By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
For the first time since 1946, America Open Wheel Racing won’t be visiting the West Coast following the cancellations of both the Grand Prix of Portland and the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca doubleheader Monday.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NTT IndyCar Series confirmed they won’t be heading to those two venues and will leave the month of September without racing.
The first removed was Portland International Raceway, originally scheduled to have its third straight grand prix weekend on September 11-13. The Oregon circuit issued a statement regarding Monday’s announcement:
“With Oregon’s statewide restrictions on public gatherings in effect through at least September, INDYCAR announced today that the Grand Prix of Portland has been removed from the series’ 2020 schedule. The event was scheduled to take place September 11-13 at Portland International Raceway.
“We are extremely disappointed, and will miss the incredible fans who have supported us. The safety of our fans, participants, volunteers, staff, partners and media will always remain our top priority.
“Ticket purchasers on file will receive direct communication in the coming weeks.”
The second race weekend to be sent on the chopping block was Laguna Seca, a venue INDYCAR returned just last year after a 14-year absence.
Originally scheduled to have been the championship finale, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey became a doubleheader with St. Petersburg now becoming the finale when the last updated scheduled was announced in May.
As time went by, President and GM of WTR Laguna Seca John Narigi said it just wasn’t feasible to have crowds on the weekend of September 18-20 and had to remain vigilant for everyone’s well-being.
“It is clear that spectators, hospitality guests and sponsors would not be permissible under current state guidelines, and the tight restrictions placed on teams would make the race weekend not viable for neither Monterey nor IndyCar,” said Narigi. “We were really looking forward to INDYCAR’s return to our community. This is a huge disappointment, but out of the control of everyone involved.”
The cancellation meant it’ll be the first time Indy car racing won’t be making a trip to the state of California in 73 years.
As a result of the West Coast oust, three current tracks not fully affected by the pandemic becomes a doubleheader, including the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio next weekend as Rounds 7 and 8 will now take place on Saturday, August 8 and Sunday, June 9.
The other two venues becoming doubleheaders are World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and the INDYCAR Harvest GP at the Indy road course.
Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles shared briefly about the excitement of having more doubleheaders following the success of both Road America and Iowa Speedway that was part of a five-race, 15-day grind this month.
“Our race fans have loved the exciting doubleheader action of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this year at Road America and Iowa Speedway,” said Miles. “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.”
Mid-Ohio will allow fans to attended both 75-lap races under limited capacity with tickets being sold under first come, first served basis. As part of state health regulations, fans are required to wear masks at all times and will be subject to a temperature check and health screening upon entering the 2.258-mile facility.
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course President Craig Rust commented that following the success of the Vintage Grand Prix this month, they’re confident of the folks cooperation of following the protocols and are thrilled to host an additional race.
“Our team greatly appreciates the guidance and leadership of Morrow County Health Commissioner Stephanie Bragg working through the details with us on opening this event to a limited amount of spectators,” said Rust. “It was great to have our fans out for the Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio in late June which utilized best practices for COVID-19 protocols, and we’re grateful that race weekend went well. The cooperation of following all the COVID-19 protocols by everyone in attendance will be important for a successful Honda Indy 200 event.”
Once the pageantry known as the 104th Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge is over, INDYCAR will head to Gateway for a twin 200-lap race held on Saturday, August 29 and Sunday, August 30 with both races being held at daytime (3:00 p.m. EST).
Like Iowa, the starting lineup will be determined based on two laps with the opening lap setting up Saturday’s race and the second lap for Sunday. The session will commence on Saturday at Noon EST.
Owner and CEO of WWTR Curtis Francois commented the goal has always been to be a great partner with INDYCAR and race fans, especially during difficult times that’s come to define 2020.
“Hosting two INDYCAR races in one weekend is a dream for the St. Louis racing community,” said Francois. “Despite the unprecedented challenges we all face, it will enable us to provide a historic event for our city in a safe environment. Safe social interaction is at the core of our event and we are doing everything possible to make sure our fans have a worry-free experience.
“We appreciate the various stakeholders, especially the Bommarito Automotive Group, who have rallied together for what should be an epic weekend of racing. The Bommarito Automotive Group’s support of the sport of INDYCAR racing has been tremendous since coming on board as a sponsor in January of 2017. This is a tremendous win to recognize them for their efforts with not one, but two nationally-televised races for their dedication to motorsports. This will be the most historic event ever held at this venue.”
The last of the doubleheaders will be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course for the Harvest Grand Prix. Rather than being a one-race event on Saturday, October 3, it’ll now begin on Friday, October 2 to kickoff the penultimate race weekend.
Therefore, four out of the 14 races (28.5%) will have been run at Indy with the GMR Grand Prix already contested and won by Scott Dixon, and the Indy 500 set to commence Sunday, August 23 under 25% capacity.
With just eight round remaining, only the Indy 500 and St. Pete finale will be non-doubleheaders as the championship trail has seen another twist that’ll certainly make for an already compelling campaign as intriguing.
Updated and Remaining 2020 NTT IndyCar Series Race Schedule
- Honda Indy 200 Race No. 1 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – August 8
- Honda Indy 200 Race No. 2 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – August 9
- Indianapolis 500 Qualifying – Indianapolis Motor Speedway – August 15-16
- 104th Indianapolis 500 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway – August 23
- Bommarito Automotive Group Race No. 1 – World Wide Tech Raceway at Gateway – August 29
- Bommarito Automotive Group Race No. 2 – World Wide Tech Raceway at Gateway – August 30
- INDYCAR Harvest GP Race No. 1 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) – October 2
- INDYCAR Harvest GP Race No. 2 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Road Course) – October 3
- Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg Street Circuit – October 25