After losing to Mother Nature on Saturday, officials at the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana are hoping for much better luck Sunday despite an ominous weather forecast.
A torrential downpour made for rough driving conditions Saturday afternoon before lightning in the area caused qualifying to be canceled. Officials then changed the schedule for race day in an attempt to beat more predicted bad weather.
Drivers will start their engines at 1:38 p.m., and the race will begin at 1:45, almost an hour earlier than the original time.
“We think we’ll be in good shape,” NOLA Motorsports Park owner Laney Chouest said. “But it’s out of our control, so this is nothing I’m going to spend a whole lot of energy worrying about.”
According to weather.com, there is a 60 percent chance of rain between 1 and 2 p.m., with the probability increasing to 90 percent by 3 p.m.
Saturday’s qualifying was halted at 5:23 p.m., early in the second session. About a half-hour later, the day officially was called off, canceling the results from the first qualifying session.
The starting order Sunday is based on the results of the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Pete champion Juan Pablo Montoya, who was not running well at NOLA Motorsports Park and spun off the track on to the grass in the aborted qualifying session, will be on the front row, along with St. Pete runner-up Will Power.
“We were lucky, but at the same time that’s why you need the points,” Montoya said. “When you have days like this, it will pay off.”
Rain itself would not postpone the race unless it is accompanied by more lightning, but it would make driving awfully difficult and much slower, particularly since none of the drivers have raced on this course before.
“I don’t think anybody knows what it will be like,” Montoya said. “Because there was a lot of rain in that second session, and the problem with the rain is it’s when you have thunder, like today. You can’t control that. But, I mean, I think you can run in more water than (IndyCar officials) think we can. It would be really slow, but everybody will be really slow.
“If you know there is a big puddle and you need to slow down and if not you’re going to aquaplane, well then you slow down. You’ve just got to know how far you can go.”
After some good weather early Friday, the day turned miserable for fans when the rain came. Two minutes after the qualifying was halted, track officials issued a severe weather warning. Just before 6 p.m., all racing was canceled.
Other than Montoya, maybe the biggest beneficiary of the wiped-out qualifying was Sebastien Bourdais of the KV Racing Technology team. Bourdais had the fastest qualifying lap in the first session but was penalized for impeding Tony Kanaan’s progress after spinning out and going back on the course even though Kanaan had the second-best time.
Team members stewed when race officials announced Bourdais would start on the back row of Sunday’s race, but their anger was wasted when qualifying was canceled. Bourdais will start on the third row based on his sixth-place finish in St. Petersburg.
In terms of the start order for Sunday, nothing that happened Friday or Saturday mattered.
Montoya said the day’s events were a normal part of racing.
“We all want to have a beautiful sunny day, we do,” he said. “But we were not even sure if we were going to run at all. Are we disappointed with the weather? Yeah, everybody is. But we’re here to put on a good show for the fans, and I think we will do that.”