Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana Preview

Juan Pablo Montoya, shown during the Verizon IndyCar Series aero test at NOLA Motorsports Park, hopes to continue a strong season start. [Chris Owens/IndyCar Photo]

Juan Pablo Montoya, shown during the Verizon IndyCar Series aero test at NOLA Motorsports Park, hopes to continue a strong season start. [Chris Owens/IndyCar Photo]

The Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana will take the green flag on Sunday afternoon as the only new race on the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

The 205.5-mile event will be held on the NOLA Motorsports Park road course in suburban Avondale, Louisiana, 15 miles outside of New Orleans.

What was once an open piece of land has been transformed into a 2.74 mile, 13-turn venue designed by Alan Wilson who has also drawn the plans for the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

The NOLA race will be the first major motorsports event in Louisiana since a 1995 IMSA GT contest on the streets of downtown New Orleans.

Juan Pablo Montoya arrives in New Orleans as the early series’ leader after his recent win for Penske Racing in St. Petersburg.

Montoya, who returned to IndyCar from NASCAR in 2014, led a Penske/Chevrolet juggernaut in Florida as the team grabbed four of the top-five spots (2.Will Power, 4. Helio Castroneves, 5. Simon Pagenaud) and seven Chevy-powered teams finished in the top ten.

As was predicted, the new Aero Kits, designed to provide greater grip as well as giving both Honda and Chevrolet cars separate visual identity, proved delicate upon car-to-car contact, leaving many shards of carbon fiber scattered around the St. Petersburg asphalt.

Honda devices were especially vulnerable to damage and that manufacturer has recently been given permission by the series to strengthen their Aero Kits for Sunday’s NOLA race.

Pre-season testing at the new venue has Chevrolet drivers like Castroneves excited about what the fans will see this weekend as they go for another strong outing: “NOLA is very technical. The people of New Orleans should be really excited because the racing is going to be fantastic. There is a lack of elevation changes which can make it tricky for us drivers because you don’t have any points of reference but it means that fans can see the entire track from the stands. With two tests there under our belt we should have a lot of it figured out. It’s different from many other tracks but it’s very fast.”

Honda, which scrambled to salvage three top-ten spots at St. Petersburg, comes to NOLA after Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti managed to guide their fragile Aero Kits to respectable finishes.

RHR, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion, has hopes of a better finish for Honda after early testing at the new venue: “We’re coming off a positive test (at NOLA) a few weeks ago. The weather could play a major factor, and it’s something we are keeping an eye on as we consider set-up options. Wet conditions will be extremely tricky at this particular track, but sometimes big risk equals big rewards.”

• Simona de Silvestro (Andretti Honda) and Sage Karam (Ganassi Chevy) have had their schedules expanded to include NOLA, bringing the field to a healthy 24-cars Sunday. De Silvestro returned to IndyCar competition with an 18th-place finish at St. Petersburg after racing in Europe in 2014 while the 20-year-old Karam ran his first IndyCar road race there finishing 19th. Both drivers are also scheduled to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in May.

• The inaugural NOLA event will be run without a title sponsor, with hopes that the race will attract interest for 2016. Andretti Sports Marketing is handling promotion for the event which was first announced in 2014.

• Penske Racing has won the last four series races that were run at new venues.

• Scenes for the recent Will Smith movie “Focus’ were filmed at NOLA which doubled as a track in Brazil.

• ABC Supply, which sponsors the IndyCar event at the Milwaukee Mile, has announced that it will also sponsor the series event at Pocono in August.

• If he qualifies for Sunday’s event, Tony Kanaan will have started in a series ‘record 235 consecutive races.

• TV: NBC Sports Network- Race-Sunday 2:30 p.m. (ET). Qualifying-Saturday 5:00 p.m. (ET). Radio: Sirius-XM Ch. 213/209.

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