NOLA Motorsports Park track walk observations (PHOTOS)

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AVONDALE, La. – Yesterday’s track walk of the 2.74-mile NOLA Motorsports Park road course for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) revealed one thing in particular.

Stay on course.

Any and all off-track excursions that can and will occur over the course of the weekend will be detrimental in one way, shape or form (for a video lap of the track, view one from testing linked here).

You’d argue this is the point, though. Compared to sanitary, modernized newer circuits that have popped up on the FIA Formula 1 and FIA World Endurance Championship calendars – primarily Hermann Tilke-designed tracks – the NOLA circuit is rough offline, with a mix of uneven grass, dirt and gravel traps peppering the circuit.

source:  A surprise takeaway is that both of the two primary straights here are longer than you think, and both the entries into Turns 1 and 10 should provide ample passing opportunities.

Turn 1 sees a longer run down to what had been a flat right-hander, that now should be a second gear corner and is much tighter on entry. Corner exit in particular, which has a three-tiered, multiple layer curb and a fair bit of asphalt runoff, was a big gathering area as all drivers and teams studied the corner.

Turn 2 (above) is a faster left-hander with some rough runoff room on the right. A potential passing opportunity could open up into the left-handed Turn 3, which is wider on corner entry after the track grows a bit. Turn 4 follows from Turn 3 as consecutive 180-degree sweepers that are faster than hairpins. Turn 4, however, tightens on corner exit.

Turns 5, 6 and 7 may be interesting. Turn 5 almost mirrors Turn 1 to a T, with a tighter corner entry and a similar three-tiered curb on exit. Turn 6 has also been tightened, while Turn 7, another right-hander, is a kink and should be faster-paced. A giant gravel trap exists on drivers’ left from Turns 5 through to Turn 7.

Turns 8 and 9 make for a right-left back-and-forth sweeper, but Turn 9 is tighter than it appears. Corner exit at Turn 9 is key as it will set drivers up for the run to Turn 10, one of the two longest straights on the track and a good passing opportunity.

After Turn 10, a tight right-hander that has a four-tiered curb driver’s left on corner exit, the drivers enter a tricky, precarious Turns 11-12-13 complex to complete the lap. Turn 11 is a left hander before Turns 12 and 13 double as a multiple-apex right hander, somewhat reminiscent of the Istanbul Circuit’s old Turn 8, just flipped.

For being a flat track, it’s got more to offer than it appears at first glance. It should punish any and all drivers that go offline, and it poses a challenge unlike any other track on the IndyCar schedule.

Drainage, indeed, may be an issue if or when it rains. The runoff area is large but there aren’t too many areas cut into the track to allow for ample drainage. We’ll see whether this ends up better than my projection.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.