Organizers planning for Belle Isle doubleheader to restart IndyCar season

David Goricki
The Detroit News

The Indianapolis 500 will not be run over Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 1945 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the possibility that the doubleheader on Belle Isle, which is scheduled for May 29-31, could mark the resumption of the IndyCar season.

Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said the Super Bowl of the IndyCar series could have possibly still been run on May 24 — or eight weeks from Sunday — but decided to push the Indy 500 to Aug. 23 since fans across the country and world plan for the prestigious event, which has been attended by more than 200,000 fans in past years.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix is still set to take place as scheduled for now.

The doubleheader on Belle Isle — 70-lap races run on consecutive days — is still set for May 30-31 for now.

Detroit Grand Prix officials released this statement:

“Detroit Grand Prix officials are continuing to work with local authorities while actively monitoring all information as it relates to the COVID-19 global pandemic. With mandated restrictions and guidelines affecting the schedule of many upcoming events, Grand Prix organizers are evaluating all options for the May 29-31 event weekend. The primary focus continues to be the health and well-being of the spectators, partners, volunteers, employees and event participants at the Detroit Grand Prix. Officials will update the status of the event as the situation continues to evolve.”

When Miles was asked to comment on the Detroit doubleheader during a media teleconference call Thursday, he replied: “We’re optimistic and again we’re talking with all of our promoters regularly, and Detroit, they’re optimistic. We might have been able to run the (Indy) 500, but it’s two weeks, so it’s really effectively three weeks before Detroit and the 500’s lead times to put everything in place given the scale of it is probably longer than any other races.

“They’re optimistic and we’re optimistic, and if at the end of the day it can’t happen we were thinking of other dates that might work, and we’ll do everything possible and they will do everything possible to stay on the schedule, hopefully at the end of May.”

In past years, the series put together a pair of races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during May, starting with the GMR Grand Prix on the road course — which was set for May 9 — followed by the Indy 500 two weeks later.

Miles said the GMR Grand Prix will be run on July 4 as part of an Indy Car/NASCAR doubleheader weekend with NASCAR’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at The Brickyard run on July 5.

Roger Penske, who purchased the IndyCar series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year, will have a busy Fourth of July weekend, owning multiple cars in both IndyCar and NASCAR.

Simon Pagenaud had a clean sweep of May last year for Team Penske, winning the Grand Prix, the pole for the Indy 500 and then the race itself, pushing Penske’s record total of Indy 500 poles to 18 and record Indy 500 wins to 18 as well.

The Indy 500 began in 1911 but wasn’t held in 1917 and 1918 because of World War I and from 1942-45 because of World War II.

Miles explained the decision to have the Indy 500 moved to Aug. 23, a week before Labor Day weekend.

“The reality is today we might still have been able to run as scheduled in May; we hope life is back to normal or near normal by then,” Miles said. “After protecting public health, our priority is absolutely about running the Indianapolis 500 in 2020. By rescheduling in late August, we fully expect to be outside the window impacted by the COVID-19 virus, and we and our fans still have five months to plan for the event. We believe our fans will be ready in August.”

The IndyCar season was set to begin March 15 on the Streets of St. Petersburg when the coronavirus hit, prompting Miles and officials first to plan to run the race without fans, then cancel it altogether. Miles hopes to conclude the season at St. Petersburg in October but said the Honda Indy Grand Prix in Alabama — scheduled for April 5 — and the race on the Streets of Long Beach — set for April 19 — will not be made up.

As for the IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader, Miles said: “It’s not like we had a plan in place, but it’s something that comes up ad

it’s been clear for a long time that both series under the right circumstances thought it could be a good thing for the sport and each of our series. So the spirits have always been willing — it hasn’t necessarily always been the highest priority — but this just created the opportunity to say, ‘Let’s go for it. ’”

NASCAR hopes to resume its season May 9 with the race at Martinsville, with the running of the Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway set for June 7.

Stay tuned.