Improvising IndyCar steering through uncertain times

Automorbit, Sport – Reflecting the reality of racing in the pandemic era, Mark Miles, CEO of Penske Entertainment, on Friday confirmed that IndyCar’s Mid-Ohio doubleheader, postponed from its Aug 8-9 date, has been penciled in for the second weekend in September following the cancellation of races at Portland International Raceway and California’s Weather-Tech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“We have to be agile and flexible,” Penske said at a media conference ahead of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. “We used to have much longer lead times on our decisions. Now we’ve learned we can leave ourselves more flexibility. That will be something that will be top of the mind going forward.

“We think our 2021 schedule will look a lot like the schedule that was put out for 2020 initially. The promoters want to be back, but nobody has a crystal ball to tell us when they’re back and what conditions we’ll run in.

“I think we’ve learned to execute on much shorter timelines, to keep our chins up and to be positive. I thought it was good before, but I think one of the things Roger (Penske, IndyCar Series owner) has brought to this is a great rapport with the other team owners. There are frequent calls now, and everybody has pulled together.

“Whether it’s about economic issues, whether it’s about schedule issues, whether it’s about assessing over time the technical manufacturer issues-everybody is on the same page and we’re going to be together arm in arm to get through these things.”

IndyCar president Jay Frye thanked the teams for showing solidarity with each other at a time when the series’ schedule has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

“From an IndyCar perspective, we’ve had a 50-page COVID plan document that we’ve run with to this point all year,” Frye said.

“The first six races, we plugged and played this plan, specifically all the venues we went through. The goal was to make sure we got to the Indianapolis 500 and we delivered a healthy paddock.

“Again, that’s kudos to all our teams and drivers, promoter partners, everybody that has followed the guidelines, bought into the process of how we’re doing things.”

Doug Boles, the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said that IndyCar’s current pandemic-enforced guidelines have prompted a rethink of how the track’s protocols could change, even when the regular crowd of 250,000-plus is able to return next year.

“Some of the things we learned over the course of May really through until the evening before we made the announcement that we couldn’t have fans, could apply next year, to make sure that everybody is safe when we’re here,” said Boles.

“How we’re getting people in the gates, how we can socially distance in restrooms, concession stands. Even if we were in full capacity in the grandstands, how can we make it safer there?

“How can we deliver food in a different way that gives the customer more comfort that the food they’re receiving is safe? And the interactions, the way they’re paying for products, is less about touching things and more about contactless opportunities?

“We’ve learned an awful lot that even if we’re in a perfect year next year, could make the customer’s experience better. Those are some of the things that we’ve learned through this process that can apply next year regardless of what state we’re in.”

Penske bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar series from Hulman & Co last November for an undisclosed sum and immediately instigated several improvements to the iconic 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) oval.

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