The red racing Ferrari parked to the left of the stage at the NOLA Motorsports Park Event Center looked fast. And if you think that updated version of Thomas Magnum’s ride projects an image of excessive street-illegal speed, imagine open-wheel, 650-horsepower land rockets zipping along at up to 180 mph on the straightaways.
That sort of awesome automotive power will be coming to the New Orleans area on three undisclosed dates in 2015 for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, although speculation has it that June of next year is being targeted.
Gov. Bobby Jindal was among the dignitaries on hand for a press conference Monday afternoon at the $60 million track, hopes to get a one-time investment of $4.5 million from the current state legislative session to ensure it meets the enhanced safety standards and other amenities required of a major IndyCar race. But, Jindal said, the return to Louisiana — the race is guaranteed to be held at the Avondale facility from 2015 through 2017, with the promise of making the arrangement permanent if all goes well — is significant: 80,000 visitors pumping $100 million into the region’s economy over the course of the three-day festival that will be culminated by the big race on a Sunday.
“I honestly thought this was impossible to accomplish,” Jindal said of the dream first conceived in the mind of track owner Laney Chouest, who opened the track in 2011. “Laney had this vision for many, many years. He built this facility as a labor of love.”
Jindal noted that the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana would be “another nationally known event” and “another reason for folks to come to have a great time in Louisiana,” along with visitor magnets like the recently concluded New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Zurich Classic golf tournament.
Chouest said NOLA Motorsports Park, which previously hosted races included AMA motorcycle racing and the Cooper Tires WinterFest, now had “an incredible opportunity” to provide another “game-changer” for the local hospitality industry.
“The challenge for us is to be the great hosts that we are whenever we have a big international event here,” he said. “So let’s have a good time.”
The Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana represents not only an expansion of the local motorsports scene but of the entire IndyCar circuit, which is the premier American-based open-wheel racing series.
IndyCar’s signature event is, of course, the Indianapolis 500. But auto racing fans, particularly in the South, have come to associate the sport more through NASCAR. But the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana marks the fourth consecutive year that IndyCar has added a race to its 18-race schedule, which now consists of 12 street and road courses and just six ovals.
“IndyCar is on the rise,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent company of IndyCar. “We are determined to be in great markets throughout this country and around the world.
“We cannot wait for the day when we can say, ‘We’re here in Jefferson Parish, in New Orleans,’” said Miles, who added that he had been monitoring the progression of the NOLA Motorsports Park on a site that once was “something called a swamp. That’s no mean feat.”
“This is a great track and a great facility,” he said. “We have no doubt that this will be one of the great venues for IndyCar racing.”
Also on hand was an IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe, who gave his approval to the 2.75-mile road course as well as the metropolitan area in which it is located. Hinchcliffe, a native of Oakville, Ontario, had not been to New Orleans before this visit.
“The facility they’ve put together here is incredibly impressive,” Hinchcliffe said. “I took around the track and got to see it firsthand. I can tell you that from a driver’s point of view, it’ll be an awesome racetrack.
“As drivers, we love coming to new places and putting on a show for the fans.”
As they say at that place they call the Brickyard, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”