Six schedule revisions, cancelled races, races run in front of empty stands, and races with severely limited attendance are what most will recall about the 2020 NTT Indycar Series. It has not been easy for team owners, sponsors, drivers, crew, or fans. Yet, I find it impressive that the series will have run 14 races this season, and I find some optimism for 2021 in the way things have played out as we head to the season finale at St. Petersburg in a little more than two weeks.
The protocols in the paddock have appeared to work well with masks and distancing in place. Teams kept to themselves. Media interviews mostly were on Zoom, and in-session talks with team personnel conducted with microphones on poles.
Accommodating fans presented other issues. It is challenging for tracks to regulate individual behavior. As the season wore on, I noticed improvement in track management and fan compliance.
Road America was the first race of the season to allow fans. protocols like temperature screening at the gates, mask wearing, and social distancing were in place. I must say the track staff wasn’t strict on enforcing the mask requirement, and while most people kept their distance, I observed many who did not.
Iowa limited the crowd each night to 5,000. In the stands people stayed within the boundaries of their assigned seats and stayed with the group they came with. White circles on the hills kept groups at a proper social distance. mask compliance was somewhat better than at Road America.
At World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway), I noticed even better mask compliance. the crowd was small enough that social distance was easily maintained. In the first turn grandstand, two rows of seats were blocked from spectators followed by one row of seating.
Mid Ohio had a 6,000 per day fan limit. Track personnel reminded fans to wear masks and respect the limits of the squares marked in the general admission areas.
At Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, the 10,000 fans allowed each day could choose either a north or south bubble to sit in. Each area had its own entrance and moving from one area to the other was not allowed. Mask compliance was good, as was social distancing.
The fans improved in adapting to the rules as the season went on. I have concerns about 20,000 fans at St. Pete. Spectators will need to be spread out quite a lot. We’ll see how it goes.
I have hope that next year’s schedule will go pretty much as planned unless there is another significant surge of the virus. First, all tracks now have a COVID plan in place for the paddock and fans. Tracks have worked with local and state governments to determine safe fan limits.
Any concerns about races might come in the early part of the season, but I hope that by the end of the year things will be closer to normal. I don’t look for any race to be allowed full capacity until 2022 at the earliest. Fans hoping to get paddock access in 2021 may be disappointed. I don’t see that perk returning for awhile.
While there will still be some limits at races, I think we will see a more normal schedule with fewer disruptions. It will take time to return to a completely regular routine with no attendance or movement limits. We may also see shorter race weekends as well. the series has learned this year how what can be accomplished in a shorter time frame.