The Indianapolis 500, one of the highlights of the global motorsport calendar with crowds regularly in excess of 350,000, has been rescheduled for August 23 due to COVID-19, the first time it will be held outside May since 1946.

The annual showpiece event of the IndyCar championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) was scheduled to be held during Memorial Day weekend on May 24. The Indy 500 began in 1911, but did not run in 1917, 1918 and from 1941-45 because of World Wars I and II. From 1946, its Memorial Day weekend slot has been a staple on the motorsport calendar, with yesterday’s announcement marking the first time the race has had to be rescheduled.

Roger Penske, whose global transportation, automotive and motorsport specialist Penske Corporation in January completed its acquisition of IMS and IndyCar, said: “The Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is my favourite time of year, and like our fans, I am disappointed that we have had to reschedule the Indianapolis 500.

“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. 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.”

Plans were last month announced for significant upgrade work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the highest-capacity sports venue in the world. IMS and IndyCar yesterday said they will continue to work closely with local, state and federal health representatives to ensure a safe and healthy experience for spectators, once racing resumes.

Enhanced measures that will be in place include increasing housekeeping staff at the track to elevate frequency of cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, increasing public hand-sanitising stations in high-traffic areas, and reducing required hand-to-hand interactions between customers and staff at concession areas and other key IMS locations.

“Memorial Day weekend has always provided Indianapolis 500 fans an opportunity to honour the men and women who have fought and sacrificed for our nation’s freedom,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said.

“This August, we’ll also have a unique and powerful opportunity to honour the contributions and heroism of the doctors, nurses, first responders and National Guard members serving on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.”

The IndyCar season was due to start in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 15, only for that race to be pulled 48 hours before it was due to begin when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. The opening race is now listed for Detroit on May 30, but the calendar remains in limbo.

In other news, IndyCar will this weekend become the latest motorsport series to embrace esports in an effort to engage with fans during the current calendar shutdown. A full field of IndyCar drivers, including reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, is set to compete virtually in the inaugural IndyCar iRacing Challenge on Saturday.

The entry list represents 15 different teams or organisations currently competing in the series and a field of drivers that has amassed 140 race victories and nine series championships. The event, which will last approximately 90 minutes, will be streamed through IndyCar.com for fans to enjoy the virtual action. The event also will be available on IndyCar’s YouTube and Facebook platforms as well as iRacing’s Twitch.

To enhance the fan experience, IndyCar will conduct a 15-minute, pre-race virtual autograph session with several of the participants. Saturday’s event is the first in a six-event series to be held weekly on Saturdays through May 2.

The likes of Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, World Rallycross Championship and World Touring Car Cup have all engaged in similar activities over the past month.

Image: IMS