The company that organized Louisiana’s first IndyCar race this year is suing the Avondale racetrack that hosted the event only because the organizer did such a poor job that the race failed financially, the defendants argue in their first response to the federal lawsuit.
To make most of its money off the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana in April, the local subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Andretti Sports Marketing depended on selling lots of tickets to the race, NOLA Motorsports Park and its owner Laney Chouest argued in a 25-page document filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on Thursday.
That didn’t happen, so Andretti is trying to get the money it anticipated making by unjustly targeting Chouest and his $75 million racetrack in a lawsuit launched in June, the Chouest filing contends.
“Andretti has failed to state a claim against (the racetrack) and Mr. Chouest upon which relief can be granted,” according to the document, signed by attorney Thomas J. Cortazzo.
In negotiating last year for Andretti to bring the IndyCar race to Avondale, NOLA Motorsports created a nonprofit affiliate to receive $4.5 million from the state to fund improvements at the track.
Andretti, which signed a three-year contract to organize the Grand Prix beginning in 2015, claims the agreement said only $2.6 million of the state money would be used on track upgrades. Andretti says it was assured enough money would be left over to compensate it for all of its services.
However, Andretti alleges, the track used $3.4 million of the state grant on improvements, leaving too little for NOLA Motorsports Park officials to pay off the organizer or other vendors.
By most accounts, the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana was a disaster. According to one estimate, only about 8,000 spectators showed up for the race — 10 percent of the hoped-for crowd. It also rained throughout the race, resulting in a sloppy, crash-filled competition.
Things were so bad that one IndyCar team owner went on Twitter to tell race fans he was “sorry” and that they deserved better.
Andretti blamed the disappointing event on both the weather and what it alleged was meddling by Chouest.
In its own response to the lawsuit, the nonprofit racetrack affiliate that received the state grant argued that Andretti came up financially short solely due to its “abject failure ... to fulfill (its) obligations.”
“(Andretti) now seeks to shake down what it portrays as a local deep pocket,” Chouest and the racetrack said in their filing Thursday.
The nonprofit affiliate’s filing also insisted that the racetrack used only $2.6 million on what it called “safety modifications” to the facility. The state verified that by holding back 10 percent of the $4.5 million grant until after confirming that the other 90 percent of the money was spent properly, said the nonprofit, which noted that $700,000 of the grant went to Andretti.
A subsidiary of the Swiss company that installed the temporary grandstands at the race also has filed a lawsuit against NOLA Motorsports Park that echoes some of the allegations made by Andretti. Nothing in Thursday’s filings from the defendants addressed those allegations.