The NTT IndyCar Series released an updated schedule Thursday night for its season opener, limiting its on track action to Saturday and Sunday.
IndyCar will be on track the first time at 9:45 a.m. ET Saturday for a 45-minute practice that originally was scheduled for Friday. The second practice will be 1:30-2:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by qualifying at 4:45 p.m. (two hours later than originally scheduled.
Sunday’s schedule largely will remain unchanged with a 10:25 a.m. warmup (on NBC Sports Gold) and the green flag for the 100-lap race at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
The track also will be open Friday for several support series (Indy Lights, IndyPro 2000, U.S. F2000, IMSA GT30) that will be practicing and racing through Sunday.
Earlier Thursday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and IndyCar officials announced that the race weekend will be closed to spectators and limited to essential personnel only because of the coronavirus oubreak.
“IndyCar loves to present great sport and competition and there is no place we enjoy more than St. Petersburg to open our season,” IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said in a statement. “However, the priority had to be the health and safety of our fans, drivers, teams, officials and workers.
“We worked through all the possible options with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, his administration and race promoter Green Savoree and we came to the best possible conclusion given all the circumstances, in particular when our teams indicated they still wanted to race.
“We are aware of the number of fans that gathered in St. Petersburg for the race weekend, but we are hopeful they trust and understand that the move was made with their health and welfare in mind as the sports world looks to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic from a global perspective.”
There will be only one gate open to the venue, and it will include a health screening area to gain access in which a short questionnaire about COVID-19 exposure and recent travel history (which could trigger further screening) will need to be completed to gain entry.
“All those competitors will have to answer,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner of Green-Savoree Promotions that runs the event. “That gives us a way to have health screenings for them to ensure their health and safety as well. Obviously all of us are taking it very, very seriously right now.”
Savoree said there would be no cars allowed on property this weekend. Parking will move to Tropicana Field with shuttles running to bring team personnel and officials to the 1.8-mile track.
IndyCar also said because of “the fluidity of the situation,” there might be more modification to the schedule that will be announced later.
Mayor Kriseman said the situation remained “very fluid.” Asked why the race still would happen while so many other sports leagues had canceled or postponed games, Kriseman said, “it’s really about mass gatherings. The teams are already here. All of the competitors are already here in town. It’s not like it’s a week out, and nobody has come here yet. They are all here.
“What we don’t want to see is a situation where you have 150,000 people over a weekend that are all together in one place. It did not make sense for us. That is the reason we’ve done this.”
Kriseman said he was relying on the advice of experts in the Centers for Disease Control and the local department of health.
Asked whether there still was a possibility that Sunday’s race might not happen, Kriseman said, “I don’t want to speculate on what could happen, but obviously in the last 24 hours, there’s already been a change. Our hope is that what we have announced today is what will happen the rest of the week. We will continue to monitor things and adjust it if we have to.”