IndyCar advises teams on St. Pete interaction because of COVID-19

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In a memo sent Wednesday to its teams, IndyCar has implemented some changes for fan interaction this weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Drivers are being advised “to pre-sign items items whenever possible, including hero cards” and also bring their own Sharpies. Restricting fan autographs to hero cards is recommended, and drivers are expected to sign a minimum of 100 hero cards that will be distributed by IndyCar.

A Friday autograph session with drivers will replaced with a 15-minute social Q&A taped with drivers (whose attendance is mandatory) that will be shown on videoboards around the course during breaks on track. Drivers will answer questions from fans via social media.

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IndyCar drivers still are expected to participate in a fan Q&A Thursday night in a downtown St. Petersburg park. A prerace drivers meeting Sunday at noon will remain open to the public, though drivers will be kept at a distance of more than 6 feet from fans and other attendees.

IndyCar teams also were advised to follow advice and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

IndyCar announced last week that it expected no schedule disruptions because of the coronavirus outbreak. That stance was reaffirmed in a Wednesday morning news conference with St. Petersburg officials.

In a Wednesday interview with RACER, IndyCar owner Roger Penske said, “We’re monitoring every single move, and we met with (the mayor of St. Petersburg) again today, and continue to coordinate with health department as well. We’ll take this one day at a time, and do everything to make a prudent decision.

“We had 25,000 people at Amelia Island last weekend with no problems. DisneyWorld is still open, there’s a big golf tournament in Florida this weekend, and there’s no reason to make any change in St. Pete unless we’re instructed by the government and/or health department.”

In a social media post Wednesday, Robert Wickens provided his approach to fan interaction this weekend at St. Petersburg.

NASCAR also announced some procedural changes for this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway because of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1,000 people in the United States and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).