Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Travel and COVID-19 Protocols Impact INDYCAR, NASCAR and F1

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

While most parts of the world are slowly heading back to a normal direction. There’s still some instances where motorsports are still affected by COVID-19 and it’s implications surrounding it.

Friday, May 14, 2021 became the latest day where a slew of announcements unraveled. As driver and calendar changes were confirmed across three racing divisions. Here’s how the NTT IndyCar Series, NASCAR and Formula One were impacted:

Carlin Won’t Compete in GMR Grand Prix

The British based team confirmed this morning that its flagship driver Max Chilton won’t race Saturday. In a statement, Carlin mentioned traveling issues from Chilton is what led the GMR Grand Prix from having 26 entries down to 25.

However, the team were able to arrive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without issues. Despite missing out on the 85-lap event, it allows the No. 59 team to concentrate on their efforts of making the 105th Indianapolis 500. This however doesn’t affect its two-car Indy Lights effort as both Alex Peroni and Christian Bogle will compete at IMS this weekend.

Honda Indy Toronto Cancelled

For the second straight year, one of IndyCar’s most popular venues won’t commence due to COVID-19. The first race to be affected this season by the pandemic was a result of the City of Toronto to extend its cancellations of major events through Labor Day.

Therefore, Exhibition Place won’t have any racing action on July 9-11. Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles issued a statement regarding Friday’s cancellation.

“The NTT INDYCAR SERIES race around Exhibition Place and Princes’ Gates is a hallmark of our summer schedule,” said Miles. “To have that void for a second straight year is heartbreaking. We deeply miss our fans there and urge them to remain safe during these unprecedented times. INDYCAR looks forward to a high-powered return in 2022 and for years to come.”

Those who’ve purchased tickets dating back to 2020 will still be honored for next season’s event. They’ll also receive direct communication regarding any updates whenever it becomes available.

At the moment, IndyCar are considering different options as to what they’ll do with the now cancelled date. Time will tell if they’ll head to a familiar venue or the season now becomes a 16-round odyssey.

Justin Haley Out for Dover

NASCAR Xfinity Series standout Justin Haley was ruled out from competing in both NXS and Cup competition at Dover International Speedway. Kaulig Racing (Haley’s NXS team) stated that Haley won’t be racing due to COVID-19 protocols.

“(The team) continues to fully adhere to NASCAR’s safety protocols, as well as the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CD) guidelines,” from the team’s press statement. “To ensure the safety of its employees and fellow competitors.”

Filling in for Haley’s No. 11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet will be Truck Series regular Zane Smith. It’ll mark the Californian’s first start since finishing fifth at Phoenix in November 2019. In 10 Xfinity Series starts, Smith drove for JR Motorsports where he scored two top-fives and seven top-10 finishes.

Josh Berry to Make Cup Debut at Dover

Following the initial announcement, Spire Motorsports (Haley’s Cup team) tabbed Martinsville Xfinity winner Josh Berry to pilot Haley’s No. 77 Chevrolet at Dover. The Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series champion mentioned he hopes Haley is doing well, hoping to compete against him at Charlotte.

“I can’t thank Spire Motorsports enough for giving me the opportunity to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time,” said Berry. “This is a great opportunity for me, and I am going to do my best to give the team a solid finish Sunday afternoon.”

In just this season alone, Berry has build a name for himself on the national level with his aforementioned Martinsville win. This past Saturday, Berry came up a spot short of winning at Darlington Raceway which was won by his JRM teammate Justin Allgaier.

No Turkish Grand Prix After All

Over two weeks after Formula One confirmed the Turkish Grand Prix will replace the Canadian Grand Prix, that vision won’t happen. Istanbul was dropped from the world championship this season as a result of travel restrictions.

It caused a ripple effect to where the sudden drop of Turkey impacted two circuits. The French Grand Prix will now be held a week earlier (June 18-20) and the Red Bull Ring will once again host two races. The first race in Spielberg will be under the Styrian Grand Prix banner (June 25-27) followed by the Austrian Grand Prix a week later (July 2-4).

With the sudden change of the French GP, there were concerns that IndyCar driver Romain Grosjean won’t pilot a Mercedes. That’s because the new date clashes with Road America, thus the true closer of Grosjean’s F1 career won’t happen on a grand prix weekend.

Fortunately, Mercedes assured Grosjean will get his opportunity to drive Lewis Hamilton’s W10 from 2019 June 29. For now, the Frenchman was fifth quickest during the morning practice session at the Indianapolis Road Course, the former venue of the United States Grand Prix from 2000-07.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography ranging from Idaho athletics to auto racing with ambitions of having his work recognized.