‘You just worry all the time’: IndyCar drivers strive to avoid COVID-19


For Simon Pagenaud, assessing risks is natural while behind the wheel of his No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet. It’s inherent to virtually every decision he makes at more than 200 mph.

But in the era of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, assessing risks has become an obtrusive part of daily life in order for the defending Indianapolis 500 winner to ensure he continues racing in the NTT IndyCar Series this season.

“You’ve got to be careful about everything you do,” Pagenaud said Tuesday during a Zoom media conference. “I wash my hands too many times a day. When you really think about it, everything you touch is a risk. Every movement you make with your hands across your face is a risk, and it brings a lot of anxiety, because you just worry about it all the time. Racing being everything in my life.”

INDIANAPOLIS INFO: GMR Grand Prix weekend schedule; and the race’s entry list

TV SCHEDULEWhere to watch the next five IndyCar races

The Team Penske driver said he and his wife, Hailey, mostly have remained in isolation at home since mid-March, just after IndyCar’s originally scheduled season opener in St. Petersburg was postponed (eventually to the season finale in October).

Though Pagenaud has left the house for job obligations (namely, simulator testing, an NBC shoot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May and the June 6 race at Texas Motor Speedway), he has placed heavy restrictions on his social life and used “extreme caution” to protect the profession that he loves and is central to his life.

“It’s difficult because we have friends we want to go see, but then you’re wearing a mask, and I’m the one that has to be extra cautious and explain I’m racing in two weeks, and I can’t contract the virus because I want to be able to race.

Simon Pagenaud waits to be interviewed after finishing second in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“So we haven’t been able to go back to the restaurants because we don’t want to take that risk. I love going to the restaurant, it’s part of who I am, and I can’t quite do it. You could do it, but it’s risky, and those are things you have to think about. It’s been big adjustments. I think as we go through times, obviously life is going to be different for everybody, and for us, if we want to keep racing and make sure that we are allowed to race, we’ll have to make some big efforts and dedicate everything to racing.”

Pagenaud isn’t alone in being overly careful about his interactions. Joey Logano, Team Penske’s No. 22 counterpart in the NASCAR Cup Series, recently said he treats everyone as a potential carrier of COVID-19. Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing also recently disclosed they had had shop employees test positive for the coronavirus.

Mindful of five IndyCar races over 14 days (starting with Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis and followed by weekend doubleheaders at Road America and Iowa Speedway), Team Penske’s Will Power said he hasn’t been to a restaurant and bought exercise equipment so he can work out at his home in Troutman, North Carolina (where gyms remain closed).

“I’ve been to the go-kart track by myself in my garage,” Power said. “And when I have to do a simulator day, they’re pretty strict on the precautions they take. Everyone’s at least 6 feet apart with gloves and masks.

“So yeah, I’m doing everything possible to make sure that I stay healthy, because it would be a real disaster to come down with the COVID and miss a few races because they’re pretty stacked close together during the season.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly said he also has been vigilant about avoiding extraneous contact with the outside world.

“For sure,” said Daly, who is running a full season for the first time since 2017 while splitting time between Carlin and Ed Carpenter Racing. “In the end, you’ve got to think what is your main goal in life? Well, mine is to try to be a racing car driver for as long as possible, and right now I’ve got the best opportunity I’ve had in years for my career, so for sure thinking about that every day. Whoever you interact with, how you do it.

“It’s tough because after so many months sitting at home and doing what we had to do, I definitely want to be social. I want to see people I haven’t seen in forever. I want to obviously interact with our fans as well when we have fans back at races, but in the end, I won’t be of use to my team if I can’t drive the race car. So I’ve got to think about that, and we want to make sure we’re taking care of not only ourselves but our team members, our fans, everyone that we could potentially interact with in the next few months.”

Conor Daly was sporting a distinctive mask while out of the car before the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.