IndyCar schedule condensed to Saturday-Sunday at St. Pete GP


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The NTT IndyCar Series released an updated schedule Thursday night for its season opener, limiting its on track action to Saturday and Sunday.

IndyCar will be on track the first time at 9:45 a.m. ET Saturday for a 45-minute practice that originally was scheduled for Friday. The second practice will be 1:30-2:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by qualifying at 4:45 p.m. (two hours later than originally scheduled.

Live coverage of all practice and qualifying sessions will be on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying also will air at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing this weekend at St. Pete

VIEWER’S GUIDE: Five things to watch this season in IndyCar

Sunday’s schedule largely will remain unchanged with a 10:25 a.m. warmup (on NBC Sports Gold) and the green flag for the 100-lap race at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The track also will be open Friday for several support series (Indy Lights, IndyPro 2000, U.S. F2000, IMSA GT30) that will be practicing and racing through Sunday.

Earlier Thursday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and IndyCar officials announced that the race weekend will be closed to spectators and limited to essential personnel only because of the coronavirus oubreak.

“IndyCar loves to present great sport and competition and there is no place we enjoy more than St. Petersburg to open our season,” IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said in a statement. “However, the priority had to be the health and safety of our fans, drivers, teams, officials and workers.

“We worked through all the possible options with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, his administration and race promoter Green Savoree and we came to the best possible conclusion given all the circumstances, in particular when our teams indicated they still wanted to race.

“We are aware of the number of fans that gathered in St. Petersburg for the race weekend, but we are hopeful they trust and understand that the move was made with their health and welfare in mind as the sports world looks to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic from a global perspective.”

There will be only one gate open to the venue, and it will include a health screening area to gain access in which a short questionnaire about COVID-19 exposure and recent travel history (which could trigger further screening) will need to be completed to gain entry.

“All those competitors will have to answer,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner of Green-Savoree Promotions that runs the event. “That gives us a way to have health screenings for them to ensure their health and safety as well. Obviously all of us are taking it very, very seriously right now.”

Savoree said there would be no cars allowed on property this weekend. Parking will move to Tropicana Field with shuttles running to bring team personnel and officials to the 1.8-mile track.

IndyCar also said because of “the fluidity of the situation,” there might be more modification to the schedule that will be announced later.

Mayor Kriseman said the situation remained “very fluid.” Asked why the race still would happen while so many other sports leagues had canceled or postponed games, Kriseman said, “it’s really about mass gatherings. The teams are already here. All of the competitors are already here in town. It’s not like it’s a week out, and nobody has come here yet. They are all here.

“What we don’t want to see is a situation where you have 150,000 people over a weekend that are all together in one place. It did not make sense for us. That is the reason we’ve done this.”

Kriseman said he was relying on the advice of experts in the Centers for Disease Control and the local department of health.

Asked whether there still was a possibility that Sunday’s race might not happen, Kriseman said, “I don’t want to speculate on what could happen, but obviously in the last 24 hours, there’s already been a change. Our hope is that what we have announced today is what will happen the rest of the week. We will continue to monitor things and adjust it if we have to.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).