St. Petersburg Returns as 2020 Finale

Alexander Rossi prepares for 2019 St. Pete Grand Prix

The postponed Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will serve as the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season finale due to an agreement between INDYCAR, Green Savoree St. Petersburg LLC and the City of St. Petersburg to hold the event on Oct. 25, three weeks after the Harvest Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The race’s return to the series’ heavily revised schedule should allay some complaints from ticket holders about the event’s initial cancellation.

The original policy permitted the application of tickets toward next year’s event or their conversion to a 110% credit valid for any future event put on by the promoter, including races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Toronto and Portland International Raceway. Those who held tickets for the March event will be able to use them on corresponding days in October. However, the new dates may do little to console nonlocal individuals who traveled to St. Petersburg for the planned season opener but are unable to make arrangements in the fall.

The policy of honoring existing ticket purchases assumes that the street venue will be able to operate at or near full capacity in late October. The ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic and Florida’s “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step.” economic recovery plan will determine the plausibility of a three-day race event run as it would have been in March.

Prepared by the Re-Open Florida Task Force and released April 29, the plan outlines three phases beyond the current one that will go into effect based on gating criteria under the headings of “syndromic surveillance,” “epidemiology and outbreak decline” and “health care capability.” Phase 1 allows large sporting events to operate at 25% capacity while Phase 2 increases the capacity to 50% with strict social distancing requirements. Phase 3 removes restrictions on such events but recommends reducing capacity with limited social distancing.

Florida’s progression to Phase 3 — what could be considered full reopening — does not depend on the widespread distribution of a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, unlike some states. Instead, a sustained downward trend of the stated criteria coupled with no indication of a potential increase in cases of the coronavirus stand as the primary factors influencing the state’s path to reopening. Based on progress already made, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order initiating Phase 1 effective May 4.

Putting aside the health crisis, there’s significance in the championship concluding at a street circuit. Permanent road courses and ovals have ended every season since the 2003 Champ Car World Series when a visit to Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Australia closed out the year — and that was only due to wildfires near the planned finale venue in Fontana, California.

Danger lurks for championship contenders at any racetrack, but the margin of error at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the original venue for the finale, is much lower than on the confining streets of St. Petersburg. If the reconfigured 2020 season extends IndyCar’s 14-year streak of deciding its titlist at the last race, the stakes will be as high as they’ve ever been at a tight, temporary racetrack.

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