There are a few “firsts” happening during Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC) and the week leading up to it.
The most obvious is that it’s taking place in a month other than May for the first time ever, which is a big deal considering the whole month typically is filled with events and builds up momentum for race day. The IndyCar Series announced the race’s postponement back in March as major events across most sports in the U.S. were delayed or canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond that, there will be empty grandstands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in 104 Indy 500s, track and IndyCar Series owner Roger Penske announced earlier this month. This, too, is because of the coronavirus crisis.
Marco Andretti during qualifying for the 2020 Indianapolis 500. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
For one of the biggest motor sports events in the world with more than a century of history behind it, the lack of fans will surely be noticeable to viewers at home. But what about for drivers on the track?
For The Win spoke with 2020 Indy 500 pole sitter Marco Andretti on Monday about the potential impact of empty grandstands, noting what a difference it will make during the extravagant pre-race festivities.
“Especially coming out to Gasoline Alley, this place is electric on race day normally,” said Andretti, who is the first member of his family to start on the Indy 500 pole since his grandfather and 1969 Indy 500 winner, Mario Andretti, did it in 1987.
Marco qualified first Sunday during the Fast Nine Shootout with a four-lap average of 231.068 miles per hour, edging out Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, by just .017 miles per hour.
“So that’s going to be super strange,” Marco continued to explain about not having fans. “However, at 240 miles an hour, I don’t think we’re going to notice. But it’s one of those double-edged swords, right? Would I have wanted to celebrate yesterday with fans? Absolutely.
“But on the other hand, we’re super lucky that Roger [Penske] picked the series up and is keeping it going through these times. And so if we’re able to keep sport going in a safe way, I think the world needs it. I think it’s a good thing. So we’re happy to be driving, so I’m not complaining.”
The 104th running of the Indy 500 is Sunday, August 23 at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.
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