Wet and Wild: NOLA’s new motorsports park turns into Slip ‘N Slide course for Indy Cars

By Kamel Benyahia


The weather did not cooperate this past weekend and the Verizon Series Indy car race was a cautioned filled Slip ‘N Slide event. The inaugural Indy car race at the relatively new Nola Motorsports Park took place April 10, 11, and 12 featuring several racing leagues from Indy cars to Mazda Miatas.

The event’s headlining race was the most disappointing part of the weekend. Race officials tried to beat the weather by starting the race at 1:45 p.m., roughly 45 minutes earlier than the original race start, but Sunday brought constant rain until 12:30 p.m. The track crews were able to dry off a significant portion of the track before the race, but teams still started on rain tires to be safe. Once the drivers completed around 13 laps, some opted for slicks as the track dried out along the racing line. However, the track still had standing water on certain spots and that made any passing attempts a treacherous game of car control.

The race was scheduled for 75 laps (or 105 minutes), whichever happened first. Only 47 laps were completed in the 105-minute race and less than 20 of them were green flag laps. The race winner, James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Schmidt-Peterson Honda, won by staying out on the track during a full course caution on lap 32, while most of the leaders decided to pit. This strategy ended up putting Hinchcliffe in the lead and only having to fend off the competition for a couple of actual green flag laps. The race finished under caution where drivers are not allowed to pass each other giving Hinchcliffe his first Indy car win since 2013. Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 Chevrolet and Hinchcliffe’s teammate James Jakes in the No. 7 Honda rounded out the podium.

Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet started on the pole, based on his position in the points. Normally the grid is determined through qualifying times, but the weather kept interfering with Indy car practices and qualifying sessions. Montoya, who lost control of his car in qualifying, benefited the most from the scrapped qualifying sessions. He was faced with starting from the back of the field, but when the grid was determined by points, Montoya’s win at the season’s inaugural race bumped him back up to the pole position.

Since the teams all started on rain tires, the first 15 laps were fairly smooth since drivers had more control and did not have to worry if they hit a wet part of the track. The wrecks started coming on almost every green flag lap once the teams opted for dry slicks. According to the track announcers there were still parts of the track where water was unavoidable. It did not make sense to switch to dry slicks if parts of the track were still wet, but maybe the teams and drivers thought enough of the track was dry to make up any lost time in the wet sections.

Despite the weather there was a large turnout. Fans filled the grandstands and were jubilant during the race. Enthusiasm waned in the latter half of the race, once they were treated to one caution lap after another. Indy car certainly has a future at Nola Motorsports Park, but measures must be taken to ensure a smoother racing environment in the future. Improving track drainage, getting more drying units like NASCAR has, and a faster way to get wrecked cars and drivers to safety, are the main criticisms I heard from fans after the race.

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