St Petersburg IndyCar opener to go ahead behind closed doors

General admission for Sunday's IndyCar season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been banned due to coronavirus, but the race will go ahead

While Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told Autosport last weekend that he didn't expect the '20 IndyCar calendar to be affected by what has since been classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, significant changes have occurred throughout motorsport since.

The race looked under threat when Mayor of St Petersburg Rick Kriseman announced a ban on large public gatherings.

Kriseman, explaining the decision, 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 continued to quote 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."

A few hours after that announcement came, organisers for the IndyCar race said the race will go ahead, but fans will be kept out - with on-track action limited to Saturday and Sunday.

A joint statement from IndyCar and Green Savoree Racing Promotions, in conjunction with the city of St. Petersburg read: "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 [Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000, USF2000], 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."

A limited number of deadline media with pre-approved credentials will also be permitted access to cover the event.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has become the traditional season-opener for IndyCar and is one of the most popular events on the series' calendar.

Coming NASCAR events to be run behind closed doors

Earlier on Thursday morning Miami-Dade County announced the suspension of all mass gatherings, causing NASCAR to postpone its 22 March race at Homestead.

However, the Homstead race and the Atlanta round will go ahead without spectators present.

A statement from NASCAR read: "At this time, NASCAR will hold its race events at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway without fans in attendance.

"These events will be restricted to competitors, crews, officials and other necessary personnel to conduct the race.

"We will work with public health officials as we determine future scheduling beyond these events."

Elsewhere in America, the National Basketball League (NBA) has suspended its season after a player from the Utah Jazz team tested positive for COVID-19, while the National Hockey League (NHL) has followed suit.

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