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 NBCSports.com 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 NBCSports.com 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, NBCSports.com 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 NBCSports.com. “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 

NEOM McLaren Formula E announces Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast for 2023 season

McLaren Formula E Hughes
McLaren Racing
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Doubling down on their commitment to electric auto sports, McLaren Racing announced Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast to compete in the 2023 Formula E Series (FE), which completes their driver lineup.

The NEOM McLaren FE team was formed by the acquisition of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E team that won the 2021 and 2022 championships with Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries behind the wheel.

“Today’s announcement feels like a long time coming,” said Ian James, managing director of NEOM McLaren Electric Racing in a release. “Since May this year, when we first announced McLaren Racing’s entry into Formula E, we have been working tirelessly to get in place the best possible team and structure for sustainable success.

“On the one hand, we have been working on the retention of the amazing talent that already was in place before going into the transitional phase. I’m proud to say I think we’ve done a great job on that front.

“On the other hand, we have been focusing on putting in place new processes and new talent – and the latter includes the drivers.”

The driver lineup clasps the two hands together.

Hughes brings 10 years racing experience in single seater cars, including a role with the acquired Mercedes-EQ team as a reserve and development driver for the past two seasons. He is the 2013 BRDC Formula 4 champion and has multiple wins in Formula 2, including two in 2020.

Announced in August, Rast joins the team after earning two podium finishes and six top-fives in 22 career Formula E starts for Audi Sport ABT before returning to the DTM Series last year. Rast’s best finish in Formula E came in the Puebla E Prix when he finished second to teammate Lucas di Grassi by less than a half second.

McLaren’s commitment to Formula E comes one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour in the driver lineup. After a modest start to the season, the McLaren XE drivers crossed the finish line first in Round 4 in Chile, but were assessed a time penalty that dropped them to fifth. Last week in the season finale in Uruguay, they held onto a hard-earned second place finish.