Motor racing: IndyCar to welcome 20,000 fans to season-ending race

(Reuters) - The St. Petersburg Grand Prix will welcome 20,000 spectators for the IndyCar season finale, organisers said on Thursday, as Florida lifts all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.

Originally scheduled as the IndyCar Series opener in March, the race was moved to Oct. 25 in a reshuffling of the calendar caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

IndyCar has had a handful of spectators at a few tracks but many races have been run in front of empty grandstands, including the series’s crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500.

St. Petersburg city council on Thursday approved a promoters plan to operate the event to spectators under specific health and safety protocols.

Everyone attending the race will be required to wear masks or facial coverings at all times unless eating or drinking.

“I know that everyone is excited to get back on the track in St. Pete,” said City of St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, in a statement on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg website. “I can’t wait for October 23rd.

“I know everyone will embrace this race the St. Pete Way, adhering to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Let’s have some great racing in the Sunshine City.”

The decision to open the race to fans comes after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Sept. 25 lifted all COVID-19 restrictions, saying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic had eased sufficiently to allow the state to enter the final phase of its reopening.

The move comes as the United States is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. The pandemic has infected more than 7.2 million Americans and killed over 207,000.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond