The Indianapolis 500 was postponed Thursday until August because of the coronavirus pandemic and won't run on Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 1946.
The race instead is scheduled for Aug. 23, three months later than its May 24 scheduled date.
“The month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is my favorite time of year, and like our fans, I am disappointed that we have had to reschedule the Indianapolis 500,” said Roger Penske, the motorsports titan who finalized his purchase of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year.
“However, the health and safety of our event participants and spectators is our top priority, and we believe that postponing the event is the responsible decision with the conditions and restrictions we are facing,” he said. “We will continue to focus on ways we can enhance the customer experience in the months ahead, and I'm confident we will welcome fans with a transformed facility and a global spectacle when we run the world's greatest race.”
The Indianapolis 500 began in 1911 but did not run in 1917, 1918 and from 1941 to '45 because of World Wars I and II. Tony Hulman bought the neglected speedway after the second war, and the Indy 500 returned on Memorial Day weekend in 1946.
It has been scheduled for that weekend every year since, a familiar fixture for untold millions of fans over the years. Although inclement weather has occasionally disrupted the prestigious race, it had never been outright rescheduled until now.
“In times like this it is all about leadership and communication. We have both in IndyCar and NASCAR,” said Chip Ganassi, who fields cars in both series. NASCAR has not altered its plan to resume racing May 9.
Postponing the Indy 500 was an inevitable decision but still had to be difficult for Penske, who has already pumped millions into capital improvements to ready the historic speedway for its first 500 under new ownership.
“It's a shame Roger has to go through this in his first year of owning Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but you couldn't have a better man in charge,” said A.J. Foyt, a four-time Indy 500 winner and team owner. “It will still be the Indy 500. I never thought we'd see it like this, but all of the sports field has been affected. I'm just glad that we will be able to race.”
Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said the series chose the August date to get away from extended delays caused by the coronavirus shutdown.
The series did not choose Labor Day weekend out of fear of disrupting fans' traditional plans.
Penske had been eagerly anticipating the March 15 start of the IndyCar season, but was forced to suspend the series 48 hours before the scheduled opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, when the coronavirus was declared a pandemic.
Four races were initially scrapped and IndyCar said it would resume racing May 9 on the road course at Indy. The opening race is now listed as May 30 at Detroit, but the schedule is in flux.
The Indy road course race will now be run on July 4, a day before NASCAR races at The Brickyard in an unprecedented doubleheader between the series. St. Pete now is listed at the bottom of the schedule with no date listed.
As for the 500, the new schedule will begin with practices Aug. 12-13, followed by “Fast Friday” on Aug. 14 and weekend qualifying. The following week is dark until Aug. 20, with the final Indianapolis 500 practice on Friday, Aug. 21 as part of Carb Day.
“I'll tell you this, no matter what day or month or time they run the Indy 500 it's the greatest race on the whole planet earth, we'll just have it in August this time and it will still be super, super good,” said Bobby Unser, winner of the Indy 500 in 1968, 1975 and 1981.
While IndyCar isn't sure when it can get its cars on track to officially start the season, the series will follow the lead of other racing leagues and go virtual.
IndyCar's first iRacing event will be Saturday with a 25-car field. The track is still being decided by fan vote. IndyCar followed NASCAR, IMSA and Formula One into the esports realm to create new content for its fans.
NASCAR's debut event last Sunday was aired live on Fox Sports One and with 903,000 viewers it was the most watched esports event in U.S. history, bettering the 770,000 viewers Mortal Combat drew to The CW in 2016. It was the highest-rated FS1 broadcast since sports were canceled the second week of March.
IndyCar's broadcast partner is NBC, but the network passed on coverage and Saturday's race will instead by streamed by IndyCar, and many drivers will have social media feeds running live during the race.
Most series regulars have committed to participate for events scheduled to run through May 2. The entry list has only 25 confirmed drivers but it is widely believed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who is scheduled to retire from full-time racing at the end of the season, will join the field.
Among those confirmed to compete in the IndyCar event is Australian V8 SuperCars champion Scott McLaughlin, who is scheduled to make his IndyCar debut on the road course at Indianapolis.
McLaughlin is racing along with all three of the full-time Team Penske drivers, including reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and reigning Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.