The Verizon IndyCar Series looks set to add New Orleans as a new event on the 2015 calendar, after series officials confirmed that it is exploring the possibility of holding an event at the privately-owned NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana, a 2.75-mile natural terrain road course located about 15 miles outside of New Orleans itself.
"We're delighted by this broad show of support and encouraged by the prospect of a Verizon IndyCar Series race in New Orleans," said Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar's parent company Hulman & Company.
IndyCar has never raced in or near New Orleans, with the nearest equivalent event in the city being an IMSA series downtown street race in 1995. NOLA Motorsports Park - designed by Alan Wilson, who also designed Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama - opened in 2011 and has hosted a variety of smaller open-wheel series including Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000. The $60 million facility also hosted an AMA motorcycle event in 2012.
However, all parties are aware that NOLA will need work to bring it up to the necessary safety grade to hold an IndyCar Series championship event, which would be known as the IndyCar Grand Prix of Louisiana and organized by Andretti Sports Marketing.
"We greatly appreciate [track owner] Laney Chouest, his associates at NOLA, and the state of Louisiana for their efforts to make enhancements to NOLA Motorsports Park," acknowledged Miles at the announcement of the potential event on Monday.
"With these improvements we're confident that NOLA can meet our standards for safety, fan experience and quality of racing," he added. "We look forward to continuing this dialogue in hopes of making New Orleans a destination that may soon host a Verizon IndyCar Series event."
Proposed track changes for the IndyCar race include a new pit entrance and wider, longer pit lane, as well as adding perimeter fencing and straightaway enhancements. Pending approval by the state legislature, Louisiana will commit $4.5 million to make the necessary enhancements to the racetrack in support of the potential event. However those familiar with the facility insist that the track itself is already pretty much 'good to go' with lots of run-off areas in place.
"I want to thank the Governor [Bobby Jindal] for his leadership in developing this public-private partnership that will leverage the significant private investment we made into this facility," said Chouest. "We believe that the IndyCar Grand Prix of Louisiana would serve as a regional demand generator for the already strong hospitality industry that our state is well known for."
"This is great news for our entire state," Governor Jindal added. "Verizon IndyCar Series events serve as the gathering point for automotive industry leaders and IndyCar sponsors, most of which are Fortune 500 companies. As a result, NOLA Motorsports expects several businesses to locate to Louisiana once the race is scheduled, which will create more great jobs and economic momentum for Jefferson Parish and our state."
"I'm really pleased to see IndyCar preparing to bring a race to NOLA," said Michael Andretti, CEO of Andretti Sports Marketing which will promote the event if and when it goes ahead. "New Orleans is a great market to grow the sport and I'm excited to have Andretti Sports Marketing involved with the operations and promotion."
No date has been set for the New Orleans race, and while it's currently unspecified whether the series will expand its 18-race schedule to accommodate a new race or if it will replace an existing event, the chances are that the IndyCar officials are seeking to expand the current season with new venues. Miles has already indicated that he is actively looking for new tracks in the Middle East and South America to create a "winter season" for the series.
In recent seasons, IndyCar has added events at Pocono and Houston, and this weekend will see the inaugural road course race at the newly reconfigured Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However the series does have a worrying deficit of oval venues - of this season's 18 races, 12 are on street or road courses, including Barber Motorsports Park.
The series has recently been boosted by the signing of telecoms provider Verizon as the main sponsor, which took over from sports apparel company IZOD at the start of 2014.