No fans no Indy 500
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No fans, no Indy 500? IndyCar drivers react to no crowd for biggest race

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Graham Rahal says he’s heard the refrain of “no fans, no Indy 500,” and he can relate to it because “I was one of those guys.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, though, believes the long-term viability of the NTT IndyCar Series should outweigh the longstanding traditions of a race that will hold its 104th running Aug. 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without a crowd for the first time in Indy 500 history.

“It is critical to the life of our series, to the life of our organizations, to the jobs that this series and racing provides to thousands of individuals,” Rahal said Tuesday during a two-part Twitter video reacting to the news that the Brickyard will be closed to the general public this month. “To the cottage industries in Indianapolis that rely on IndyCar racing, and without IndyCar racing and all sorts of those things, those cottage industries might disappear.

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“This race is important. This race is the biggest thing each and every year. Without this, I really don’t know if the series goes on in the same manner. I don’t know if a lot of the teams survive without the Indy 500 as we go into the winter. And I know there’s a lot of you, I’ve seen it on Twitter, who don’t care. Who’d rather see us out of business than see us have this race without fans. But it is critical that we go forward. I hope that you guys can understand that, support that.”

Rahal said he had expected that the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would happen in front of at least a limited crowd of 25 percent capacity.

“Clearly at this time, it’s critical that we take care of each other,” he said. “That we do what’s in the best interests of human health. At the same time, it is critical that we as a sport have the Indy 500. I know that is hard for some people to contemplate.”

In an A.J. Foyt Racing release, team owner and four-time Indy 500 winner Foyt said, “I’ve seen a lot of changes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but I never thought I’d see the race run without fans. I know it had to be a really tough decision to make, and it was the right one for this time. I’ll miss seeing the fans because I think I have a lot of fans in Indy and they were the reason I kept coming back here when I got hurt. It’s a real shame that they can’t be here this year but I think they will be here in spirit.”

Said 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who is running a partial schedule this season that includes Indy: “I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I think deep inside we always race the majority of the times because of the fans. They’re the ones — especially for me at Indy —they’re the most important thing. Obviously, we had to make a decision and I think it’s the safest one, but it’s sad. It’s just so sad. The whole world is sad right now. But we’ll get through it.

“Hopefully, everyone will be watching the Indy 500 on TV and cheering as loudly as they would at the race track. But that makes me wonder: I don’t think this should be my last Indy 500.”

Several other IndyCar drivers also reacted to the news on social media, expressing regrets about racing before empty grandstands while also supporting the move by track owner Roger Penske.

Here’s a roundup of their thoughts, starting with the top two finishers in last year’s Indy 500:

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.