IndyCar goes virtual racing as it waits to get back on track

Sports

The areas around the track and grandstands are nearly empty at the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Friday, March 13, 2020 in St. Petersburg. NASCAR and IndyCar have postponed their weekend schedules at Atlanta Motor Speedway and St. Petersburg, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

IndyCar isn’t sure when it can get its cars on track to officially start the season. For now, the series will follow the lead of other racing leagues and go virtual.

IndyCar’s first iRacing event will be Saturday with a 25-car field. The track is still being decided by fan vote.

IndyCar, like all sports, has been idled during the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the United States just as the series was ready to open its season. The league had a hectic 24-hours in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the March 15 season opener was scheduled to be run through the downtown city streets.

The mayor of St. Petersburg first said the race could not have spectators, and IndyCar planned to proceed with strict guidelines to limit the amount of fans. A day later, the series followed NASCAR and called off the race.

IndyCar on Thursday postponed the Indianapolis 500 until August and moved the road course race to July 4 in an unprecedented doubleheader with NASCAR, which will run its Cup Series race the next day.

As plans for the schedule were being wrangled, IndyCar followed NASCAR, IMSA and Formula One into the esports realm to create new content for its fans.

NASCAR’s debut event last Sundaywas aired live on Fox Sports One and with 903,000 viewers it was the most watched esports event in U.S. history, bettering the 770,000 viewers Mortal Combat drew to The CW in 2016. It was the highest-rated FS1 broadcast since sports were canceled the second week of March.

IndyCar’s broadcast partner is NBC, but the network passed on coverage and Saturday’s race will instead by streamed by IndyCar, and many drivers will have social media feeds running live during the race.

Most series regulars have committed to participate for events scheduled to run through May 2. The entry list has only 25 confirmed drivers but it is widely believed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who is scheduled to retire from full-time racing at the end of the season, will join the field.

Johnson wants to dabble in other series when he’s done, and the simulator he used last week for NASCAR’s first iRacing event appeared to have seat settings for Johnson to be driving Indy cars or sports cars, two of the series he’s interested in racing next year.

Among those confirmed to compete in the IndyCar event is Australian V8 SuperCars champion Scott McLaughlin, who is scheduled to make his IndyCar debut on the road course at Indianapolis.

McLaughlin is racing along with all three of the full-time Team Penske drivers, including reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and reigning Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.

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More AP IndyCar coverage: https://apnews.com/IndyCar

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