By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The world of open wheel racing took a slew of schedule alternations all across the world due to the rise of the much feared coronavirus pandemic.
As many sports sanctioning bodies (NBA, NCAA, MLB, MLS, WEC, IMSA, AMA Supercross, LPGA and XFL) have suspended or delayed their seasons, the world of motorsports are no exceptions.
Effective immediately, three notable races have changed in both Formula One and the NTT IndyCar Series.
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX CANCELLED
The commencement of Formula One’s 70th season will have to wait a little longer as the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was cancelled Friday.
This was due to multiple reasons which began after multiple people, notably a member from the McLaren Racing Team, have tested positive of COVID-19 (coronavirus) Thursday. As a result, the team consisting of drivers Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, Jr. withdrew from the event.
It resulted much debate as to whether or not the 20-car grid will soldier on or put safety over racing. Three teams (Red Bull Racing, AlphaTauri and Racing Point) were intending to compete no matter what, but others such as Mercedes-AMG Petronas gave the FIA an ultimatum that they should not let the race go on.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) March 12, 2020
Hours before FP1 was about to start, all track activities (including Supercars and Australian S5000 Championship) were officially cancelled as a joint statement by F1, the FIA and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation was issued:
“Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for COVID-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 and the FIA convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening. Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead.
“Formula 1 and the FIA, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix are cancelled.
“We appreciate this is very disappointing news for the thousands of fans due to attend the race and all ticket holders will receive a full refund and a further announcement will be communicated in due course.
“All parties took into consideration the huge efforts of the AGPC, Motorsport Australia, staff and volunteers to stage the opening round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship in Melbourne, however concluded that the safety of all members of the Formula 1 family and the wider community, as well as the fairness of the competition take priority.”
It’s the second F1 grand prix weekend impacted by the pandemic as the Bahrain Grand Prix, the tentative new season opener, will compete behind closed doors March 22.
INDYCAR SEASON OPENER TO RUN BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
While F1 won’t see any action, INDYCAR will appear to be one of only two major sporting events (the other being NASCAR at Atlanta Motor Speedway) that’ll continue as scheduled, but without the passionate fans adoring the 26 daring men competing for 100 laps.
INDYCAR and Green Savoree Racing Promotions issued the following:
“INDYCAR and Green Savoree Racing Promotions, in conjunction with the city of St. Petersburg, announced Thursday that all activities surrounding Sunday’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be closed to spectators and limited to essential personnel only. This protocol is being put in place to protect the health and welfare of the fans, drivers, teams, workers and officials, as we mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The race weekend will operate from Friday through Sunday, with INDYCAR on-track sessions limited to Saturday and Sunday. The activities also include Road To Indy, IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup, and SRO Motorsports Group America on a condensed schedule. A press release with full details, including a revised schedule, will be issued with additional details later today.”
INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles commented that health and safety was priority when agreeing to a decision to let the show go on as they’ll also set up a screening area at the venue entry point.
“INDYCAR loves to present great sport and competition and there is no place we enjoy more than St. Petersburg to open our season,” Miles said. “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.”
Live coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins with the pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN with the pre-race show. The green flag for the 100-lap event is scheduled for 3:30pm EST. Defending Josef Newgarden will look to start his title defense with a shot of capturing his second straight win at the 1.8-mile street circuit.
ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH WEEKEND POSTPONED
Not everything was positive in INDYCAR as the second most prestigious race behind the Indianapolis 500 won’t take place.
The City of Long Beach announced Thursday morning that they’ll be prohibiting all large-scale events through April 30, 2020, including the 46th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach which was originally scheduled on April 17-19.
It impacts not only INDYCAR, but also the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship as Long Beach becomes the second race being postponed. The other race being the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring which was postponed to November 11-14, 2020.
Long Beach is currently working on ways to reschedule the race at a later time. If nothing becomes materialized, fans will have to wait until next year to get their street racing fixed in Southern California.
“While we recognize that this is a serious inconvenience for our loyal attendees, sponsors and other clients, nevertheless, this action is consistent with our primary objective of assuring the public’s safety and well-being at our event,” an issue stated by the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“We are in conversation with the City of Long Beach, various race sanctioning bodies and the Long Beach Convention Center to discuss the viability of rescheduling this event at a later time in the year. If that is not possible, then we look forward to presenting the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 16-18, 2021. Further details about possible refunds or credits will be forthcoming.”