Ahead of the commencing of the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, countless IndyCar drivers have spoken about their emotions surrounding the return to racing.
Since the announcement of the cancellation of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg back in March, IndyCar racing has been absent. However, the series’ extended off-season will draw to a close with the Genesys 300 this coming Saturday at Texas
This exciting fact – combined with the major changes to the format of the event – has gotten people talking, and that includes the IndyCar drivers, of whom Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchliffe, Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, Marco Andretti & Zach Veach, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, RLL’s Graham Rahal & Takuma Sato, MSR’s Jack Harvey, CGR’s Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, & Felix Rosenqvist, and AJ Foyt’s Tony Kanaan & Charlie Kimball have spoken.
Many addressed the no-fans policy, and how they’ll approach the IndyCar races, while others focused on the return to live, American open-wheel racing in general. All, however, spoke excitedly. Below is what the drivers have said of the return to racing to-be:
Hinchcliffe: “Yeah, so we received a pretty thorough document from INDYCAR explaining all the procedures, and I’ve got to say I’m very impressed with what I saw. They are definitely sparing no expense and leaving any stone unturned and making sure all the measures are in place from how we transport to the racetrack, the procedures when we get there, how the days are run, who can go where and when.
“It’s all very, very controlled. From what I’ve seen with the NASCAR side of things, I think obviously we’ve got a little bit of a basis to go off of there, and from what I understand, kind of even going above and beyond. I’m certainly very comfortable with what’s happening, and I feel like my safety is being taken into consideration, as is that of everybody that’s participating in the events, drivers, crews, officials, what have you.
“It’s going to be different, there’s no doubt about it, not being able to sort of really walk in and out of the track and all the rest of it. It’ll be a bit of a change, but it’s the same for everyone and we’re doing it for a good reason. Like I said, I think INDYCAR has stepped up to the plate in a big way, and I’m happy with that.
“…It’s funny because there’s been scenarios where that’s [no fans] has sort of happened in the past. Let’s be honest; not a lot of people are sitting in the stands during practice at 1:30 in the afternoon in the blazing Texas sun watching us go around, and I get it. And we’ve had rain delays that have pushed us to either super late at night or on a Monday or whatever, which means fans couldn’t come as a result of the date change.
“So in different scenarios we’ve had different versions of it sort of, and for us more than any other athletes, it’s going to affect us less. We don’t hear the roar of the arena like football or hockey or basketball or baseball. It’s a very sort of different deal. Once we’re in the car, helmets are on, engines are on, you’re not seeing or hearing everything but your car and what’s in front of you on the racetrack. So it’ll definitely be a little bit different but not necessarily something that we’ve never experienced.
Newgarden: “I think procedurally it will be very different. Our process within our own team, our process within teams collectively, race control, INDYCAR, that’s all going to be different. But I think the flow of information, race control during the race, decisions throughout the day, typically all that is done remotely anyways. I don’t think that will be aggressively impacted. I think we’ll be able to operate pretty globally, not a lot of lag time with communication flow from an event standpoint.
“Within the team, that hands-on experience of just to be able to walk over, talk about (indiscernible), whatever it is, you’re not going to have that interaction. That’s going to be very, very different from my standpoint as a driver. I think the most critical relationship is the engineer/driver combo. From my standpoint, that’s going to be the thing that I need to stay most in touch with. That’s what we’re working on, is how can we make that as fluid as possible. Everything else I think can flow pretty normally outside of that. My performance is certainly going to be directly tied to staying closely connected to my engineer and going from there.
Dixon: “I think Texas is kind of a different kind of version just for us because there’s a few rookies, some people that have never been to Texas before. Plus it’s the introduction of the Aeroscreen which actually most of the teams I think by the time we get to the race would have previously run in that configuration. Ganassi hasn’t, which is quite rare for us. Yeah, I think it’s an hour and 20 minutes.
“There was a rookie session plus a few guys that haven’t been to Texas before. I think any time we’re getting on track is going to be enough to get rolling. Hopefully it runs smoothly as far as there’s not too many cautions or lack of time. As you sort of mentioned, I think Cup have definitely proven you can even go straight up to a race and the race was fantastic.
“I think sometimes actually the race could be better because you have good cars really good, then you’re going to have cars falling off and the field is going to be pretty mixed. All of this is different for us, but I expect it to not really change too much from what we typically do.
Ericsson: “I think one of the big things for us as a series is the fact that we haven’t raced on an oval since August last year. It’s been a very long time. Yes, we had some testing here in the beginning of the year, but it was all on road course. I think that’s why it’s good for us as a series to at least have some practice and a qualifying session before going into the race.
“That for me is the biggest sort of thing. I’m sure we’re all going to get into it. We are all professionals. I think after that practice and qualifying we’re all going to be ready to put on a good show there on Saturday night. I’m sure the race is going to be really entertaining and fun, both to drive and to watch.”
Rosenqvist: “Yeah, I think I always been in favor of running shorter events anyways. It might be tough for some rookies coming. Must be a lot of thoughts going through their minds right now coming into Texas. At least INDYCAR has been good in giving them some extra running, which I think is fair. Yeah, there’s plenty of other series that do it one-day events. It’s been shown many times, like when we go to Detroit, for example, have a more packed weekend, it’s possible to do it. I think it creates probably a bit more excitement because, as Scott said, more ups and downs through the field. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a really good race.
Sato: “I think we just are looking after it and take care of each other more than usual. For the rookie drivers, I think it’s just naturally a very challenging field, but so do we. Like Graham said at the very beginning, we’re intense and a bit nervous, too. I’m sure that everybody goes there cautious. But at the same time, we’re such competitive drivers, and once it goes to the green flag, I know everybody will go flat out.
“Hopefully we just respect more, and we’re going to have a drivers’ conference call with a lot of stuff to prepare as much as we could. But the reality is once the race starts, we just take care of each other. Otherwise really nothing we can do other than go to a little cautious. For every procedure you have to make sure what we’re doing, and then we go to the next step as a logistical 100 percent all the time.
Kanaan: “I think we all been mentally prepared for this, right? I don’t know how I’m going to feel because I haven’t witnessed a racetrack with no fans, to be honest. I don’t recall in my career ever that I show up to a race – talk about testing – but that wasn’t a single person ask you to the autograph. You are going to walk in, it’s going to be like a private event. That is the safest thing to do for our first race. It will be no sport if we keep doing this, thank God I know it’s not going to happen, but no sport will survive without fans. It will be a different vibe.
“I think we need to look. Throughout my entire life, not just this situation specifically, I always try to look at the positive things. Out of a negative or bad situation, there is always something you can make the most out of it. To be honest we should be happy that we’re back. We should be happy that life is becoming whatever that normal is going to be. But also I think in hindsight a lot of us, not saying me, but we will actually value the fans a lot more once we come out of Texas that we had to race with empty stands.
“I believe it’s on the fans’ advantage because I think it will be a lot more appreciation. Not that we didn’t. I think INDYCAR is great. We grow this series because we give the access to the fans, access to us, autograph session, you can be in the grid if you buy a paddock pass. Think about the positive side. Once they’re allowed to come in, it will be even better than it was before.
“I think we all going to be a little bit more on the cautious side. I think everybody is going to try to get a rhythm, try to finish the race, try to get this one under our belt. It’s an oval, the first race. I’m hoping that’s going to be the approach. Talking to some of the guys, I think everybody is on the same page. You never know when the green flag drops, people have a tendency to forget and go for it.”
Harvey: “Yeah, mate, I mean, INDYCAR sent out some bullet points to follow by. Actually it’s extensive. It’s pretty intense. I think everybody is going to be screened. I think we’re all wearing masks. We’re all trying to socially distance the best we can. In the midst of everyone being so excited to get back racing, personal safety and safety of individuals has been at the forefront I think of every decision. It’s still at the forefront of every decision.
“I’m confident with the guidelines that INDYCAR have put in place, the guidelines that both Meyer Shank Racing and Andretti Technologies have put in place, that we can still go and do everything we need to and be as safe as possible. It’s going to look a lot different than any other weekend we’ve done before. Probably be the most – not sure the word I’m looking for – cautious perhaps of all the year might be at Texas. I think my own safety, I’m confident in the people around me, that they’ve put the best guidelines in place we could have right now.
Andretti: “Yeah, I mean, I’m anxious, but I think I’m most excited. I think it’s been — it was a long off-season to begin with, with part availability with the windscreens and stuff like that, so there was limited testing to begin with, and then obviously when COVID hit, everybody was just kind of on hold. Really, really excited to get going. I think the world needs more sports, not just us, so it’s a good thing to get going.
“For me, I think the only difference is just a one-day show and having to go right away. I think for me personally, I don’t mind. I don’t know, I mean, is it different? I don’t know, our approach is different because of circumstances at the track that particular day, but our preparation is very much the same with our engineers, and we have to actually watch we don’t get too creative with all this time off and just remember to stick to the basics because there’s not a lot of practice. Yeah, I mean, it’s show up and go, which I think honestly most of the oval events can be one-day shows once we get going.
Rossi: “Yeah, I mean, ultimately I think it’s a testament to the effort that’s been put in by everyone at INDYCAR and Texas Motor Speedway and the state of Texas to allow us to go racing. It’s really cool, really exciting. As Marco said, I think the world needs sports, needs entertainment, needs positivity, so yeah, I’m excited to get there and not only put on a show for people but also get our season started and pick up where we left off at the end of last year.
Veach: “Yeah, I mean, just looking forward to it, honestly. I think Marco said it best that the off-season wasn’t exactly what we expected with the limited availability with the Aeroscreens, so we had very limited track time before St. Petersburg, and we got there and got ready to get going and then obviously the COVID-19 thing happened. So we’ve have had a lot of time to sit and think about it and mentally prepare for Texas, but nothing is like just showing up and doing it. I think we’re really excited just to show up.
“I know everyone is a little bit antsy, maybe antsy a little bit more than anxious just to get going, but as Alex and Marco said, this is a time that we could use some positivity and something to entertain us, and I’m excited to be a part of that show that we’re all going to go try to put on, and I think we’re going to be racing for everyone who’s been fighting on the front lines during this time. Really excited just to get going and try to help some people.
Kimball: “I think the perspective for us as drivers and for me as a driver, the fans are really what drives the energy on race day. You see that at Indianapolis for the 500. You see that at places like Long Beach with hundreds of thousands of people, 100,000 people on race day, and that energy, you can just feel the buzz in the racetrack building up to the green flag, and so it’s going to be very different.
“I think as a driver, I’ve already been thinking about how to ignore what’s happening in the grandstand or in this case not happening in the grandstand and know that driver introductions and the parade lap and those sorts of things, the anthem are going to be very, very different than what I’ve experienced in the past, and really focus on what the competition is going to look like and know that there are going to be millions of people watching on primetime, on NBC, at home on TV but not there at the grandstand.
“It was really interesting, I watched the first NASCAR race back, and when he got out of the car and was talking about how quiet Victory Lane was, I think getting out of the car at the end of the race and not hearing that buzz from the grandstand is really where I’m going to notice it because that’s when I’m not focusing on the race ahead, I can get a chance to soak in the atmosphere a little more. For me, if we can do it safely, getting fans back to the racetrack, it’s a big part of what motivates us as drivers and teams is that support that we get from around the country and around the world from our fan base.
Hunter-Reay: “Yeah, we’re just ready to get back to work. This is what we do. This is our livelihood and this is what makes the world go round for us. Just ready to get back to it. Obviously we’re going to miss the fans, but it’s a great opportunity to get back, and obviously under the right guidelines, being safe about it all, being smart about it, and putting on a good show.”
Herta: ” I think just excited. I think a lot of us, this is the longest that we’ve ever been out of the car, especially for me. And so yeah, it’s been really tough, but like everyone said, I think we’re all really excited to get back, and we’re all really excited that we’re doing it in a safe way. Sucks that we don’t have the fans, but at least we get to go racing and put on a show for everyone on TV.”
Daly: “Yeah, I mean, honestly just so ready to go. It’s been a long time. I think since like March 2nd or 3rd since I’ve been in a car. Since September on an oval, August, whenever Gateway was. It’s going to be fun. A lot of variables, a lot of new things that we’re all going to have to adjust to pretty quickly.
“I feel bad for the rookies not having had the whole month of May getting up to speed on an oval, getting used to that style of racing. It’s tough. I know for a fact. Texas is tough. Oval racing in INDYCAR overall is tough. But it’s fun. Hopefully we can all be smart about everything and just have a great Saturday night.”
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