AVONDALE, La. (AP) — The rain that washed out qualifying and ultimately produced a caution-heavy inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana hardly dampened IndyCar chief Mark Miles’ enthusiasm for the event.
“Everybody’s really, really positive,” Miles said Sunday. “Unfortunately, because of the rain, it’s not being fully tested for how it would work if you have a full house, but I think it looks great.”
Andretti Sports Marketing and the state of Louisiana teamed up to produce Louisiana’s first major open-wheel racing grand prix, inking a three-year contract to host the event at least through 2017.
Miles and many others in IndyCar, including a number of drivers, expressed hope that the New Orleans-area event will become a staple on the annual calendar.
“Every first event you have some (challenges), and they went through a very great test, meaning the worst conditions,” second-place finisher Helio Castroneves said. “To pass this test, to move on, it was a great credit for the entire people in New Orleans. Yes, for sure, we want to go back, and hopefully it will be a drier day.”
James Hinchcliffe won the race, which because of time constraints was shortened from 75 laps to 47 — 25 of which were run under caution after drivers kept losing control on wet spots dotting the track after it had mostly dried out and drivers had switched from wet weather tires to slicks.
One of Miles’ marketing strategies is to schedule races in so-called destination communities, such as the race held outside San Francisco near Sonoma’s renowned wine country.
“I’d put New Orleans squarely in the column of Sonoma as a place people want to be,” Miles said. “I think a lot of people spent a lot of late hours in the French Quarter the past few days. People have had a lot of fun.”
With temporary grandstands built along the front straightaway and the final complex of turns on the 2.74-mile track, the NOLA Motorsports Park was prepared to host up to 50,000 spectators. Organizers did not provide official crowd estimates, but there were no large, glaring empty swaths in the stands when the race began.
Miles said organizers were hoping for a significant walk-up crowd on race day, which is typical of many races other than the Indy 500, which has heavy advance sales.
“They’ll get hurt a little bit because of the rain, I’m sure, but in a way it becomes like a soft opening,” Miles said. “You really work all the bugs out and imagine what other tinkering you can do and be that much more ready for the following year.”
Race organizers hope to draw in fans from around the Gulf South, there was a bit of a squeeze on hotels because the race coincided with the French Quarter Festival, a music and food extravaganza which serves as a prelude to the internationally renowned New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
In future years, that could change.
This IndyCar season opened on the last weekend in March in St. Petersburg, Florida. But Miles has outlined a scheduling strategy of starting the season in February, a week after the NFL season wraps up.
Miles hopes some of the earlier dates will feature races overseas. The series is popular in Brazil and has drawn interest in Russia, South Africa and Pacific Rim countries.
Still, Miles suspects that an earlier start to the season would provide more flexibility for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, although he noted IndyCar will also have to work around Mardi Gras, which is based on the same lunar calendar as Easter and usually falls between late January and early March.
Miles said coinciding with the French Quarter Festival is still preferable to running in the heat of the Louisiana summer, “but the perfect scenario locally is if we can find a weekend when the weather’s good and we don’t have another major local event to compete with.”
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