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IndyCar advises teams on St. Pete interaction because of COVID-19

Nate Ryan looks at the young drivers taking IndyCar by storm, the veterans ready to repeat and the newest changes in the series as IndyCar prepares for its season opener in St. Petersburg.

In a memo sent Wednesday to its teams, IndyCar has implemented some changes for fan interaction this weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Drivers are being advised “to pre-sign items items whenever possible, including hero cards” and also bring their own Sharpies. Restricting fan autographs to hero cards is recommended, and drivers are expected to sign a minimum of 100 hero cards that will be distributed by IndyCar.

A Friday autograph session with drivers will replaced with a 15-minute social Q&A taped with drivers (whose attendance is mandatory) that will be shown on videoboards around the course during breaks on track. Drivers will answer questions from fans via social media.

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IndyCar drivers still are expected to participate in a fan Q&A Thursday night in a downtown St. Petersburg park. A prerace drivers meeting Sunday at noon will remain open to the public, though drivers will be kept at a distance of more than 6 feet from fans and other attendees.

IndyCar teams also were advised to follow advice and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

IndyCar announced last week that it expected no schedule disruptions because of the coronavirus outbreak. That stance was reaffirmed in a Wednesday morning news conference with St. Petersburg officials.

In a Wednesday interview with RACER, IndyCar owner Roger Penske said, “We’re monitoring every single move, and we met with (the mayor of St. Petersburg) again today, and continue to coordinate with health department as well. We’ll take this one day at a time, and do everything to make a prudent decision.

“We had 25,000 people at Amelia Island last weekend with no problems. DisneyWorld is still open, there’s a big golf tournament in Florida this weekend, and there’s no reason to make any change in St. Pete unless we’re instructed by the government and/or health department.”

In a social media post Wednesday, Robert Wickens provided his approach to fan interaction this weekend at St. Petersburg.

NASCAR also announced some procedural changes for this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway because of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1,000 people in the United States and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.