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Formula One CEO apologizes to fans for cancellation of early races

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PARIS — Formula One CEO Chase Carey apologized to fans Tuesday after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and other early races this season were canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Amid chaotic scenes in Melbourne on Friday, fans were waiting at the gates to watch the first two practice sessions of the race when the late decision was made to finally postpone it. By that point, even with thousands of fans outside, teams were packing up inside the paddock.

“We apologize to those fans affected by the cancellation in Australia, as well as the postponement of the other races to date,” Carey wrote in an open letter to fans on the F1 website. “We also want to extend our thoughts to those already affected, including those in the Formula 1 family.”

The late decision to cancel the race hastened after McLaren withdrew because a team member tested positive for the COVID-19 illness. Even before the cancellation, Mercedes sent a letter to the FIA and F1 requesting it be called off and had commenced preparations to leave.

The Bahrain and Vietnam Grand Prix races quickly were postponed. Bahrain was scheduled to begin on Friday – at an empty track – and the inaugural Vietnamese GP in Hanoi on April 5.

On Monday, tire provider Pirelli said one of its staff tested positive for the virus and was undergoing treatment in Melbourne. McLaren said the employee who tested positive “is recovering well and the symptoms have gone.”

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

With the Chinese GP on April 17 already canceled in February, the first four races are off.

The season could start in the Netherlands, at the Zandvoort track outside Amsterdam, on May 3, or later in May at either the Spanish GP on May 10 the Monaco GP on May 24.

F1 can gain back some time by scrapping its traditional midseason break, which lasts for four weeks.

“We recognize everyone wants to know what comes next for Formula 1 in 2020. We cannot provide specific answers today given the fluidity of the situation,” Carey said. “However, we plan to get the 2020 Championship season underway as soon as it’s safe to do so. We are engaging with experts and officials on a daily basis.”

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