IndyCar opener at St. Petersburg closed to fans but will continue

Coronavirus IndyCar St. Pete
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – The 2020 IndyCar season will begin as scheduled Sunday, but it will be affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman told reporters Thursday that two people in the area have been diagnosed with COVID-19. As a result, the city will close the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to general admission spectators, and season opener could be delayed.

In a 3 p.m. news conference, the mayor announced that the race will occur Sunday as scheduled.

Mayor Kriseman spoke to a group of civic leaders and NTT IndyCar Series drivers at the annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Media Brunch at the Vinoy Hotel Thursday morning. He stressed this a “fluid situation.”

The mayor said there have been two people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the St. Petersburg area.

“We had one person that tested positive during Bike Week and another that was at a national conference at the Emergency Services Conference that was across the Bay (in Tampa),” Mayor Kriseman told after his remarks.

Just one day earlier, Mayor Kriseman spoke with race promoter Kevin Savoree to express the race was still a “go.” IndyCar distributed instructions to teams on how drivers should handle fan interaction and also canceled an autograph session.

But 24 hours later, as the crisis continued to evolve, the Mayor, Savoree and IndyCar were trying to determine the next steps.

“I strongly believe life must carry on as best as we are able, but the reality is during this global pandemic, this doesn’t appear possible,” Mayor Kriseman told the crowd at Thursday’s brunch. “I want to express my disappointment and where we are at today in this decision. I love this event. Those of you who know me, know how passionate I am about this race and what the IndyCar race has on the city.

“We will make an announcement later today about the race moving forward.”

Mayor Rick Kriseman — Photo by Bruce Martin

The mayor also announced the city extended its contract with Green Savoree Promotions to host the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for five more years.

“That’s a big deal,” Kriseman said. “Although, we are dealing with this, this year, we look forward and are excited to the race taking place for five years and hopefully a lot longer than that.

“The drivers are all about getting behind the wheel and putting on a great show for the fans and sponsors. We appreciate everyone at IndyCar for working with us as this decision is being made.

“Stay tuned. We will make additional announcements later today. We look forward to an amazing race next year.”

Upon returning to the race course, Andretti Autosport drivers Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay were leaving with other members of the team’s public relations staff.

Rossi shrugged his shoulders and said, “What are you going to do?” as they continued to walk to their cars.

An IndyCar team official told that IndyCar officials were asking the teams to submit a lineup of “essential crewmembers” if the race was able to continue in front of an extremely limited crowd.

Before Mayor Kriseman’s announcement, spoke with defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden about the excitement level entering the season-opening contest.

“It’s always a fantastic, welcoming kickoff,” Newgarden told “We love the town of St. Pete. They have a great community and make it feel like a big deal. The season-opener is important. We want to have a great race for the series; but also want a good race to set you up for the championship.

“I love the atmosphere here. You are hibernating for six months and to get back to racing is important.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”