MOORESVILLE, N.C. – The start of the NTT IndyCar Series season will be delayed by an additional month because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
IndyCar made the announcement Wednesday morning, when it issued a revised schedule that shifts the start of the season from March 5-7 at St. Petersburg, Fla., to Barber Motorsports Park, tentatively scheduled for April 11.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been shifted to the second race of the season, tentatively set for April 25.
It is the second major revision to the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.
On Dec. 17, the series announced the annual Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which was not held in 2020 because of COVID-19, would shift to the final race of the season – Sept. 26.
Because COVID-19 positive cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, local government officials are unlikely to lift crowd restrictions to start the season on time.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race promoter Kevin Savoree and Barry Green were able to host 20,000 fans at least year’s rescheduled race on Oct. 25.
Savoree said it was essential to be back to 100 percent capacity in 2021 in order to make up for the financial losses incurred in 2020.
Currently, there are two COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. A third vaccine by Oxford-AstraZeneca has been rolled out for emergency use in the United Kingdom, but is currently awaiting approval in the United States. Johnson & Johnson has a fourth COVID-19 vaccine that is awaiting FDA approval.
The United States is in the very early stages of vaccinations. It has been reported that between 70-90 percent of the population will have to be vaccinated in order to create herd immunity, so restrictions are likely to remain in place until mid-summer.
By moving the start of the season back, it gives IndyCar and its teams, promoters and fans extra time to help deal with the slow process of dealing with the pandemic.
“It’s not surprising that an event of this magnitude, scheduled for the first week of March, is still subject to the implications of the pandemic,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said. “We’re delighted we were able to work with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and Green Savoree Racing Promotions to find a more suitable date, which helps consolidate the beginning of our schedule and allows us to stay on NBC network television.”
Because of the move, Barber Motorsports Park becomes the host of the season opener and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will raise the curtain on the 2021 season.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 18th NTT IndyCar Series event in the Sunshine City. The traditional season opener since 2011 and a fan favorite on the IndyCar schedule, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg received a three-year title sponsorship extension from Bridgestone Americas, Inc., last October.
“We appreciate the officials at INDYCAR for their support in setting a new date for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and also to Mayor Kriseman and his team at the City of St. Petersburg for identifying a time when it will be conducive for more fans to attend,” said Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of GSSP, organizers of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “We are grateful to keep the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the springtime window and also maintain the live national broadcast coverage of the race on NBC.”
An updated listing of green flag times for the NTT IndyCar Series season will be announced at a later date.
Because of COVID-19, all scheduled races are subject to change.