AVONDALE, Louisiana – A stroll to the opposite side of NOLA Motorsports Park’s pit lane during the first day of a team test confirmed Jimmy Vasser’s perspective.
“I think they’ll put on a great show just how impressive the speed looks on the circuit,” the KV Racing Technology co-owner and former Indy car driver said.
From the drivers’ viewpoint, lap times on the flowing and flat 2.67-mile road course are quick now, and they expect considerably faster speeds when the Verizon IndyCar Series returns with the new aerodynamic bodywork kits for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 10-12.
“It’s going to be tough and competitive,” said Graham Rahal, who was among the 14 drivers on the track Feb. 10-11. “I was talking to a driver who said he was having a hard time holding his head up and that sums this place up. It’s going to be even harder when we come back with heavy downforce and more aero with the new aero kit.”
Performance simulations with the aero kits have shown a decrease of about 2 seconds per lap on road and street courses.
"(This course) is fun," Team Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya said. "I was amazed how the grip level on this place is really high. I think when we have the aero kits before we race, it's going to be, 'wow!' "
Added fourth-year CFH Racing driver Josef Newgarden: “It’s a really fun, flowing track. It’s kind of like a European circuit in some parts. It has its challenges because it has bumps in some areas that you have to watch out for and then you have to try to get the most out of the smooth, long, flowing corners to make the cars faster. There is a lot of apex speed that you’re trying to carry around there where you’re fighting the car.
“I think this track is similar to the Indianapolis road course for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with very long straightaways and fast corners that lead onto the long straightaways. There is room to race here and with some of the hard braking zones you’ll see quite a bit of passing. We had such great racing at Indy and hopefully we can replicate that here.”
All that is sweet New Orleans jazz notes to track president Kristen Engeron, who’s looking to develop the race event into “Indy South” over the next few years. With its close proximity to the French Quarter and central location on Interstate 10 to Houston to the west and Pensacola, Florida, to the east, Engeron views the April weekend as a destination event.
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“New Orleans is known for food, culture, music; wouldn’t it be great if the next adjectives we add to that list is adrenaline and speed,” she said. “We know how to do festivals in south Louisiana. This is a racing festival and it’s affordable for the whole family. Unlike football or basketball, you can buy a three-day ticket, bring the family out and you can literally walk up and meet these drivers.
“It’s not often you can buy a ticket to a Saints game, walk onto the field and shake Drew Brees’ hand. We’re bringing the Indy 500 to south Louisiana.”
A Promoter Test is scheduled for April 10, with practice and qualifications the next day and the 73-lap race April 12.
“The inquiries I get from friends and family that like to come to the races they all want to come to this one because it’s new and it’s New Orleans,” Vasser added. “I’m expecting a very energetic atmosphere when we come back.”