Round two of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series heads to NOLA Motorsports Park for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. The 2.74-mile (4.409-kilometre), 13-turn circuit should prove to be a brilliant event both for the drivers and fans based on speeds shown through preseason testing with the new aero kits.

The Circuit

NOLA Motorsports Park

NOLA Motorsports Park

Date 10-12 April 2015 Lap Length 4.409km
Free Practice Session 1 Fri 16:15-17:35 Free Practice Session 2 Sat 12:30-13:15
Qualifying Sat 16:15-17:30 Warm-Up Sun 11:00-11:30
Race (75 laps) Sun 14:30-17:45

* Session times are quoted in Central Daylight Time (UTC -05:00 hrs)

NOLA Motorsports Park is located 15 miles southwest of downtown New Orleans and it was opened in 2011.

The 750-acre facility is on the west bank of the Mississippi River. It was designed by Alan Wilson who also architect Miller Motorsport Park in Utah and Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama.

The Form Guide

Team Penske enters the weekend with momentum on their side, having swept four of the top-five spots at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Ex Formula 1 racer Juan Pablo Montoya led the way, scoring victory in the season opener.

It marked his second victory since returning to open-wheel racing, following his win at last year’s Pocono 500. The Colombian expressed excitement for this weekend’s Grand Prix, based on how impressed he was of the facility at the pre-season test.

“The grip level is amazingly high, especially with the new aero kits,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what it’s like on the ‘red’ Firestone tires. It’s going to be very interesting with everyone flying around. I’m very proud of how my No. 2 Verizon Chevy team came out of the gate strong this season. It’s only been one race, but compared to how we struggled last year at the start it’s a night-and-day difference. It’s just the difference a year makes. We are working just as hard and we haven’t made any radical changes to the team. It just comes down to experience.”

With Team Penske’s push for its 176th IndyCar victory, it may be reigning series champion Will Power leading the way. Power was quickest during testing, and showed strong pace during the St. Petersburg weekend. However, he finished behind Montoya after losing time during the final round of pit stops.

“You have to acknowledge what an amazing job Chevrolet and all of the engineers at Team Penske have done in the off-season,” the reigning series Champion Power said. “They have a lot to be proud of with the way we performed as a team at St. Pete. There is no reason to think that it won’t carry over to NOLA this weekend, not only because of the testing we did there in the off-season, but we have typically run very well at the new venues over the last couple of years. NOLA is wicked fast and what it takes to get around that place really suits my driving style. The grip is very tight and it should promote great racing.”

There is also a chance for Hélio Castroneves to get his first win of the year, or possibly Simon Pagenaud, who joined the powerhouse during the off-season.

The rest of the competition will be trying to stop the dominance from Team Penske, and the biggest defence could come from Chip Ganassi Racing. Brazilian Tony Kanaan broke up the Team Penske sweep, rounding out the podium at St. Petersburg. It was his sixth podium finish in the last eight races, dating back to last season.

“It was great to start the new season with NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing with a podium finish in St. Pete and be able to break up the Penske cars from sweeping those top four spots,” he said. “It obviously isn’t a win, but we’ll take the third-place finish and use it to build on. We’ve had some really good test days at NOLA Motorsports Park and we’ve been able to get solid data with all four cars running and testing different things. It’ll be a lot of fun getting out onto a new track and seeing what all the teams can do when we’re starting from a more equal playing field with track experience.”

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg brought with it the debut of the new radical aero kits designed, manufactured and supplied by Chevrolet and Honda.

In St Petersburg, Chevrolet had the upper-hand, sweeping the top six spots. Honda went back to the drawing board, receiving approval from IndyCar to strengthen the front nose area of their aero kits so they don’t break too easily.

The charge will be led by 2012 Champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished seventh at St. Petersburg for Andretti Autosport.

“We are coming off a positive test (at NOLA) a few weeks ago and are looking forward to the inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana,” Hunter-Reay said. “The weather could play a major factor, and it’s something we are keeping an eye on as we consider setup options. Wet conditions will be extremely tricky at this particular track… but sometimes big risk equals big rewards.”

The field will consist of 24 drivers, including Simona De Silvestro and Sage Karam, who will race on with Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing respectively.

Can Chevrolet overturn their 162-point deficit this weekend and close the gap to Honda after incurring penalties for engine infractions of eleven of the twelve engines?

The inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsport Park begins Friday April 10 with Practice 1 and 2 with the race on Sunday April 12.

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Michael Terminello

Journalist at MotorsportM8