AVONDALE, La. (AP) — IndyCar racing officials expressed confidence Monday that NOLA Motorsports Park will be able to complete the track improvements it needs to host the proposed Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana in suburban New Orleans next year.
"IndyCar is on the rise and we are determined to be in great markets in this country and eventually throughout the world," IndyCar chief Mark Miles said in an announcement at the track. "We have no doubt this will be one of the great venues for IndyCar racing in very little time."
Gov. Bobby Jindal, joined by officials from the track and Andretti Sports Marketing, said the race is expected to be locked into the IndyCar schedule for "at least three years, though the goal is to make this a permanent event."
Ongoing negotiations include scheduling a weekend for the event, which would also affect the timeline for track improvements that Miles said are needed for "safety, fan enjoyment and quality of racing."
Miles said the IndyCar series is looking at weekends in mid- to late-March and in June, largely because those are periods when New Orleans' robust tourism industry could use a spike in business.
Jindal will need state Legislative approval for $4.5 million, which will be combined with private money to cover marketing expenses and track improvements, including pit area, straight away and perimeter fencing enhancements. Organizers estimated as many as 80,000 spectators for the three-day event, which is slated to include a "racing festival" with live music and races featuring developmental open-wheel racing series such as Indy Lights as well as sports car series.
"This is great news for Jefferson Parish and our entire state," Jindal said. "This three-day event would allow us to show off the excitement of an IndyCar race right here in Louisiana, as well as our state's culture, entertainment and food. This event will be a great economic driver."
The NOLA Motorsports Park, a private, $60 million facility about 14 miles southwest of downtown New Orleans, features a 2.75-mile road course that has already hosted AMA motorcycle racing and Indy Lights, as well as the Pro Mazda and USF2000 series.
The track is owned by Dr. Laney Chouest, whose family founded and operates Edison Chouest Offshore, regarded as one of the world's leading builders and operators of sea vessels specially designed to service the offshore oil and gas industries.
"We wouldn't be here without the vision of Dr. Laney Chouest," Jindal said. "He's built this beautiful facility as a labor of love and today we're seeing one of the benefits to the state."
Chouest thanked Jindal for supporting a "public-private partnership that will leverage the significant private investment we made."
Chouest said he expected race-day spectator capacity to be about 50,000, using mostly temporary grandstands, but said space around the track would allow that figure to grow to meet ticket sales. Chouest said he also expected the race to be held in June and wasn't concerned about hot weather, which is common at summer auto racing events and can even help drivers with tire grip.
IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, who races for Andretti Autosport, took a few laps around the track in a Mercedes-Benz sedan. Although Indy cars top speeds of 200 mph, Hinchcliffe said he expected top speeds in New Orleans to run around 180 mph because of the down force required to negotiate some of the track's higher-speed turns.
Some track changes will involve lengthening straightaways and tightening turns at the ends of those straights, which shortens breaking zones and enhances passing opportunities.
"The facility is very impressive," Hinchcliffe said. "The proposed changes will be really good and have a huge effect on the racing in a positive way."
Organizers were confident enough in the event's success that they launched an official website, indynola.com, which referred to the event as, "Inevitable."
"I'm really pleased to see IndyCar preparing to bring a race to NOLA," said former racer Michael Andretti, CEO of Andretti Sports Marketing. "New Orleans is a great market to grow the sport."
IndyCar, which includes the Indianapolis 500 as its marquee event, is the premier American-based open-wheel racing series.
Currently, the series' drivers include Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, who are former Indy 500 winners, as well as Marco Andretti, the grandson of former racing great Mario Andretti, and Graham Rahal, son of 1986 Indy winner Bobby Rahal.
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.