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Dixon says IndyCar drivers want to race, tense over virus

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Miami (AFP)

Five-time IndyCar season champion Scott Dixon says teams are tense over the coronavirus outbreak but want to race in Sunday's season-opening IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The 39-year-old New Zealander told ESPN on Friday drivers and their crews are ready for the Florida event, one of the few remaining on the US sport schedule, even though spectators won't be allowed to attend.

"Everybody is a little tense and trying to understand the situation a little more," Dixon said about the coronavirus issues. "It's about the unknowns."

The NBA, NHL, PGA Tour, ATP Tour and college basketball shut down events on Thursday while Major League Baseball halted pre-season contests and postponed its season openers, originally scheduled for March 26.

And while organizers of next month's IndyCar race at Long Beach called off that event, the series decided to press on with its 26-car opener over a 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course in Florida.

"We're all here. We want to race. We're all racers," Dixon said.

"Everyone is feeling good about the weekend and the racing side and getting started. We do have a heavy heart with the fans not being here. But it's about everybody trying to stay as healthy as possible."

The nearby 12 Hours of Seibring race has been postponed to November.

Formula One called off this weekend's Australian Grand Prix and have postponed scheduled events in Bahrain, Vietnam and China.

But US stock car series NASCAR, the nation's most popular form of auto racing, plans to stage races this weekend in Atlanta and later in Miami without spectators.

"Some of those sporting entities are different," Dixon said.

"They are travelling around the world from different spots."

Mechanics, drivers, engineers and race teams had already reached St. Petersburg when most of the shutdowns were announced by other leagues and city officials were ordering a halt to mass gatherings.

"We came to the best possible conclusion given all the circumstances, in particular when our teams indicated they still wanted to race," IndyCar chief executive Mark Miles said in a statement.

"The priority had to be the health and safety of our fans, drivers, teams, officials and workers."

IndyCar did condense the schedule to two days from three, with qualifying and practice Saturday ahead of Sunday's race.

"Today is kind of a screening day making sure everyone is healthy, making sure there are no outside problems," Dixon said. "We're trying to get on with it and make sure we have a great weekend."

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