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.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.