IndyCar

Jordan King to make Indy 500 debut in 2019 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan

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Jordan King will make his IndyCar oval debut next year in the biggest races of his career. Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) Racing announced on Wednesday that King will drive a Honda-powered car in the 2019 Indy 500.

King drove in the 11 road and street course races last year with Ed Carpenter Racing, scoring a best of 11th at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

“I’m really happy and excited to announce that I’ll be driving in the 2019 Indy 500 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” said King in a press release “This race is one that I have been working towards and a race I have always dreamt of racing in as it’s the jewel in the crown of IndyCar. I was at the race last year and I really enjoyed the whole weekend and knew straight away it was something that I had to be a part of so to be able to go there next year is definitely a huge moment in my career.”

King won the prestigious British Formula 3 title in 2013 on his way up the open wheel ladder. He scored seven podium finishes in the European F3 series in 2014, which helped secure a ride in GP2 competition the following year when he scored his first podium at Spa-Francorchamps. Two more seasons in GP2/Formula 2 saw him secure two wins and six podiums.

Jordan certainly impressed me last year with his pace at a number of races,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of RLL Racing. “Of course those were all road and street courses but he quickly came to grips with the Dallara and it was apparent that he has the potential to do well. While this will be his first oval race, I think that given the amount of track time, he will get up to speed and come to grips with the challenges of oval racing just as quickly. Of course it always helps to have two strong teammates and a strong team behind you to shorten the learning curve and we feel we provide that. We look forward to welcoming him to the team.”

King was immediately comfortable in IndyCar. He set a new lap record in his debut on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida this spring before qualifying fourth. King led five laps in that race, but faded to 21st at the checkers.

King has some experience at Indy as well. He qualified fifth for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

“Heading into next year, we went from not being able to find a full-time drive for the season through to securing a seat at one of the biggest races in the world which is a huge relief to be able to get sorted,” King added. “A huge thanks to RLL for the opportunity and I hope I can repay their faith in me with a good result. The race will be my first-ever on a superspeedway so it should be an exciting experience every time I get behind the wheel. The aim for the 500 is to prove myself as an oval racer. I already competed in the road and street courses this year so now I’ll be looking to impress and expand my (curriculum vitae) to push towards a full-time drive.”

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida