Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Coronavirus not expected to change race schedule

But the IndyCar season opener will have more hand-washing stations because of the outbreak.
DIRK SHADD   |   Times  
Indy Lights cars race towards turn 10 during Indy Lights race #2 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg  on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
DIRK SHADD | Times Indy Lights cars race towards turn 10 during Indy Lights race #2 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10, 2019. [ SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published March 6, 2020|Updated March 6, 2020

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A week from today, cars will be on the track for the first day of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Race officials still do not expect that to change, despite the coronavirus outbreak.

The Grand Prix said in a statement Friday morning that it continues to monitor the situation, including recommendations from the Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But organizers “don’t expect any disruptions to the event schedule.”

“We are also working closely with the City of St. Petersburg and all racing series to ensure the well-being of our spectators, volunteers, employees and event participants with next weekend’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg,” the race said in a statement. “We are asking everyone associated with the event to follow basic hygiene precautions as recommended by the CDC, such as frequent hand-washing, use of hand sanitizer and covering coughs and sneezes appropriately.”

Related: Grand Prix: The line between video games and racing isn’t blurring. It’s disappearing.

Although there are no expected major changes to the event, the Grand Prix is taking some smaller precautions. Organizers are adding hand sanitizer and hand-washing units throughout the site surrounding the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course. They’ll also increasing their cleaning efforts by disinfecting hand rails and other surfaces multiple times a day.

IndyCar veteran Graham Rahal said he doesn’t expect to make any drastic changes to his schedule during the week, either. The 2008 Grand Prix winner said he’ll be more cautious of his hygiene and try not to bite his nails as often. Aside from that?

“I’m not the type of person who wants to live my life in fear, necessarily,” Rahal said earlier this week during a visit to the Tampa Bay Times’ office. “To me, we’re going to be here. We’re going to put on a great show. We’re going to sign autographs. We’re going to do all the things we’re here to do. All I hope is that we take good care of ourselves and our hygiene.”

The Grand Prix will be one of the first major sporting events in Tampa Bay since the virus outbreak. It has been held annually since 2005 and has drawn record crowds in recent years, with spectators coming from nearly every state and many countries.

The event kicks off next Friday and culminates with Sunday’s IndyCar season-opening race.

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