INDIANAPOLIS – Without fans in the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual public driver’s meeting for the 104th Indianapolis 500 was closed to the public.
Instead, it was streamed online by BlueJeans by Verizon to showcase its 5G connectivity.
The 33-driver starting lineup was seated in chairs six-feet apart in the Brickyard Plaza at the speedway. The event was emceed by Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports.
Roger Penske, the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar, spoke to the drivers in a video message shown on the new 100-foot wide, high definition video screen that is part of the new Media Wall on the backside of the Pagoda.
“We hope you are enjoying this meeting; it is certainly the most unusual driver’s meeting we’ve had,” Penske said. “The fans joining us from across the globe demonstrate our growing international reach.
“We’re grateful to Verizon for pairing this meeting with 5G connectivity with a world-class video conference solution like BlueJeans.
“I saw my first Indianapolis 500 in 1951. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing changed my life forever. My own fan experience that day is what drives my commitment to enhancing the fan experience for all of you.
“We didn’t want to host the 500 this way, but the health of our community meant it was the necessary and right thing to do.”
Penske said when fans return to IMS next year, they will see a facility that has some dramatic improvements.
“We don’t have spectators at IMS right now, but we know our fans are with us in spirit and supporting us every step of the way,” Penske continued. “I can tell you how much that means to our drivers, our teams, our partners, our employees and to me.
“I want to thank all of you for being loyal fans of our sport, for joining us today on this important annual tradition, the driver’s meeting.
“One of these drivers will become an Indianapolis 500 legend. Thank you, and we’ll see you soon.”
The driver’s meeting began with each of the 33 drivers sitting in individual spectator seats throughout the facility with the name of the ticket holder, the location of the seat and a personal message from the driver to the ticket holder.
IMS President Doug Boles, IndyCar President Jay Frye and Race Director Kyle Novak all spoke to the drivers. Each of the 33 drivers in the field received their Indianapolis 500 starters ring. Each ring was placed in a box under their respective seats, to minimize individual contact, instead of walking up to the podium.
Tony Kanaan was called to speak prior to his 19th Indianapolis 500 start.
“We need to thank Roger and his team and IndyCar for having this race,” Kanaan said. “I really feel for the fans that can’t be here. Hopefully, the fans will enjoy from home and we will all come back next year and have some fun.”
Marco Andretti also addressed the field as the Indianapolis 500 polesitter.
“We miss the fans,” Andretti said. “John will be riding with us (referring to his cousin, who died from Stage 4 colon cancer in January).”
Simon Pagenaud was also honored as the defending winner of the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s an honor to be a champion of this race,” Pagenaud said. “It’s the biggest race in the world and there is nothing like it. It’s the oldest race and the fastest race in the world. I’ve been very blessed to complete this and it makes you want to do it even more when you’ve done it once.
“Watch out, the yellow car is coming.”
Penske and his son, Greg, watched the festivities from a golf cart at the back of the Brickyard Plaza.
Also in attendance were ACCUS President George Silberman and FIA President Jean Todt.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves took a fan question that was submitted in advance about competing without spectators. Others who took fan questions were Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly and Graham Rahal.
“Not having fans here is very tough, but I’m glad Roger and his organization has made this race happen,” Castroneves said as he prepares for his 20th Indianapolis 500 start.
Frye commended the group of drivers for their “phenomenal effort.” There have been very few incidents during the practice and qualifications leading into Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500.
“We ran 12,200 laps with a little more horsepower and the speeds are up,” Frye said. “It’s a 500-mile endurance race at 230 miles per hour. This is an amazing group for an amazing race.
“Looking forward to Sunday. It’s going to be interesting. We have 33 of the best in the world. It’s going to be exciting. There’s going to be a winner and it’s going to be historic. There has never been an Indy 500 in August, so this one will be remembered.”
As for the details, Novak stressed getting to pace car speed immediately during a caution period. The pits will be closed, per usual, on one of the tightest pit lanes in all of motorsports.
Pace Car speed for Sunday’s will be 100 mph.
“Race hard, race how you want to be raced and take a moment look around you – you are surrounded by the best drivers on the planet,” Novak said. “Good luck, be safe and put on a great show for the best fans in the world.”
Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 begins at 2:30 p.m. ET. The NBC coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET.