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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.