This weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be a bittersweet event for Anthony Paetro of Clearwater, a racing fan who is unhappy that he can’t get a refund for tickets purchased for the scrubbed March season opener.
Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which operates the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, set up a compensation policy for ticket holders to either defer their purchase to the planned 2021 race or take a credit to other races on the IndyCar calendar.
Paetro, 72, is a retired lawyer with a Porsche nicknamed “Baby” sitting in his garage. He is a longtime racing fan who planned to make his first visit to the St. Petersburg race. Now, he is out $265 for the three-day tickets and paddock passes he purchased for himself and two friends. His friends are also in their 70s and not comfortable with joining a crowd of people in the middle of a pandemic.
“I’m staying home and staying out of harm’s way as best I can,” Paetro said. “I think it’s crazy.”
He said even next year’s race is an uncomfortable option.
“They failed to have the race in March, but that was not the buyer’s fault,” Paetro said. “They shouldn’t have run it and that (reason) hasn’t gone away. The numbers are still outrageous and for the city to allow it to go on this weekend is outrageous.”
At the time of its March cancellation, Grand Prix co-owner Kevin Savoree said at a news conference that the race did not have any insurance that would cover an event like a cancellation due to the coronavirus outbreak. He said the company went above and beyond its duty as race promoters, given "the policy accepted and agreed to at the time of purchase, which is: ‘No refunds or exchanges. All sales final.’ "
“The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global event impacting us all. We hope our fans can understand and support us in this complicated situation,” promoters said then.
St. Petersburg was originally scheduled to be IndyCar’s season opener, but will instead be the series' final championship race this weekend.
Previously purchased general admission tickets will be accepted, but tickets with reserved seating have been reissued because of social-distancing guidelines. Masks will be required, and everyone who enters the downtown track area will have to do a health screening and temperature check.
Race organizers told the city they plan to allow up to 20,000 fans at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course. A limited amount of general-admission tickets went on sale last week. The race’s website, gpstpete.com, has ticketing information.
The pits and paddock area are closed as a precaution to separate spectators from participants. Grandstand capacity is trimmed. There are no additional grandstand seats available for sale for this weekend, a Grand Prix spokesman said. Only a limited number of general admission tickets remain available for Saturday and Sunday, and Friday has sold out.
Gates open at 8:45 a.m. Friday for six practice sessions and four rounds of qualifying. Gates open at 8:15 Saturday for a day that includes five races and IndyCar qualifying for Sunday’s main event, which starts at 2:30. The full schedule is available at gpstpete.com/festival/schedule.
The race is set to return on March 7 at its usual spot as IndyCar’s season opener.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.
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