The goal is for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana to become second only to the standard-bearer for open wheel racing from which the event derives the first word of its name.
That’s bold ambition for an event that is yet to be contested for the first time and that is being held in an area where even NASCAR has never caught on, much less IndyCars.
And yet Kirsten Engeron, general manger of NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, where the event will be held April 10-12, is confident that the marriage of sports and Louisiana’s love of festivals will prove successful.
“We’re telling people that even if you are not familiar with IndyCar racing, you can come out and experience and the music and food in a Jazzfest atmosphere,” she said “And then they will discover that this is a festival that also happens to have a racing component to it.
“I doubt if there’s ever been a race when the cars are led on the track by Mardi Gras floats.”
And for gear heads, it’s an opportunity to experience high level racing without having to travel hundreds of miles.
The New Orleans race is one of 14 stops in the Verizon IndyCar Series, which features the same cars and drivers as the Indianapolis 500.
The only difference is that the New Orleans race will be on a road course, and the 75-lap main event will cover approximately 250 miles.
“We’re centrally located,” Engeron said. “We should attract fans from Texas to Florida.
“And while we’re doing that, we’re creating more fans for the future.”
A vital common element, Engeron added, is that paying customers are offered value.
Both reserved and general admission seats are available in single and three-day packages.
Engeron points out that no matter where one sits in the 17,000-seat grandstand, the entire 2.74-mile course is visible, which is unique for the IndyCar series.
In addition to seating, fans can purchase paddock passes that allow close access to the prerace crew work along with interaction with the drivers. There’s an interactive game area, and the complex’s go-kart track will be open.
Engeron said the admission and paddock passes are lower than those for other stops on the circuit.
“We feel like we know our market,” she said. “If you make prices too daunting, people aren’t going to come.”
Higher end packages are available for The Andretti Club, which offers both indoor and patio seating and appearances by both current and former drivers and RV parking.
“If people love tailgating for football, they’ll love tailgating for auto racing,” Engeron said. “It’s just another area where we’re trying to put people who may be unfamiliar with IndyCar racing into a familiar setting.”
The only other IndyCar tour stop that approximates the entertainment and racing elements of the Grand Prix of New Orleans is the longstanding Streets of Long Beach race which will be conducted a week after the NOLA Motorsports one.
“They do a great job, but Southern California’s not Louisiana when it comes to food, music and having a good time,” Engeron said. “We can already see things we want to add in 2016 and 2017 (the contract with IndyCar is for three years) that we want to add, but we wanted to make sure we’re getting it right from the start.
“It may take us five or even 10 years to reach our goals. But we feel it’s a very doable thing.”