Running Indy 500 'our highest priority' says IndyCar CEO

26.05.2019. Indianapolis 500, USA.
© XPB 

The CEO of the NTT IndyCar Series says that his highest priority is ensuring that the Indianapolis 500 - dubbed 'the greatest spectacle in motor racing' - can gos ahead in 2020 is now his highest priority.

The coronavirus pandemic has already forced IndyCar to cancel its opening races in March and April in order to focus on holding the two races planned for the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Indy 500 itself is currently scheduled to take place on May 24 after completing almost two weeks of scheduled practice and qualifying. That's the same date Formula 1's now-cancelled Monaco Grand Prix was due to be held.

With F1 now not expected to resume racing until at least June 7 in Baku - and possibly not for a month or more after that - the threat of similar impact on the Indy 500 is building by the day.

Mark Miles told news agency AFP that the series would do anything necessary to hold their tentpole event and that all other considerations were secondary.

"What I can say is that organising the 104th Indianapolis 500 mile race is our highest priority," he said this week.

"Our objective is to stay the course for now, and to see if it's possible to do it as scheduled mid-May," he continued.

"If that's not possible we'll find another date. But that's a decision we'll come to when it's clear what the future looks like.

"It's just too early to know what's possible," he said. "No one really knows when the conditions will return to the point where we will do racing or sports again.

"Just to have a race, we probably have to have 2,000 people just to make it possible [even behind closed doors] without fans.

"Everyone is making contingency plans, and you're just talking about sports," he added. "What's possible depends on when normal life can resume."

Miles is also trying to salvage what he can of the rest of the open wheel series racing season. "For example, some people suggested we can do a double header, we can run twice in the same weekend as we do in Detroit."

18.05.2019. Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, USA.

But that's secondary to saving the Indy 500 itself. Rescheduling such a massive event presents significant difficulties, with an estimated on-site spectator attendance of up to a quarter of a million fans on race day making it the biggest motor race of the year anywhere in the world.

“It's a substantial challenge,” acknowledged Ken Ungar, former Speedway chief of staff and IndyCar executive who now runs local sports market firm Charge.

“There are so many moving parts to the biggest single-day sporting event in the world, it would be very tricky and challenging to re-schedule this event,” Ungar told Indianapolis Business Journal.

“You can’t just up and move it. Of course, it can be done, but wouldn’t be easy from various standpoints and for numerous parties involved.

"There are just so many unknowns right now,” he added. "I’m sure every sports organization is making contingency plans, but those are really just academic exercises, because we just don’t know."

Former F1 driver Derek Daly, whose son Conor now drives full-time in IndyCar, pointed out that failing to run the Indy 500 could result in a loss of revenue that smaller teams simply couldn't survive.

“The cancellation of the Indianapolis 500 would probably put the smaller teams out of business,” he said. “Teams like Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and Ed Carpenter Racing would survive, but the smaller teams depend so much on drivers bringing cash, and that would be off.

"Without the Indy 500, 90 percent of sponsors wouldn’t be in the IndyCar Series. The Indianapolis 500 is that big, and drives that much value.

“Mark Miles has to be thinking about an alternative date for the Indy 500,” Daly added. “I think the cities of Indianapolis and Speedway will do whatever it takes to try to re-schedule the race if need be.”

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