(Reuters) - The Indianapolis 500, one of the world’s biggest single-day sporting events with an estimated crowd topping 350,000, has been postponed until Aug. 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic, IndyCar said on Thursday.
The crown jewel of American open-wheel racing, which is traditionally staged each U.S. Memorial Day weekend at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), was originally scheduled to be run on May 24.
“The reality is today we might still have been able to run as scheduled in May. We hope life is back to normal, or near normal, by then,” Mark Miles, chief executive of the company that runs IndyCar and the IMS, told a conference call.
“After protecting public health, our priority is absolutely about running the 104th Indianapolis 500 mile race in 2020. By rescheduling in late August we fully expect to be outside the window impacted by the COVID-19 virus.”
The decision to postpone what is widely known as the “greatest spectacle in racing” was largely expected and comes after IndyCar had canceled the first four rounds on its 2020 season as the coronavirus outbreak continued to spread.
Roger Penske, who in November took over IndyCar and the IMS, called May his favorite time of year and said he was disappointed to add the Indy 500 to the list of major sporting events hit by the coronavirus.
“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,” Penske 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 season-opener was originally scheduled for March 15 in St. Petersburg, Florida, where IndyCar had planned to run the race in front of empty grandstands but canceled it two days before it was due to be held.
IndyCar did not say when the season will begin but its website shows the next race as May 30 in Detroit.
The organisation said enhanced measures like higher frequency of cleaning, more hand-sanitizing stations and reducing hand-to-hand interactions between staff and customers will be in place when the races resume.
“Running the Indianapolis 500 in August is something I never experienced before but all I can say is it will still be the Indy 500,” four-times Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, who is now a team owner, said in a statement.
“I never thought we’d see it like this but all of the sports field has been affected, the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby, Le Mans, so we’re not the only ones affected by this — we’re just one of them. I’m just glad that we will be able to race.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Ed Osmond