Tuesday, August 4, 2020

2020 IndyCar Sixth Schedule Revision: It Only Took Five Days

Five days after removing Portland and Laguna Seca from the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule and expanding Mid-Ohio, Gateway and the Harvest Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to doubleheaders, the Mid-Ohio doubleheader was postponed to either September or October. 

After consulting local officials and increased restrictions in the wake of covid-19 cases rising in Ohio, Mid-Ohio postponed its doubleheader weekend only seven days before the first of two race days at the facility. 

Last week, I said I thought we were set for August. It felt like we were at a place where we could at least settle on the next month. The truth is we are worse than we were in March when everything shut down in a snap and remained closed for two-plus months. Why should I have expected everything to be set for August when we are worse than we have ever been?

It could be a numbness, or it could be we know the covid-19 more than we did in March. In March, it was a complete unknown, but we have learned about it, we have a better idea and we are living with it. We know it better, but we still don't know it that well. We got used to it being around and figured out ways to continue life. We have had races since May, mostly without crowds. We are having baseball games, without crowds. Soccer, hockey and basketball are taking place inside bubbles. We found standards to continue. 

The issue is even with standards and protocols in place, things are worse. More people are infected. It remains irrational to try and gather 20,000 people together no matter how spaced out one is from another. Smaller gatherings, four or five people in a backyard, a couple dozen people in a place of worship with masks, walking alone away from people in a park or woods, those are things we can do. Putting on sporting events with tens of thousands of people together, no matter how large the area is, still doesn't fit the conditions. 

Ohio has put restrictions on public gatherings to a limit of ten people. It takes more than ten people to put on an IndyCar race. This ten-person restrictions kept events from happening during spring. When restrictions eased, events return. We have seen special dispensation given for events exceeding these limits, but these events need to take place in a bubble and that is still a possibility for future IndyCar races. IndyCar and the tracks have to accept it. 

Everyone wants events to take place with spectators. It isn't responsible to do so at this time even when everyone tries to act responsibly. The risk isn't worth it and it is the reason Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association are competing while behind closed doors. 

A lot of people are losing money (Roger Penske isn't). This time sucks, but we have to pick the lesser of two bad options. Either racetracks put on events with no fans and tracks lose money or IndyCar does not fulfill its television contact and loses money. 

I don't want Mid-Ohio to lose money, but if IndyCar doesn't put on races, it doesn't get paid. If IndyCar folds, Mid-Ohio is going to have one fewer profit-making weekend. The reverse to that is if Mid-Ohio folds IndyCar has one fewer track to visit, but we have to choose. This is the radical scenario. I don't think every racetrack faces life or death whether or not it can host spectators. Some face that dilemma, most will be in a tough spot if it cannot have spectators but will survive and others have a nest egg are cannot cry poor. 

Very few motorsports events have had spectators since March. NASCAR had limited crowds of 5,000 at Homestead and Atlanta. The All-Star Race at Bristol had about 25,000 people. Texas had a small crowd. Loudon this past weekend opened its gates. IndyCar had fans, albeit a significantly decreased from previous years, at Road America, and it had a smattering of people at Iowa. IMSA had small crowds in Daytona, Sebring and Road America. 

With cases increasing almost everywhere, keeping events behind closed doors is the safest way to ensure series can continue. That includes the Indianapolis 500. 

We have to accept a loss today for hopes of victories tomorrow. Perhaps, we get a chance to run each season to completion with events behind closed doors and we have to enjoy them from home. IndyCar gets the television money that provides a significant chunk of the budget, teams fulfill sponsorship commitments and tracks takes a loss but does make something because it sells banners around the facilities. It is the best we can hope for. 

Where do we stand? 

With Mid-Ohio's indefinite postponement, the Indianapolis 500 steps into the batter's box. There are going to be some tough decisions made in the next week ahead of practice. 

We just lost Mid-Ohio, and this is foolish to say, but the Indianapolis 500 is too large to call. I know it isn't too large, but considering where we are at, how close we are to the event, how important this is to IndyCar, NBC and the state of Indiana, I think it happens, as foolish as that confidence sounds.

After Indianapolis, I am not sure. No event is safe until it is happening. We should have learned that in March when IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One all called off weekends hours before practice sessions were scheduled to happen. We could get through practice, qualifying and Carb Day and have the race called Saturday evening. Opening day has already been pushed back a day. I don't think an 11th hour cancellation will happen, but we have to entertain the possibility.

The hope is to hold Mid-Ohio in September or October. September is wide open after the cancellations of Portland and Laguna Seca. I think it is more likely Mid-Ohio takes either the weekend of September 13 or September 20. I think IndyCar will give the teams a break and not race Labor Day weekend because it will be coming off the Gateway doubleheader. IMSA is scheduled to run at Mid-Ohio on September 27. 

If September is not an option, there are two weekends between Harvest Grand Prix on October 2-3 and the St. Petersburg finale on October 25. 

It is hard to see an alternative venue stepping in if Mid-Ohio is dropped, but we are at the limit of doubleheaders. St. Petersburg would be able to take on a race. I bet IndyCar would prefer its final weekend have only one race that can get all the attention for the championship. It is an adjustment that might be necessary to reach the desired 14-race calendar. 

The Road to Indy will be on the IMS road course just ahead of Labor Day weekend. We might not like the IMS road course having three or more races, but it could be the only option. IndyCar is not going to visit an unknown venue and I don't think IndyCar will add a new venue far from home. IMSA moved Watkins Glen and Lime Rock races to Road Atlanta and Charlotte respectively, but I don't think either of those venues are options for IndyCar. 

Maybe Barber could be a last-minute revival. I doubt it because the one reason Barber was not initially rescheduled to autumn was because Barber's schedule was full. It has a MotoAmerica race on September 20 and a vintage weekend on October 11. It should be noted Honda sponsors both Mid-Ohio and Barber weekends. It cannot be entirely ruled out, but it seems unlikely.

The rest of the schedule is on an event-by-event basis. It is going to be that way until it is over. IndyCar hopes to have 14 races. Twelve are still scheduled to take place. If Mid-Ohio finds a new weekend, then problem solved. If not, there could be a late additional to reach that desired number or we could have another abridgment to the 2020 championship. 

Patience. It is the key word of the time. The other word should be openness. We are six revisions in and one away from lucky number seven.