The inside track: A quick look at the ins and outs of IndyCar racing _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Racers head into and out of the pits Saturday as they test new aerodynamic body kits at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale.

Christopher DeHarde of Luling is a regular contributor on IndyCar racing to and as well as co-hosting a weekly racing show on He is a 2012 LSU graduate. During the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana to be held April 10-12 at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, DeHarde will be providing analysis for The Advocate. Here are some basic questions about the race:

What makes IndyCar unique among the other forms of auto racing?

The same cars that race on city streets also race on natural terrain road courses, short ovals, and superspeedways, meaning that in order to win a championship, a driver has to be able to master all different types of tracks. Not being able to master ovals or road courses can cost a driver the championship. The cars are open wheel, meaning that the wheels are exposed. The series differs from Formula One and NASCAR in that in those forms of racing, the drivers are raised in road racing or in an oval racing discipline and don’t cross over into the other discipline very often in the case of NASCAR or ever in the case of Formula One.

Why New Orleans, a city without a history of auto racing?

The Verizon IndyCar Series has been looking at expanding into newer markets for the past few years. In 2010, IndyCar expanded into the heart of the southern U.S. with the race at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama. A new market in Baltimore was added 2011, although that race was now renewed for this year. In 2013, there was the long-heralded return of IndyCar racing to Pocono after being absent for 24 years. This marks the next step of finding new markets for IndyCar racing.

Everybody has heard of the Indianapolis 500. How does the racing procedure at that race differ from this one?

At the Indianapolis 500, drivers spend a week practicing, a weekend qualifying, another day of practice on Friday before the race on Sunday. Here the drivers will practice on Friday; qualify on Saturday; and on Sunday, they will have a final practice session before the race. The race at NOLA Motorsports Park will be about 250 miles with the same cars and almost all of the same drivers as the Indianapolis 500.

Who are the top drivers?

Many of the top drivers drive for Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. To use a baseball metaphor, they’re the Yankees and Red Sox of IndyCar. Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe are some of the top drivers. Power won the season championship last year and was runner-up in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Hunter-Reay was series champion in 2012 and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. Dixon won the series championship in 2003, 2008 and 2013 while winning the 500 in 2008. Kanaan won the championship in 2004 and the 500 in 2013. Andretti and Hinchcliffe are stars that have yet to win a championship but are always a threat.

Besides coming to New Orleans, what’s new about IndyCar in 2015?

The aerodynamics of the cars are changing significantly as Chevrolet and Honda are developing new bodywork for the cars that carry their respective engines. The series is testing at NOLA this weekend in the first ever test for these new aerodynamic parts. This is important because for the last three years that these cars have been raced, they have had identical appearances, and this will bring variety to the series.

What are the specifics about the engines and models used in IndyCar?

The IndyCars all use a common “safety cell” that the driver sits in, but the other parts of the car are open to development by the designers of the bodywork kits. The engines are produced by Chevrolet and Honda and are 2.2L V6s making a little over 700 horsepower running on E85. E85 is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

How does the road course of NOLA Motorsports differ from street and oval courses?

This is the closest you can come to becoming a street circuit without racing in a city, because in a city environment, there’s little to no elevation changes. It differs in that there is a lot of runoff room in case a driver goes off track, while in a street circuit, there’s precious little runoff room. On an oval, there are only left-hand turns, while the rest of the tracks have left and right hand turns.

What are the supporting events all about?

While a major racing series is in town, there are usually other racing series that want to race at the track at the same weekend to generate exposure for it, which is why at the track there will also be Mazda MX-5 cars, Porsche GT3 cup cars, as well as two of the three IndyCar feeder series racing, namely the USF2000 and Pro Mazda championships. The USF2000 and Pro Mazda cars are smaller and slower with less power than the IndyCars, and you won’t see any of the IndyCar drivers competing in the lower divisions during the weekend.

Ted Lewis