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Even though they’re in Sebring, drivers still talking about Phoenix test

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Teams have moved on to Sebring Tuesday and Wednesday for additional testing in preparation for the March 13 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg.

But thoughts of last week’s successful two-day test at Phoenix International Raceway remain prominent.

It was the first time the full series has returned to PIR since its last race there in 2005. The test on the one-mile, low-banked track was in preparation for the Phoenix Grand Prix on Saturday night, April 2.

Only a handful of today’s drivers raced at PIR the last time 11 years ago, but Tony Kanaan remembers the venue quite well.

Kanaan won the 2003 and 2004 races at PIR, and finished second to Sam Hornish Jr. in the last IndyCar race there in 2005.

“When you have a record like that, it’s obviously nice to be back,” Kanaan said. “A slightly different configuration, but it’s still one of my favorite racetracks.

“One of my best recollections, I gave Michael Andretti’s team their first win when they got back to IndyCar. It was here in 2003. A lot of good memories about this racetrack.”

Indeed, PIR has reconfigured and eliminated the infamous Turn 2 dogleg heading into the backstretch, which will change up the racing somewhat than what it used to be like for drivers who remember the old track configuration.

“Obviously, the dogleg has a little bit more banking, little bit less racetrack for us because we cannot use the apron the way the NASCAR guys do,” Kanaan said. “But all in all, I mean, it’s not a huge difference.”

Defending IndyCar champ Scott Dixon has three races at PIR (2003-2005) on his racing resume, including a runner-up to Kanaan in the 2004 race.

He misses the old dogleg, yet understands why the track has undergone some of the changes it has over the last decade.

“It’s been NASCAR-ified,” Dixon said. “No banking, smoother. This track used to be quite fun because of turn two (dogleg). It really closed in on itself and made it hard.

“Once you kind of get through the middle here, you’ve got an easy exit. For Cup cars, that makes it much easier. But for us, a lot of people don’t have to try and finish the rest of the corner, whereas back in the day, if you had a really good car, your car would finish the rest of the corner and you’d have a real good run down the back straight.”

It will be interesting to see how the IndyCar aero package handles the relatively short PIR layout.

“I think the track’s a good track,” Dixon said. “It’s just averaging over 190 mph on a mile track is pretty damn fast for an Indy car.”

A lot is riding on IndyCar’s return to the Valley of the Sun. Not only do track officials have to attract longtime IndyCar fans, they also have to attract and educate a brand new group of potential IndyCar fans.

“Phoenix is a great area, it’s an area we need to be,” Dixon said. “I hope that the race is good. It’s all about advertising, marketing, and spending a bit of cash.

“You get what you pay for. So, I hope they market this race well, and if they do, I think they can build on a positive future. They’ve put a lot of time into this.”

The Arizona Republic estimated 5,000 fans for the Saturday portion of the test, which was open to fans for free, and NBC Sports contributor Robin Miller also estimated roughly the same in a RACER.com column posted earlier this week.

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.