IndyCar striving to be adaptable to ever-changing restrictions
IndyCar principals say the series will continue to be “agile and flexible” as pandemic-induced restrictions fluctuate across North America, and stated that its current internal health protocols can continue indefinitely.
Mark Miles, CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp., confirmed today that the Mid-Ohio double-header, postponed from its Aug. 8-9 date, is penciled in for the second weekend in September, which is an otherwise blank month for IndyCar following the cancelations of the events at Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
He also went on to stress that such adaptability would be necessary for the foreseeable future, even as the series maps out its 2021 schedule.
“We have to be agile and flexible,” he commented. “We used to, I think, have much longer lead times on our decisions. We've learned we can… leave ourselves more flexibility. That will be something that will be top of mind going forward. We’ve just got to live in a world where it's unclear.
“We think our  schedule will look a lot like the schedule that was put out for 2020 initially. The promoters want to be back. Nobody has the 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. Jay [Frye, IndyCar president] has always had it with them, but also the team managers.
“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 that we're going to be together arm in arm and get through these things. I think that bodes really well for the future.”
Frye himself thanked the teams for showing solidarity with each other and the Penske Entertainment Corp management at a time when the series’ schedule has been ravaged by the effect of the coronavirus pandemic nationwide. He said one such example of this had been the teams’ ready adaptation to health protocols to best minimize the COVID-19 threat.
“From an IndyCar perspective, we've had a 50-page COVID plan document that we've ran with to this point all year,” he said. “The first six races, we plugged and played this plan, specifically all the venues we went through. I want to thank our paddock because they've bought into what we're doing, how we're doing it.
“The goal was to make sure we got to the Indianapolis 500 and we delivered a healthy paddock for this coming weekend. I think we've really done that. 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.
“This is something we can plug-and-play for a long time. I think we have it down pretty good, understand how it works. We'll do the same kind of procedures next week at Gateway. It can be done for however long it needs to be done.”
Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said that IndyCar’s current guidelines have prompted a rethink of how the track’s protocols may alter, even when the regular crowd of 250,000-plus is able to return in 2021.
He said: “Some of the things we learned over the course of May really through until the evening before we made the announcement we couldn't have fans, could apply next year, to make sure that everybody is safe when we're here. 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, may 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.”
Boles also heaped praise on Roger Penske, who bought IMS and the Series from Hulman & Co. last November, and swiftly instigated several alterations such as adding video boards, refreshing public facilities and neatening the appearance of several areas within and outside the iconic 2.5-mile oval.
“Without the leadership of Roger Penske, I don't know how we would have gotten through this,” said Boles. “Every time Roger has been here, his attitude has been nothing but positive and focused on managing it in a way that makes the Indianapolis 500 better when we get through this and makes the experience better for our fans.
“His positivity, reinforcement to the team, walking around the building, encouraging them, his availability virtually 24 hours a day to help us solve big problems, little problems – it didn't matter. To have an emotional leader like Roger Penske through this time has been a blessing.
“Mark, Jay and I have all learned from Roger how to attack some of these things. It’s one of those moments, while really difficult – heartbreaking is probably the best way I can put it – but the big positive out of this is the opportunity to see a great leader like Roger Penske help walk us through a really difficult time with an attitude that you just can't believe.”
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