IndyCar cancels general admission at St. Pete, race in doubt

David Malsher-Lopez

While Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told Motorsport.com last weekend that he didn’t expect the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series calendar to be affected by what has since been classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, significant changes have occurred nationwide this week.

Despite Wednesday morning’s news conference in which St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman and event promoter Kevin Savoree insisted that the GP of St. Pete was still going ahead on schedule, any events involving large crowds have been coming under increased scrutiny as individual states seek to contain the virus, and health authorities recommend people stay at least six feet from each other.

Mayor Kriseman, explaining the overnight change of heart, said: “Since yesterday, we’ve learned of a coronavirus case at an open-air event similar to ours, [Daytona] Bike Week. Then at an EMS conference across the Bay from us.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Kriseman stating: “The World Health Organization has since called this a global pandemic. My most important job is public safety and health. It is for that reason that we are cancelling general attendance at the [Grand Prix].

"We are working with the promoters and IndyCar and will have more announcements later as to whether the race itself will run.

“I don’t make this decision lightly. I strongly believe life must carry on, as best we are able. But the reality now is that’s just not possible. I am disappointed. I love this race. But I love this city and our residents more.”

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Adam Silver, NBA commissioner, took the shock decision Wednesday evening to suspend the league’s 2019-20 season indefinitely, immediately putting pressure on other sports’ governing bodies to either follow suit or ban spectators from their events.

Street course races such as St. Petersburg are harder to police in this manner, since crowds would gather at the perimeter of the track anyway, and local communities are unlikely to tolerate the inconvenience of shutdown streets and thoroughfares without being able to attend the event itself.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which has become the traditional season-opener for IndyCar, is one of the most popular events on the series’ calendar, and this year’s race would have marked the 17th edition.

Kriseman’s announcement comes on the same morning Miami-Dade County announced the suspension of all mass gatherings, causing NASCAR to postpone its March 22 race at Homestead.