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

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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.”

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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).

Sergio Perez still has coronavirus; will miss second consecutive F1 race

F1 Sergio Perez out
Laurent Charniaux/Pool via Getty Images
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SILVERSTONE, England — Sergio Perez will be out for a second F1 race at Silverstone this week after again testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Mexican driver had hoped to return to Formula One after spending seven days in quarantine, but his Racing Point team said this morning he had tested positive.

“He is physically well and recovering,” the team said. “The whole team wishes Sergio and his family well and we look forward to his return.”

That means German veteran Nico Hulkenberg again fills in for Sunday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after having also replaced Sergio Perez when he was out for the F1 British Grand Prix at the same venue last week. Hulkenberg did not start that race because of an engine problem.

There are two consecutive weekends of racing at Silverstone as Formula One tries to pack in races following the pandemic-delayed start to the season.

Perez became the first Formula One driver to test positive for coronavirus, and it had been unclear whether he would be available to drive after the period of quarantine was extended to 10 days.

Racing Point also was in the news Friday after being hit with a 15-point penalty in the Formula One constructors’ championship and fined 400,000 euros ($470,000) Friday for using brake ducts based on those from last year’s Mercedes cars.

The stewards ruled that Mercedes was the “principal designer” of the parts, and that Racing Point made only minor changes to computer design data it received from Mercedes.

Rival team Renault filed protests about the legality of the brake ducts, which were added to the “listed parts” under F1 rules for 2020. That means teams must design their own. Racing Point argued it was merely using information about the Mercedes parts to inform its own design.

Racing Point uses customer engines from Mercedes and has admitted basing its 2020 car design on photographs of last year’s Mercedes car. The similarities led to the Racing Point being nicknamed the “pink Mercedes” when it was first seen in testing ahead of the season.

Racing Point can appeal the ruling. The points deduction drops the team from fifth to sixth in the standings, below Renault. The ruling doesn’t affect the points totals for Racing Point’s drivers.