The early verdict on the NOLA Motorsports Park course for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana: FAST.
“It’s got a very tight grip,” said defending Indy Series champion Will Power, one of 14 drivers representing five racing teams who are at the Avondale complex for two days of testing both the track and their own cars for the upcoming season. “So it’s fast, but doesn’t look too scary.
“It’s definitely my kind of track. There’s going to be a lot of good racing.”
Driver Graham Rahal added: “You can really go wide open on the backstretch. We’re definitely not going to playing follow-the-leader out there.”
And three-tine Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves said, “This is a very fast track with some challenging corners. It’s going to be exciting.”
The Grand Prix of Louisiana is scheduled for April 12 as the top event after a weekend of racing.
It’s the second stop on the Indy Series tour, following the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29. That is a street event where the speeds are naturally limited by the course.
A road course like NOLA Motorsports still incorporates sharp breaking turns that allow for overtaking other cars, something that is more difficult on oval speedways while featuring far more passing than the street courses.
“It’s the difference between driving on the interstate and driving downtown,” said Brian Barnhart, IndyCar’s president of race operations, who serves as the tour’s chief race steward. “Our former road course in Cleveland was built much like the one here, and we had outstanding results.
“There’s no elevation changes either, so that’s going to add to the speed factor here.”
That was all good news to Tim Ramsberger, general manager for the Grand Prix.
“These drivers have been to a lot of venues,” he said. “If they like something, they’ll tell you about it, but they’re even quicker to tell you about something they don’t like because this is their livelihoods at stake out there.
“It’s the vision that Laney (NOLA Motorsports owner Laney Chouest) owner had when he built this facility: a world class racing venue for cars and spectators.”
Since the announcement that the Indy Series race would be coming to Louisiana in the fall, the three of the course’s 13 turns have been redesigned to enhance the passing element — forcing the cars to maneuver while not sacrificing speed, which, on the straightaways, will reach in excess of 170 miles-per-hour.
At the same time, the drivers and their cars will have to deal with the bumps that help keep the cars under control.
“You don’t mind the bumps,” said former Indy 500 champion Juan Carlos Montoya, a Team Penske teammate of Power’s. “They just make you work harder.”
Along with checking out the track, the two days of trials gave the teams the opportunity to prepare their vehicles and timing.
It’s not an inexpensive proposition. Fielding one the 24 IndyCar entrants is a $7 million to $10 million a year proposition. Just having a crew on hand for testing is $40,000-$50,000 a day.
And while the common chassis are all built by Dallara and the engines are provided either by Chevy or Honda, there will be a noticeable difference in the look of the cars this year.
New rules allow for teams to develop their own aerodynamic bodywork kits that will give each car its own distinctive look as opposed to the cookie-cutter appearance on the current vehicles.
Those tests will be held March 16-17 at Barber Motorsports Park in Florida.
“Fans have been rooting for their favorites based on the branding on the bodies,” Barnhart said. “Now they distinguish the difference in the chassis as well.
And while the aero kits are not supposed to give any advantage, Barnhart said it’s already been noticed that may not be the case.
“Some of our early tests show that it can be a difference of three seconds per lap,” he said. “These guys are always looking for an edge.”