The rollout of coronavirus vaccines and the hope for an end to the pandemic has caused one of the area’s biggest annual events to change its schedule.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is moving back seven weeks “when the feasibility of hosting a greater number of fans is possible,” event organizers announced Wednesday.
The three-day event —originally scheduled for March —will now run from April 23-25. Although the downtown street course will lose its marquee spot as the IndyCar Series’ season opener, race officials hope the pandemic will subside more in the extra time, allowing more spectators to attend.
“It’s not surprising that an event of this magnitude, scheduled for the first week of March, is still subject to the implications of the pandemic,” said Mark Miles, the CEO and president of IndyCar’s parent company, Penske Entertainment. “We’re delighted we were able to work with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and Green Savoree Racing Promotions to find a more suitable date, which helps consolidate the beginning of our schedule and allows us to stay on NBC network television.”
The Grand Prix —held annually since 2005 — was one of the last major U.S. sporting events to shut down in March during the early stages of the pandemic. Instead of serving as its season opener, the Grand Prix became its championship race; Scott Dixon won his sixth series title here in October.
Attendance was limited to about 20,000 per day at the last race. That’s a big drop from the estimated crowd of 140,000 the Grand Prix drew over three days in 2019.
“We appreciate the officials at IndyCar for their support in setting a new date for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and also to Mayor Kriseman and his team at the City of St. Petersburg for identifying a time when it will be conducive for more fans to attend,” said race co-owner Kim Green.
The Grand Prix said it will still be subject to the “guidance and mandates of national, state and local authorities regarding public gatherings as the conditions evolve with the ongoing pandemic.”
“I want to thank our friends at IndyCar and our partners at Green Savoree for putting the health and safety of fans first,” Kriseman said. “Each of these races takes an incredible amount of work from hundreds of dedicated professionals, and I know the decision to move the date of the race is not made lightly. I appreciate the drivers, teams, staff, and most of all the fans for their patience and understanding.”
After this spring, the Grand Prix is scheduled to return to its earlier spot on the calendar, running from March 11-13 in 2022 and March 10-12 in ’23.