Provided there are no further changes to disrupt IndyCar’s plans to race on Sunday at St. Petersburg, 26 drivers will take the green flag and barrel down into Turn 1 and experience two firsts: Empty grandstands and an absence of cheers.
With fans prohibited from attending the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete in an effort to stem the transfer of the COVID-19 virus, a strange new contest will be held where the usual rhythms of practicing, qualifying, and racing will be absent.
“It’s going to be unique,” said A.J. Foyt Racing’s Charlie Kimball, who is preparing to take part in his 10th St. Pete GP. “I think it’s something that especially at an IndyCar [race], we’ve never really had that. Even on the times where we’ve been rained out on a Sunday and come back to race on Monday and only some of the fans came back, we’ve never had that feeling of fully empty racetrack. And in this case, it’s not going to be empty just because people don’t want to come back or have to go to work on Monday. It’s mandated, and it is going to be very strange.”
As the Californian straps into the No. 4 Chevy this weekend sans fanfare, Florida resident Ryan Hunter-Reay will do the same in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda, and hopes the home state fans are understanding of the extraordinary circumstances that led to closing the doors to all but essential personnel.
“Obviously this isn’t something you can plan for and it’s not ideal,” he said. “We’re just reacting, as this seems like an event that’s been changing hour by hour. It’s a matter of setting our priorities. This is a global pandemic and this is ever evolving, always changing here, so we’re trying to do the absolute best we can in looking after our fans’ well-being and states, counties, cities are changing their stance throughout the day.
“Since we’re all here already, I assume the best possible scenario was to continue on with the race without bringing thousands of people together in a confined space. We’re going to do our best to deliver our product to our fans, this time on television. But it’s unfortunate that the situation is what it is.”
Kimball echoed Hunter-Reay’s views.
“The most important point to make is that the health and safety of our community and that community entails everyone who works within the broadcast partnerships, the media, the IndyCar series officials, drivers teams, and probably especially our fans, that health and safety of people within that community is absolutely priority number one,” he said.
“This is uncharted territory for venues, for sports industries, for events, and racing isn’t excluded. I mean, I don’t know that I would have ever considered South by Southwest getting postponed, or Coachella. And yet, all of those things are under the same kinds of changes, following guidance from what governments, locally, statewide, federally, and learning and hearing from their counterparts around the world who have dealt with the coronavirus. This is unprecedented.”