The 2021 IndyCar schedule is already facing its first big change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Long Beach Grand Prix, one of IndyCar’s crowning events, will no longer take place in April as normal. Instead, it’s moving to September 26, 2021, and it will become IndyCar’s season finale.
The Long Beach GP was cancelled outright in 2020 while we all grappled with the onset of COVID-19, which meant that it was the first time in 44 years the iconic event hadn’t taken place. And with the pandemic sticking around for the next bit of the foreseeable future, it makes sense to push the event later into the year.
“It is important to have Long Beach rescheduled to continue the history and tradition for one of the series’ hallmark events in one of the nation’s premier media markets,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said in an IndyCar release Thursday.
“Further, it’s a tremendous opportunity to wrap up the season with three straight iconic venues for what we believe will be our most exciting season yet. As we did during the 2020 season, we will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and maintain flexibility across our schedule. We are committed to an action-packed and exhilarating 2021 NTT IndyCar SERIES.”
Basically, Long Beach isn’t Long Beach if you can’t have fans. Waiting until September to host the race increases the likelihood that fans will be able to attend and that, with a vaccine on the horizon, we can worry just a little bit less about an IndyCar event turning into a superspreader.
Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President and CEO Jim Michaelian echoed those sentiments: “We believe that this move will afford us the best opportunity to provide our guests with a fun and exciting experience in a safe and unrestricted environment. It will be a welcome sight to see the NTT IndyCar Series cars and stars back on the downtown streets of Long Beach in the fall.”
It also makes a lot of sense schedule-wise. IndyCar had originally scheduled the season to end with two West Coast races: Portland and Laguna Seca. Moving the only other West Coast date to align with those prevents unnecessary travel and hopefully will reduce the financial burden on teams that are already having a tough time.
On the other hand, it further emphasizes just how ridiculous the opening of the IndyCar season is. The series already faced criticism for beginning the season on March 7 and then not hosting a race until over a month later. With Long Beach being moved, the schedule is now left with a two month period holding two races, followed by a four-race stretch in May.
As a result, the IMSA sportscar series has also rescheduled its West Coast swing, which usually takes place alongside IndyCar’s Long Beach event. Now, the series will head to Laguna Seca for the weekend of September 10 before heading to Long Beach for the weekend of September 24. IMSA, too, is now facing a bit of a wobbly start to its schedule with the Rolex 24 in late January, the 12 Hours of Sebring in mid-March, and no further races until mid-May.