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IndyCar teams close shops, continue to pay employees during shutdown

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A survey of NTT IndyCar Series teams by NBCSports.com revealed some have closed their shops for at least two weeks, but crewmembers still are being paid during the shutdown.

Meantime, IndyCar officials are working on financial initiatives to help the team during the next two months as the COVID-19 pandemic has left all sports in limbo. Teams have received the first installment of money from its annual Leaders Circle contingency program.

A.J. Foyt Racing was among the first teams to announce they were closing the shop for two weeks earlier this week. Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBCSports.com last Friday that it would investigate a “work from home” policy for its crew.

Dale Coyne Racing team manager Terry Brown confirmed to NBCSports.com as of 5 p.m. Thursday that Coyne decided to keep the shop closed through next week, but all employees are being paid.

“We hope to open back up on March 31, but that all depends on what happens between now and then,” Brown told NBCSports.com.

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IndyCar announced earlier this week that it was instituting a voluntary work for home option for its staff. A small group remains at the office.

Bigger teams such as Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport have the resources and backing to make it through this difficult time of uncertainty. But, what about the smaller teams? Those are the teams that have to make the most with the least.

That isn’t their primary concern at the moment. It’s keeping everyone healthy and doing their civic duty to comply with government directives to help stem the rise of the COVID-19 virus.

“We are shut down this week and will anticipate being shut down next week as well and leaving everybody at home,” A.J. Foyt Racing vice president of operations Scott Harner told NBCSports.com. “With the time we have, we were ready to go racing. There were some things we were doing at the shop, but even if we shut down for two weeks, that still leaves us plenty of time to get the things done that we need and get the third car ready for Indy and those things. We are reshuffling things.

“The No. 1 thing is to make sure everybody stays healthy and once we get through this and get on the other side, we will all be ready to race.

“Our team members will be paid regardless of whether we have to shuffle around vacation or whatever that looks like. We’re not going to put guys out of work and not have them be paid. Everybody is still getting paid.”

Harner believes it was absolutely the right thing to do by canceling the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, last week. As each day goes by, the number of cases in the United States is rapidly rising as more are being tested.

Even when crewmembers are called back to work in the uncertain future, Harner believes the engineering staff and others should work from home.

“With everybody being a phone call away, and the engineers all based in Indianapolis, as far as I’m concerned, the engineers can all be at home working,” Harner continued. “If there are projects going on with questions, they can come by. But anybody that we can keep at home, we will keep at home.”

IndyCar teams are hoping to start the season at the 104th Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

“It all comes down to how this curve actually goes,” Harner said. “Nobody knows what it is going to do, how it is going to go.

“Shutting everything down in the interim for the next two to four weeks, that is the smartest thing they can do. Shut everything down. Let’s get through this thing. Then we are out of flu season and the weather gets warmer and that may be when things go in our favor.”

If the pandemic is under control by May, the season could start with the Indy 500 – the biggest race of the season, if not the world. That would set up a very interesting dynamic. Teams will be entering the biggest race of the year with little testing and practice with the new aeroscreen in what could be a condensed schedule.

“In a perfect world, testing would be something they want to do,” Harner said. “But outside of that, however we have to go at it, we are all on this ship together. Whatever IndyCar decides to do, that needs to be the approach everybody has.

“You can make the direct comparisons to NASCAR because they start their season with the Super Bowl, and that is what we would be doing. It would be exciting. Everybody will be excited to get back on the racetrack. I think it would add to the excitement of the Indy 500. That would be our first goal and to have 300,000 people in the stands, that would be incredibly exciting.

“Yes, if this had not happened, we would have four races completed and have pit stops and be better off; but it’s going to be the same for everybody. Nobody will have an edge.”

The season has already had canceled or postponed its first four of 17 races. Last Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the April 19 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach have been canceled. The status of the other two races in Alabama and Texas is unclear.

Barber Motorsports officials refunded money to ticket buyers for its April 5 race earlier this week, based on the promoter’s belief that difficult economic times are ahead for Alabama residents. ZOOM Motorsports, the promoter of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, did not want to withhold refunds during a time when the money might be needed for other purposes.

The AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, was set for April 26. COTA has entered a state of “limited use” and laid off employees.

“IndyCar needs to do whatever we can to make these races happen,” Harner said. “I think we could do both Barber and COTA at a different time in the year if everybody is committed. You just extend the season. Whatever that looks like, weather permitting, we just keep working on it until it is done.

“It’s a wait and see thing at this point.”

Harner works out of Foyt’s shop in Indianapolis. The original shop is located in Waller, Texas. The team works out of both locations.

“Our biggest concern is for the health of our communities and our employees, so we are closing the race shops for the time being,” said Larry Foyt, president of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Inc. “I want to thank our partners and sponsors for their support and understanding during these extraordinary times. Many people will face some difficult challenges in the coming days. A.J. and I wish everyone the best, and we look forward to going racing again when the time is right.”

Team owner Foyt, also remains grounded, and that is difficult for the cantankerous 85-year-old, who is still checking out his ranch on his beloved bulldozer.

Nobody knows how long it will be until life returns to normal.

“There is no starting line and no finish line,” said DCR’s Brown. “We really can’t afford to spread this around the whole crew and the whole sport. That’s why it’s best to shut down for a while.

“It’s a crazy world right now.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Tony Kanaan says his message of IndyCar-NASCAR unity aimed at fans

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Over a 22-year IndyCar career featuring its share of adversity, Tony Kanaan has learned to embrace trying to find the positives in a negative situation.

He believes NASCAR and IndyCar will find a tiny silver lining from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The series will race together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course in a July 4 doubleheader, which he believes sends a message of unity he’d like to see from the world during this dark period.

“It’s time to send that message (of unity),” Kanaan told “Happy Hours” hosts Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum in a Wednesday afternoon interview on SiriusXM’s NASCAR Channel. “If we don’t come out of this situation as better people, globally, in every way, shape or form … it’s just being kind to people. Hopefully, we’ll be sending the right messages, doing radio shows together, doing live on Instagram together, doing races together.

ON NBCSN: IndyCar at virtual Barber Motorsports Park, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson wants to run IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader

“I was bugging Jimmie Johnson to say, ‘Can I be a guest in NASCAR on iRacing?’ I think the misperception, and probably a little our fault as well, is that people don’t know how (IndyCar and NASCAR drivers) respect each and how we think each other’s jobs are so cool.”

It was Kanaan’s comment last week that “it’s not us and them. It is the motorsports world’ that prompted Harvick to ask the 2004 IndyCar champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner about his views on past IndyCar and NASCAR divisions.

Harvick noted that “over the years, IndyCar and NASCAR have that separate stigma as far as the fans, but the racers in the middle, we talk with each other. We’re just racers. I think it’s absolutely great” the doubleheader will happen.

Kanaan said he felt it was the right message to send because of the fans. “For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way,” he said. “We always respected each other and thought each other’s jobs were cool. That tweet was for our fans who say, ‘Those cars are too fast. Those cars are too slow.’ It’s time for us to stop. It’s a racing family.

“For people who don’t understand about racing, any race car is cool. Doesn’t matter if it’s a go kart, a sprint car, a  Cup car, it doesn’t matter. … The situation, we’re in, we’re all equal. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. We’re all in the same boat now. We can’t do what we love. It just clicked. I said it’s time to send that message. Hopefully this will be the end for ‘you guys and us’ for the fans. For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way.”

The GMR IndyCar Grand Prix is scheduled to be run July 4 on the IMS road course ahead of the Xfinity race, which will mean that the NTT Series’ Firestone rubber will be on the asphalt before the Goodyears of NASCAR hit the track.

Recalling a NASCAR test many years ago at Nazareth Speedway when he turned laps a second faster because there’d been an IndyCar race the previous day, Harvick asked Kanaan whether the varying tire compounds might present a challenge.

“I don’t there is a solution for that,” Kanaan said. “It’s part of the job, and we need to realize that you guys run different tires. We run softer tires. It’s no different than (IndyCar) racing with the trucks at Texas. It’s probably harder on an oval than a road course.

“But I like it. It’s part of the challenge and makes the race weekend more interesting, the people who can manage that as well.”

Even though he is sidelined, Kanaan still will stay busy this weekend, racing in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. IndyCar iRacing Challenge event at virtual Barber Motorsports Park on NBCSN. He will be tuning in Sunday at 1 p.m. on Fox and FS1 as NASCAR hits Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Last Sunday I had my alarm set for 12:40 p.m., because at 1 o’clock (NASCAR was) on,” Kanaan said with a laugh. “I told (wife) Lauren, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and watch the NASCAR race!’ I was excited, and it wasn’t even real. She’s like, ‘Man, look at you … I said, ‘That’s what we got.’ It’s been a weird year.”

Harvick also will be racing Sunday, having recently joined Kanaan in installing a new racing simulator at home.

“Let’s do this Kevin: Come do an IndyCar race on iRacing,” Kanaan said. “I’ll do NASCAR. Now that you have a sim. What do you think?”

“Well, I’ll have to go to my 7-year-old to figure out how to drive it fast,” Harvick said.

“He’s been practicing. I’m really good at crashing.”