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

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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 

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).