to attend the race may be coming out on the Friday before the race as their only  chance to see the field of 33 on track.

Tuesday Aug. 11

11-1 pm – Veterans Practice NBC Gold

1-4 pm – Rookie Orientation/Veterans Refresher Programs NBC Gold

Wednesday Aug. 12 – Friday Aug. 14

12:30-5:30 pm – Practice NBC Gold

Saturday Aug. 15

8:30-9:30 am – Practice NBC Gold

11-6 pm – Quals (NBC Gold coverage 11-3, NBC 3-5, NBCSN 5-6

Sunday Aug. 16

10-10:30 am – Last chance practice NBC Gold

10:30-11 am – Fast Nine practice NBC Gold

12:30-1:45 pm – Last Row Shootout (NBC at 1 pm)

1:45-2:30 pm – Fast Nine Shootout NBC

4:15-6 pm – Practice NBCSN

Friday Aug. 21 (Carb Day)

11-1 pm – Final practice NBCSN

Sunday Aug. 23 (Race Day)

2:30 pm – 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 NBC

Qualifying Still Needs to be Fixed

The series and the Speedway are sending mixed messages with the qualifying format. Last year the 25 guaranteed spots argument was laid to rest, but what about the fastest 33? It is difficult if not impossible to get the Fastest 33 if drivers are going to be locked in on Saturday. In 2019, Fernando Alonso didn’t make the race, but his time was faster than the 30th qualifier, who was deemed safe. I don’t necessarily have an issue with a last chance qualifying on Sunday, but the cars involved should be able to defend after they are bumped. The slowest car in the entire field Saturday should be in jeopardy and have a chance to defend itself Sunday as well. This is the only way to have the Fastest 33 in the current climate.

Time for the extra runs can be made available by eliminating the Fast Nine. Like inter-league play in baseball and the slam dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game, this is a concept that has outlived its usefulness. There can be plenty of drama in a pole fight late Saturday afternoon. I thought Conor Daly winning the pole at Iowa last Friday was pretty dramatic.

Let’s Play Two!

We could see two more double headers added to the season schedule. There likely will be no racing on the west coast this year. Mid Ohio news trickled out yesterday, and Gateway may announce today. The Harvest Classic at IMS may also end being pluralized.

I remain skeptical of St. Pete running. The season finale may be at IMS.

 

Portland Cancelled: Double Header at Mid Ohio

Per Motorsport.com this afternoon, the Indycar race scheduled for September 13 at Portland international Raceway has been cancelled.  The race will be replaced by a second race at Mid Ohio August 8, the day before the already scheduled Honda Indy 200.

Qualifying will follow the two group format traditionally used at Detroit and used at Road America this year.  Cars will be impounded after qualifying.

I don’t think we are done with double headers yet.  I still expect the races at Laguna Seca to be cancelled as well. Those events will be replaced by a double header at Gateway and another one at the harvest Classic at IMS in October.

The October races at IMS could end up being the season finale, as I remain skeptical about the St. Pete race at the end of October going forward.

IMS also released the schedule for practice and qualifying this afternoon. I will post that tomorrow, along with some thoughts about qualifying and the double headers.

IMS 500 Plans, Double Header Rumors Top Busy Week for Indycar

Cars haven’t been on track since last Saturday, but Indycar continues to make news- some facts, some rumors, and also bit of sadness. The pandemic has made uncertainty the only certain thing. Other sports are taking the first steps toward resuming while Indycar is at the halfway point of its season which is still scheduled to run into October.

The 88 page plan revealed by IMS on Wednesday for the 500 is very thorough and precise. If you are one of the 87,00 or so still planning to attend the race, it would worth your while to read through it. It is what you would expect from Penske- every situation is covered, every entrance and exit planned down to the tiniest detail in both text and diagram.

More Double Headers?

I’m hearing that Mid Ohio, Gateway, and the Harvest Classic at IMS will become double header weekends to compensate for the apparent losses of Portland and Laguna Seca. Neither track has officially cancelled yet, but Portland is under a crowd limit of 250 or fewer people order, and Laguna Seca does not have the volunteer staff to run the event. The Coronavirus in California also presents an obstacle.

Assuming St. Pete still goes forward, which I am skeptical about, the series would run 14 races with the new double headers. Two races at gateway the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 sounds like a lot for the crews, but it’s really no different than running Detroit the weekend after the traditional 500 date. In addition, the entire month of September would be open. I don’t like the idea of no races for an entire month and then having the series return for its final two or three events. It would be difficult to add a new track in September.

Ralph Liguori

Ralph_Liguori

On Wednesday, Ralph Liguori, itinerant racer, died at age 93. Liguori started more than 130 races between NASCAR and Indycar. His best finish was  second in the 1970 Hoosier Hundred. he passed A. J. Foyt for the spot. Liguori tried to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 six times between 1959 and 1968. He was bumped with 20 minutes left on Bump Day in 1963. Liguori raced into his 70s and won a race in 1973.

Setback for Zanardi

After some good news earlier in the week, Alex Zanardi’s condition has worsened. On Monday the former CART champion was moved to a rehabilitation facility. This morning he returned to ICU as his condition became unstable.

Zanardi suffered facial and neurological injuries in a hand bike accident on June 19.

Trouble for COTA

The FIA announced this morning that Formula will not have any races in the Americas. The cancellations include Canada,Mexico, Brazil, and the United States. this is particularly bad news for the Circuit of the Americas, which had already lost this year’s Indycar race among other events. It is sad to see such a great track in jeopardy.

Whether Indycar or F1 returns there next year remains to be seen. Roger Penske has talked about possibly having F1 return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While the road course has improved since the last time the U. S. Grand Prix was here, I still don’t think it’s a great F1 track.  The course needs some significant elevation changes to be a good track for F1.

Iowa for Sale?

This is strictly a rumor, but it seems Iowa Speedway may be for sale and Roger Penske may consider buying it to keep it on the Indycar schedule. This could be one of the first side benefits of Penske buying the series.

Iowa is a great track for Indycar. I love going there. I have always thought that Indycar should own some tracks, especially ovals, to keep a solid schedule. I think it would make economic sense in the long run.