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Indianapolis Motor Speedway updates status of the Indy 500

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway has addressed the Centers for Disease Control’s March 15 recommendation that crowds larger than 50 be limited for eight weeks.

In a statement early Monday morning, the track said it’s aware of the CDC guideline and is planning for all contingencies but also will be prepared to run its events in May.

The track opens in earnest with the first week of May with the GMR Grand Prix scheduled Saturday, May 9 on its road course.

MOTORSPORTS IMPACT: How COVID-19 has affected 2020 schedules

IMS then switches over to the oval the next week for Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 16-17 and the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

IndyCar announced last week that its first four races of the season would be canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In comments to the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer this week, track owner Roger Penske said he was “working on many options” for the race.

The Indianapolis Business Journal reported earlier this week that contingency plans had been considered for postponing the race to the summer of fall if the outbreak has yet to subside. The IBJ estimated the race has an economic impact of more than $200 million on the region, which would rule out any cancellation.

IndyCar was to have raced April 26 in Austin, Texas, at the Circuit of the Americas, which has laid off staff and moved to a status of “limited use” because of the outbreak.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a grandstand capacity of more than 250,000 and regularly draws a sellout crowd of 300,000 to the Indy 500. Last month, Penske (who bought IMS in January) told NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty that 78% of its grandstand tickets and all of it suites had been sold for the Indy 500.

Here’s the statement Monday from IMS:

“We are aware of the CDC’s interim guidance suggesting the postponement of events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks. Our priority is to do our part in protecting the public health while still conducting the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge as scheduled on May 24.

“This continues to be a dynamic situation which we are monitoring constantly in coordination with federal, state, local and public health officials. We are planning for all contingencies and will be prepared to run the GMR Grand Prix and Indy 500 as the COVID-19 situation permits.”

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994