(Reuters) – IndyCar drivers eager to get back behind the wheel will face a test unlike any other on Saturday when, with limited practice, they kick off a season delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic on one of the series’ trickiest tracks and with no fans in attendance.
The Genesys 300 at the daunting Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth will air as a primetime show in a sports-starved world and mark the first time drivers have been in their cars since pre-season testing in February.
Adding to the challenge, drivers will take part in practice, qualifying and the 300-mile race on the same day with a cockpit-protecting wraparound windscreen for the first time and in the intense Texas heat.
“Texas is a very difficult racetrack to race in general, whether you’ve been there 20 years or first time. It’s a daunting track to get right,” said defending IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden.
“Typically we have five races or so to sort out our stuff, kind of get ourselves in the right frame of mind, have a general base before we go to a track like that.”
The one-day event will be run with strict guidelines to protect participants from COVID-19, and safety measures include limiting the personnel on site and a health screening system administered to all participants.
Six-times IndyCar race winner Graham Rahal said all drivers are likely to be nervous given the uncertainties, including how the canopy-like windscreen will perform.
“If you’re not nervous, I’d be concerned about the head that you have on your shoulders,” said Rahal.
“This is going to be a first for us. The glare, the pitting, does it get beat up on an oval, just the visibility standpoint, the heat, all of these things on an oval, we don’t know. We just don’t have any answers for that.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond