The biggest motor race – and the largest single sporting event – of 2020 has finally succumbed to the coronavirus disaster that is sweeping the United States.
The Indianapolis 500, pushed out from its traditional May date to August 23, will run for the first time in its history in front of empty grandstands at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, after organisers finally conceded that even quarter-full stands were not feasible as positive tests continue to rise in the towns and cities around the venue.
Previously, the track – recently purchased by auto industry doyen Roger Penske – has announced that it would run the event at 50 percent capacity, which would still have meant 175,000 people converging on the facility.
A further reduction to 25 percent in recent weeks has now been superseded by the call to shut the gates to IndyCar’s biggest spectacle.
“While hosting spectators at a limited capacity with our robust plan in place was appropriate in late June, it is not the right path forward based on the current environment," an official release stated.
The move comes despite Penke’s pronouncement in early June that the event would not run at all if spectators couldn’t attend.
"We're on for fans in August and planning on it and we feel good,” Penske told US site Racer at the time. “It's still almost three months from now and I think we'll be okay. But we will run it only with fans."
However, the COVID-19 picture has not improved in Marion County, and the largest healthcare organisation in the state of Indiana had expressed its concerns about the viability of up to 350,000 people attending the event, despite the measures announced by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This included a detailed 88-page COVID operations manual, masks and hand sanitiser for all ticket holders and enforced social distancing.
"We have concerns about the risks of infection beyond the scope of the IMS plan, including social gatherings, travel, restaurants, bars, accommodations and other event-related activities," IU Health said in a statement.
Despite the lack of fans, a full 33-strong grid of IndyCars is expected to take to the track in August, including former winner and series champion, Australian Will Power (below left), as well as multiple champion Scott Dixon from New Zealand.
The Indy 500 has only been cancelled six times since its first event in 1911. Those six cancellations came in 1917-18 and 1942-45 during the First and Second World Wars.