For Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, the cars and stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series will be hard at work for 75 laps around the 13-turn, 2.74-mile road course.
But despite being hard at work, numerous factors can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans.
The potential for rain can alter strategy by a significant amount, because many variables come into play, such as better fuel mileage for the cars or more yellow flags because of limited visibility.
Strategy during a road course race is a very fluid thing that can be changed at the drop of a yellow flag, making pit stop strategy even more complicated than at an oval.
On an oval, it is most advantageous to pit when the yellow flag is out so the driver loses the least amount of time in the pits compared to their competitors. On a road course, the opposite is true.
Because road courses have fewer passing opportunities, track position is everything. Making a pit stop under yellow means that the driver will be farther back in the lineup, making their race very difficult.
But how are strategies planned out on road courses? The first determining factor is how far a car can go on one tank of fuel. Given the race distance at NOLA Motorsports Park, it is estimated a car will need at least three pit stops if the weather is dry.
The biggest variable Sunday could be the rain. Selecting when to go to rain tires and knowing how to drive in the rain is a large factor in determining the finishing order.
If the track dries, managing to pick out what time to go to dry tires from rain tires would also play a huge part in determining the finish. If a driver waits too long to switch, they could lose large amounts of time on the wrong tires.
However, the drivers might not have to switch to dry weather tires if rain persists.
Weather issue aside, many drivers have had positive things to say about NOLA Motorsports Park as a track.
“It’s got a good rhythm to it, and it’s flat so you get to see the track all around the corners and all around the track, which is really neat,” said Simon Pagenaud, a Penske driver.
One of Pagenaud’s teammates, 2014 series champion Will Power liked the track’s lack of elevation changes.
“It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s high grip, it’s technical, it’s just a really cool, flowing circuit. It’s very challenging to put a lap together,” Power said.
Graham Rahal knows plenty about the rain: His only IndyCar win was in wet conditions at St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2008.
“Racing in the rain is always a different art,” Rahal said.“I think the biggest thing here is to see how the drainage will be. We’re going to have to see how that plays out.”
Of course, weather isn’t something that can be controlled. Sunday’s pole sitter, Juan Pablo Montoya, had to deal with that as visibility was reduced tremendously from the wet conditions. However, he was able to guide himself from other reference points.
“Normally, there are a lot of reference points, and you normally look to the side of the track,” Montoya said. “Instead of forward, you guide yourself from the side. But that’s kind of normal in an open?wheel car.”