Indy 500 no fans
Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Indy 500 will have no fans in attendance for the Aug. 23 race

Leave a comment

The Indy 500 will be run with no fans Aug. 23 as Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced its grandstands will be closed for the 104th running of the signature race.

The track released a statement with the update Tuesday, two weeks after laying out a plan to have a limited crowd for the Indianapolis 500. IMS initially announced June 26 that the Indy 500 (which will be shown at 1 p.m. ET on NBC) would have a 50 percent capacity crowd.

All on-track activity during August, including practice (which will begin Wednesday, Aug. 12) and qualifying, instead will be closed to the general public. The rest of the August schedule will happen as planned, though the Associated Press reported the pit stop competition on Carb Day has been canceled. Practice and qualifying will be covered fully via NBC Sports Gold, NBCSN and NBC.

DAILY SCHEDULE: Click here for all on-track activity in August at Indy

INDYCAR ON NBC: Viewing schedule for the rest of the season

“This tough decision was made following careful consideration and extensive consultation with state and city leadership,” a track release said Tuesday. “As dedicated as we were to running the race this year with 25 percent attendance at our large outdoor facility, even with meaningful and careful precautions implemented by the city and state, the COVID-19 trends in Marion County and Indiana have worsened. Since our June 26 announcement, the number of cases in Marion County has tripled while the positivity rate has doubled.

“We said from the beginning of the pandemic we would put the health and safety of our community first, and while hosting spectators at a limited capacity with our robust plan in place was appropriate in late June, it is not the right path forward based on the current environment. We encourage Hoosiers to continue making smart decisions and following the advice of our public health officials so we can help get Indiana back on track.”

Fans with tickets to this year’s Indy 500 will receive credit for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 and will retain their seniority and their originally assigned seats.

The news comes three days after the NTT IndyCar Series postponed its race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to September or October because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

IndyCar added races last week at Mid-Ohio, World Wide Technology at Gateway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course because its Portland and Laguna Seca rounds were canceled.

The pandemic has made for a tumultuous year for IndyCar (which was forced to delay its season opener to June 6) and at IMS, which was purchased (along with the IndyCar Series) by Roger Penske last year.

The iconic team owner has spent the year spending millions to put special touches on the speedway that he has idolized since his Midwestern childhood. But Penske hardly has had the chance to showcase the upgrades without being allowed to open the grandstands of the 2.5-mile track this year.

Penske initially said the race wouldn’t be held unless there was a crowd. He told the Associated Press in a Tuesday interview that choosing to race without fans was “the toughest business decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

Indy 500 no fans
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, shown during an aeroscreen test last October, will hold the Indy 500 for the first time without fans Aug. 23 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“Penske Corporation made a long-term investment to be the steward of this legendary facility,” IMS said in the statement. “While we were very excited to showcase the investments and enhancements we have made in the guest experience, we know we have reached the right decision. As much as Roger Penske and everyone associated with the 500 wanted to race with fans this year, we ultimately reached this conclusion in partnership with the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis.

“Our commitment to the Speedway is unwavering and we will continue to invest in the Racing Capital of the World. We encourage everyone to watch this year’s race on NBC and we look forward to welcoming our loyal fans back to The Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 30th of 2021.”

After the Indy 500 was postponed March 26 for the first time to Aug. 23, the track played host to an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader race weekend without fans July 4-5. There was optimism building, though, that limited crowds would be allowed this month at the Brickyard. Instead, it will be the first time in a century-plus of history that its mammoth grandstands will be empty for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway had released new Indy 500 fan guidelines July 21 that included 25 percent attendance for the race and mandatory face coverings for all attendees at the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The following day, the speedway released a nearly 100-page health plan with protocols for the race. While the updated plan eliminated the 500 Festival Parade downtown and Legends Day at the speedway, IMS president Doug Boles said the track would allow fans for practice and qualifying sessions.

In late June, Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials had said they were surveying fans and expected a crowd limited to 50 percent of capacity.

The Indy 500 sold out its centennial race in 2016 and has drawn crowds of roughly 300,000 annually. In a Coffee With Kyle sitdown Jan. 31, Penske told Kyle Petty that Indianapolis Motor Speedway had 230,000 seats, and that 78 percent of its ticket allotment had been sold by then, including all of the track’s suites.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

Leave a comment

Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.