Random Thoughts On NOLA

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After having a little time to think about the weekend we had in New Orleans and NOLA Motorsports Park – it was really a strange weekend. Like everyone else, I’m curious how the event would have come off had the weather not been a factor.

So we now have to go a year to find out how things might have been. There were a lot of things that were done well at the event, that the things that needed improving sound insignificant. But one is the parking situation. I don’t know how else they could have done things better, but that seemed to be the number one complaint that I heard. The merchandising booths seemed like an afterthought and even though they had the Taste of Louisiana section – the concessions seemed to be lacking. What few there were had so many people lined up, I decided to pass.

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But I still think this event has a tremendous future, if they can get better weather. As I said earlier this past weekend; I’ve been to New Orleans many times. I’ve never seen it rain anything close to what it did this weekend. I’ve never been here in April before. Maybe that’s the difference. If this is their rainy season, perhaps they should look at moving the date. But then you get into unbearable heat and humidity. But this event can’t deal with many more weekends like this weather-wise. No one will go to it – including me.

The Race: We had an idea that if they even got to race at all that it would be very disjointed. It was. Surprisingly, the first fifteen laps were caution-free. But when Gabby Chaves stalled in Turn Four on Lap Sixteen, the melee started. From that point, they were lucky to string two laps of green-flag racing together.

It looked as though the only real chassis casualty was going to belong to Jack Hawksworth, after he tried to avoid the spinning James Jakes. Hawksworth instead found the tire barriers and his day was done.

But on Lap Forty-Seven, the most dramatic looking crash of the short season took place when Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Sébastien Bourdais got together. Fortunately, no one was hurt – but that didn’t stop the tempers from flaring. In all honesty, I have yet to see a great replay, other than what I saw on the video boards at the track, so I’ll withhold judgment on who was at fault until I get a better look at it.

It was only fitting that this race ended under yellow, since twenty-six of the forty-seven laps were run under caution. These are long laps at NOLA (2.74 miles). Some of these yellows seemed extremely long. After two races, there has been a pattern established of yellows running way longer than it seems they should. As far as races go – with all of the yellows, it was hard to watch in person. I’m sure it was even worse on television. We’ll find out when we get home tonight.

But I was happy for James Hinchcliffe for finally picking up victory No.4, after scoring three in 2013. He’s a good guy and his personality is great for the series. He’s someone that needs to be front-and-center as much as possible.

Andretti Woes Continue: Throughout the open test at Barber, then at St. Petersburg; Andretti Autosport has struggled to find speed. That’s odd because they were the team doing most of the off-season testing for the aero kits. Since they had been doing a lot of testing at NOLA, I was expecting them to be the class of the Honda teams. But while Sam Schmidt’s Honda drivers were taking two of the spots on the podium, Michael Andretti’s three full-time drivers were placing twelfth, thirteenth and nineteenth respectively.

The only Andretti driver to have a good race was their part-time driver, Simona de Silvestro, who finished fourth.

To be fair, Hunter-Reay was having a good race until he got caught up in that three-car pileup at the end. But still, why are they not setting the pace for Honda? Graham Rahal and the two Schmidt cars both outpaced most of the Andretti cars throughout the race.

This could be a case of the whole being much less than the sum of its parts.

Good Crowd:  All things considered, it was not a bad crowd yesterday. The fans in New Orleans are resilient. They lived through decades of futility with the Saints before they finally became good. They certainly won’t let a little rain spoil their good time. If they can come out like this after this kind of weather, imagine what they may do with a sunny weekend.

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Where Is Ganassi? After two races, Tony Kanaan seems to be the only bright spot this season for Chip Ganassi Racing – and he didn’t have a great day yesterday. Although he finished sixth, he went off once and almost was collected by one of the Coyne cars.

But Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball seem to be missing in action after two races. Dixon finished a silent eleventh yesterday, while Kimball had a forgettable fourteenth place finish.

And then there is Sage Karam. His ninth place finish in the Indianapolis 500 last year seems like a lifetime away. After a bad race at St. Petersburg, he was even worse at NOLA. It seemed he was off course as much as he was on. Two of the yellow flags were brought out by Karam. He needs a good race just to get back on course and get his confidence back. He’s a good driver and a real likeable kid, with kid being the operative word. He needs to learn from these mistakes.

Based on what the Ganassi teams have shown so far this season, I don’t think I’d like to have been in the Ganassi trailer after yesterday’s race.

Social Media:  I realize that some don’t give a flip about social media. Like it or not, it is the future for promoting and advertising. Those that are adept at it have a distinct advantage over those that only think they are.

Whoever was running the @GPofNOLA Twitter site was very adept. In fact, I would classify that as a case study in how to run social media. More than a week prior to the race, they were engaging anyone that tweeted that they were going to the event. Not that I am the most hip individual on such things, but this was the best social media campaign I’ve been exposed to.

Race MVP: Normally, no one names an MVP for a race. Usually the driver that wins deserves most of the recognition. But for his brave and tireless efforts yesterday, I will name the IndyCar flagman as the MVP for yesterday’s race. He was probably more worn out than anyone, afterwards.

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Self-Indulgent Section: If you are repulsed by the site of a fifty-six year-old mugging for the camera like an adolescent, you might want to skip this part. But Susan and I had fun, so we thought we’d share a few shots from at the track and out on the town in New Orleans (well, one of Susan eating oysters).

As bloggers, we are not to get our pictures taken with drivers. But that doesn’t cover their wives. Yesterday, we came across one of the truly nicest people involved in IndyCar – Lauren Kanaan. Here Susan snapped a shot of me looking like a creepy old man getting a hug, but Lauren was a good sport about it.

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The rest of the photos are fairly random and self-explanatory…

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All in all: We had a good time, but it’s hard to go to New Orleans and be miserable. In all honesty, the race was not good, but that was strictly a function of the weather. In dry conditions, I think this would be a very racy track.

I think this would be a great race to come to as a fan. A seat in the grandstand along the main straightaway gives a magnificent view of the long straightaway, and down into Turn One. You then get a great view of the passing along the winding backstretch as the cars come back into view.

It’s a shame the weather played out as it did – but it did. Now we must wait to see when it appears on next year’s schedule, before deciding if we’ll return. But I’d certainly like to – so long as it’s dry.

George Phillips

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30 Responses to “Random Thoughts On NOLA”

  1. Ron Ford Says:

    A glance at the NOLA weather report shows the chance of heavy thunderstorms at 80-100 percent for this entire week. Imagine that situation for the Indy500. The race would have to be rescheduled to a different week, every promoters nightmare. If these conditons are to be expected for NOLA in April, then the event needs a better date, which once again brings to question the wisdom of ending the season at the end of August.

    Curt Cavin put up some video footage of the RHR, SP, and SB incident on lap 47 from different angles. It appears to me that RHR kept gradually edging Simon toward the grass and finally into the grass. There was plenty of space on the other side between RHR and Sebastian. So while RHR may have been trying to maintain his preferred racing line as he approached the turn, it appears that he blocked Simon into the grass by doing so.

    Once again, an overwhelming number of complaints about the race were about the long yellow periods. This is not a recent issue. I think IndyCar absolutely needs to find a way to shorten the race time consumed by yellows. While long yellow periods seem to be embraced by NASCAR, they really diminish the quality of a IndyCar race for fans. Of course some of the drivers seem to be lacking in skill and basic judgement, so there is that.

    The NOLA fans are to be congratulated for their enthusiasm and perservance in the face of terrible conditions. Katrina hardened folks I suppose. At one point I turned off the video and played Bob Dylans “The Levees Gonna Break”. No humor intended.

  2. I wonder how the race would have played out if qualifying had completed? The Penskes would have been to the back, the Ganassis to the front, the Andrettis more to the middle. Even they had left the grid with everyone’s times from the first round of qualifying, TK would have had clear sailing with no spray and possibly no spin. Of course, if wishes were fishes…

    First, please allow me to compliment NBCSP’s broadcast team: great job during the race, especially cutting away to go to commercials without side-by-side during the yellows, unlike Always Bad Coverage. However, the chemistry between Townsend and Paul Tracy is…stiff, to say the least. The, possibly, inside jokes came off forced and not very funny. Also, the pit reporters lacked, something, I don’t know what. They just weren’t as informed as they usually are, it seemed. Still, the team overall gave great coverage to the race and what little racing was going on.

    The super long yellows were painful, not because of the broadcast team, but in sympathy for the fans in the stands who, I’m sure, we’re wondering “what the hell?” The broadcast team barely mentioned that it was because they were trying to push giant pools of water off the track, although you could occasionally see it happening in the background. I wasn’t there, and I certainly don’t want to be the one who has to decide between safety and racing, but I think they were a little too long and the amount of time set for the race was a little too short.

    Sage Karam. Nice kid, good head on his shoulders, don’t think he will have a ride too much longer. To his credit, having seen his eyes during the broadcast yesterday, he knows it as well. He seems to be in over his head. Not sure how to fix that, short of locking him in a trainer with Dario for a month… Maybe this would open a ride for Justin Wilson?

    “The Crash” I’m going to have to put at least 60% of this on RHR. Watched it over and over on DVR and it looks like he just tried to shut the door on a faster, passing car. He had plenty of room to his left before he moved to his right, into a car that was wheel to wheel with him. YMMV, but would have been interesting to have heard what his spotter was saying…

  3. Ken Riehl Says:

    It is a shame the weekend was a washout, I think this could be a very racey venue..
    In the interest of both safety and maintaining race momentum, Indy Car needs to address the dearth of safety crew personel. Extended and numerous cautions are killing the series…

  4. I’m not sure I have ever seen a race with less actual racing then this. I’m a bit conflicted because the lack of green flag running was awful, but Hinch won and Simona got 4th so I’m not sure if I want to complain. I hated how group 1/2 made there qualifying runs but it was still lined up by points. That was a truly massive gift to Helio and JPM, who would have lined up at the back of the field. I’m not sure how much we can read into Dixon’s performance (and I really don’t like Dixon, would love TK to beat him) because he got hurt by lining up by points. Newgarden and Karam too both got screwed over as they advanced from the first round of qualifying only to have it reset by points, which neither driver benefited from. I’m not sure why the Indycar rulebook doesn’t either A. line up by most recent practice time when qualifying is canceled or B. if group 1/2 both went out line up group 1 as the left lane and group 2 as the right. Lining up by points gives a huge advantage to the Red Cars (Penske and Ganassi, unless it’s race 2 and Dixon had a broken jack last race)

    Penske domination at the races is getting hard to watch. They weren’t that fast in qualifying, but in the race they ran 1-4 with minimal challenge (Bourdais tried but failed) until Helio got onto a different pit sequence, which led to a more interesting finish.

    I like having a few yellow flags in a race because it keeps the competition closer. I complained there were too few yellows at last years oval races. But the 20 minute yellow flags (per caution) are a little out of hand. Sweeping the track or clearing water is a great idea at first, but by the 3rd caution in a row maybe just move as fast as possible to go back to green. I like allowing the pits to cycle through under yellow, but again as caution after caution piles up, change the policy.

    Finally I did not get why the race was run under a time limit. The TV window had ample time left. I understand the need to end the race before the major storm hit, but I do not understand why the race was not run until then. As the TV signed off about a half hour after the time limit, it still looked ok for racing. Overall, Indycar 2015 has been off to a rough start.

  5. I heard some complaints about the race starting early and agree. It was beautiful outside yesterday so I worked in the yard, came in to DVR watch the start only to find that my DVR started at lap 6, that was a bummer to miss the start and then have so much time at the end of the telecast open. I guess they were trying to avoid what ended up happening anyway.

    My wife and I came in to watch the ballgame and I flipped the race on during the commercials. She laughed at the fact that the race was yellow each time I flipped it over with no real reason showing. This is how a casual fan would view this mess if they flipped over to the race. It’s a shame, I don’t know the answer but when a car spins and stalls, a 12 minute yellow isn’t really necessary. NASCAR loves yellows to group the field, let everyone pit, let the TV people get some commercials but Indycar should have bigger fish to fry…..

  6. I hope they can and will improve the drainage at NOLA. I get that it rains, but standing water on a road course track long after the rains end should be addressed, if possible (I’m no engineer, so maybe it really is what it is). Sounds like there is room for improvement in a few other areas. The second year of an event is always more insightful to the future of the event based on the level of improvements based on issues year one turned up. Here’s hoping NOLA uses the first year to help improve the second year. As for the race, I had to DVR it and was going to watch from the beginning, but when I turned it on with about 30 minutes to go and saw the Circus Clown Yellow Fest, I passed on the replay.

    • I’m no expert on water drainage, but it may not be that simple. Remember, we’re talking about an area that is below sea level and where they build cemeteries above ground.

      • Well, they tried…this from an article published in 2012, shortly after the track opened for business (from nola.com):

        “The track’s designers faced a daunting challenge to build a racetrack on a former cypress swamp without having the pavement buckle like a Lakeview street. The solution was to mix 200,000 tons of fly ash, a byproduct from coal-fueled power plants, with the first several feet of clay beneath the track.
        ‘It basically turns the ground into concrete,’ [the track’s general manager] said. ‘It’s expensive, but it’s what you have to do if you don’t want your racetrack to look like a typical street in southeastern Louisiana.'”

  7. It seemed just as the race was starting to get interesting, it ended. I feel for the fans that were there. They slogged and persevered through the weekend only to watch the race barely get started and end too early under yellow to boot. Not to mention the endless yellows. How’s that for saying thanks to the fans for coming and checking out our event at your new venue? I still can’t believe Coletti was able to keep going after his crash. Sebastian Bourdais is really lucky, that was a scary one. I mean we are talking inches from his head.

    I liked the track and the race. Although it was a yellow fest. I thought the race was really entertaining despite the yellows. I always enjoy the rain element in a race because it completely throws strategy out the window, suddenly the cars have way too much horsepower and not grip and avoiding disaster is paramount, plus it improves the chance for an unlikely winner. This was so much more interesting than a street course race.

    I am slowly learning I should not read the comments on certain motorsports websites because of the just plain ignorance and lack of knowledge a lot of these commenters have. I could not believe the negative, just frankly stupid comments people were making about the race. If people are commenting they must be fans, but then as you read what some of them say, it makes you wonder how they could be spending time watching IndyCars if they hate it so much. So it goes with the world of social media, blogging, twitter, and people just feeling like they need to offer up their own unique style of negativity. It makes me question the intelligence of some fans, and I will just leave it at that.

  8. I felt bad for the series and the track, both of which seemed to do their best to put on an event in the worst of circumstances. Sort of a damned if you, damned if don’t thing. Racing in the rain could be interesting but racing in a monsoon in a swampy area doesn’t really work. I think the track deserves a race and that the NOLA track could be good for Indycar, but they’ll have to figure out some stuff about how and when to stage it. I sure wish them luck.

    Thanks for your intrepid reporting, George. And lastly, to quote UT football coach Charlie Strong, “social media is the downfall of society.”

  9. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, why can’t you have your picture made with drivers? I don’t get that?

    • That’s part of the agreement for media credentials. No photos, no autographs. I get it. Too much room for abuse when they grant them for bad apples. Think about all the slime balls that would take advantage of that type of access. Over the years, I’ve seen a couple of my fellow bloggers cross the line and I’ve cringed because it could be inadvertent reflection on all bloggers. I’m very grateful for the access I’m granted. I obey the rules. – GP

      • Understood, thanks for your response and thank you to you and Susan for going through the the expense and taking the time to actually go there and filing these reports for us, I, for one, appreciate it greatly!

  10. SOCSeven Says:

    After the race Bourdais said that he and Pagenaud were side by side on the restart and that RHR came up from behind and made it 3 wide. He then said “Then Ryan pushed Simon onto the grass.”

    So Townsend Bell was wrong. Again.

  11. In addition to all the things that have been mentioned they have to do a serious safety assessment and make substantial upgrades. Double, ur triple armco is not safe for open wheel cars at the speeds they are running at NOLA. It should all be replaced with FIA compliant walls. I can’t believe IndyCar even ran there with that gap in the front straight barrier. It also appeared that the tire walls were at the wrong height for open wheel cars. This track is certainly safe enough for “Country Club” racing, it was designed for that purpose but it needs a lot of work to bring it up to professional open wheel standards.

    • Both replay camera angles made that gap in the Armco look a lot worse than it is. If you view the configuration of the gaps at NOLA versus those at CoTA, they are pretty much the same. Likewise, the “wall” along the outside of the front stretch of CoTA is triple Armco, and there is a similar gap where the wall on the outside of the final turn gravel trap ends and the front straight Armco/debris fence starts.

      There seems to be some disagreement between FIA and the US clubs that make up ACCUS over the role FIA should play in the US, but I was told by someone who is expert regarding course safety that Indycar still will not race on a track that has not been granted a Grade 2 license by FIA (suitable for heavy open wheel and sports car racing.)

  12. Donald & Laurie McElvain Says:

    Susan, nice glasses!!

  13. The race was not really what I like, but it was good to see Hinch win. SPR deserves a bit of luck.

    As for those who think that RHR was at fault, well, he had the line and Pagenaud should have honored it. Frankly, he did the same move that Hinch did at Indianpolis last year. As for Pagenaud, does he think that if he sticks his nose into the turn that RHR was going to quit? He will know better next time.

    • Your continuous man crush on RHR has obviously clouded your judgment.

      • It appears that you have had one too many Hurricanes this weekend because my judgment is NOT clouded. Pagenaud should have known better and screwed up.

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          If you watch closely Pags was clearly ahead of RHR midway through the turn and Sea Bass was behind them, then RHR moves a half a car width towards Pags and moves Pags onto the, um, dirt. RHR actually gets about a whole car width AWAY from Sea Bass while he was pushing Tags to the, um, grass.

          A guy posted some screen shots on the discussion part of the story at RACER. Check it out, it’s pretty cut and dried once you see them.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Perhaps we can agree to disagree

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Hey John, didja see who IndyCar penalized 3 points and put on probation for three races for “avoidable contact” in this incident? Your old buddy RHR, that’s who.

      See, at the beginning of the whole incident RHR did not have the line, Pags was half a car length in front of RHR, then gets moved by RHR. Thankfully (this time) IndyCar saw the same thing.

      I suppose RHR will “know better next time,” hmmm? 🙂

      • Well, we know what the series champion, Will Power, thinks about Race Control. On this, I’ll stay pat and with Paul Tracy in full agreement, well, there you go. He’s been there. A bunch.

  14. billytheskink Says:

    If Wikipedia is to be believed, April has the fewest days of and 4th fewest inches of precipitation on average of all months in New Orleans (1981-2010). Seems this weekend’s weather was more a case of bad luck than any poorly researched scheduling decision. This wasn’t quite like CART scheduling Nazareth in (snowy) early April back in 2000.

    One thing I think that would assist in shortening yellow flags is some alternate configuration routes or cut-through access roads in places other than the southern third of the track. This would get safety personnel to incidents more quickly and allow tow trucks to haul disabled cars back to the pits without having to lap half or more of the track. The only thing they could probably do to improve track drainage is give it a large storm sewer system. The Sunday morning rains were constant, and with no sunshine and saturated ground, there was nowhere for all that water to go. I’m still amazed they were able to clear as much water off as they did and go racing.

    Despite the weather and the ugly race, I thought the track did well as far as running an event is considered. There was certainly some room for improvement in various areas, but I was impressed overall, especially since it was a first time event.
    I hope to be back next year, in better weather.

  15. I sat in grandstand 5 and had an excellent view from the back straight through the first part of the main straight. If I brought field glasses, I would have been able to see the entire track. There are 1.5 mile ovals that cannot claim that.

    I felt the facility was fantastic. I only really have Mid-Ohio to compare it to, but I loved the set up. There was lots of space to move around. While grabbing an Abita I was informed by the beertender that there were concessions that were shut down due to the weather/lack or people.

    I was at the return of Belle Isle a few years back when the race had the pot hole issues. It rained a lot that weekend too. One thing I noticed was lots of wood chips on areas that were clearly muddy. NOLA was not so prepared. There was nothing but swamp from the pedestrian walkway to the grandstands. Many people were splattered with mud when they found their seats.

    Trying to get race information from the NOLA app was futile. I found out today they had a GP of Louisiana app. Why both?

    IndyCar complaints: when you stop on track, you should not be allowed to race anymore. Sage Karem and the DC cars ruined this race. Adopt the F1 rule please. Timed race? Why is this a rule? Daylight was not an issue and the start time was actually moved up so the BS TV window answer can’t be used.

    IndyCar compliments: They got a race in. At least we got to see the cars on track.

    Bonus complaint: Scott Dixon in the blue 9 was impossible for me to find. I whiffed on way too many photographs.

  16. One positive for me was the camera angles. More F1 like in that they were positioned so they could zoom in when needed and zoom back out to see all the action. Much better than normal. Normal camera placement and direction leaves IndyCar mostly unwatchable for me. Sad to say that as I’ve been a fan since the Al and Bobby Unser days.

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