The inaugural Indy Grand Prix of New Orleans has come and gone…and hopefully comes again next year. While not everyone liked the weather, or the Verizon IndyCar Series reaction to the weather, it seems as if NOLA Motorsports Park will be in the line-up in the future.
The public needs to remember that this is a new track attempting to move up to the major leagues with IndyCar. The facility made the safety and fan upgrades that IndyCar required and had to expect some issues. A weekend of horrendous weather can neither be predicted in the long term nor changed in the short. The track and the series had to deal with it. And that was problematic.
The series and promoter were in no-win positions with decisions this weekend. During qualifying on Saturday, approaching lightning forced the series to evacuate the grandstands and ask the fans to seek shelter. With one lawsuit looming over flying debris at St. Pete, the series could in no way delay action on this call. Legal counsel always errs on the side of safety with lightning. If it is on the way, get out. All major sports do this now without delay. On Saturday, NOLA sent fans to every inside shelter on the facility, including buses. Great call. And the lightning certainly came in. It doesn’t matter if the weather is deemed severe or if a warning exists. Lightning equals evacuation.
The more noticeable issue, and the one that brought the most criticism, was making the race on Sunday a timed event with so much TV window still open. The series and promoter made the call to start the race early. This is fan friendly. This likely would not have been as doable on ABC. NBCSN had a little more wiggle room with programming. This gave the series a chance to have rain delays and still get a race completed.
So the windows, both TV and weather, looked good on Sunday. The teams handled the wet track pretty well at the beginning of the race, but as the track dried and the slicks replaced the wets, so too did yellow flags replace green. By the race’s end, 26 of the 47 laps were run under yellow conditions. Why? Slick track, slick tires, aggressive drivers. But not to worry, there was plenty of time to get all 75 laps in. Or not.
Weather was coming in. It could be seen on the radar. Predictions said it was going to rain. Simulations were done that predicted both the time and place of the storm’s arrival. People saw it on their phones. Here it comes. Such was the dilemma on Sunday. While not a full house, the crowd was robust for the race, the weather, and the facility. It must be assumed that most had checked weather and brought umbrellas and raincoats. Even so, if lightning rolled in, there was no place to put all the people.
The people. The ones that had to park offsite because there was no onsite parking. This is not a criticism of the venue. Many major golf events move 30,00-40,000 people from parking lots to courses via shuttles daily. NOLA Motorsports Park does the same thing. But as with any new event, the wait times for the shuttles after the race were going to be very long. It would not do to have thousands of people waiting for shuttles in a storm with no place to harbor them if lightning showed up.
So the decision was made to shorten the event. The expectation had to be to have great green flag racing, finish the race, and get the people to their cars and safety. The call was the right one except for the fact the expected weather did not roll in. Poor IndyCar. They made the right choices and still managed to provoke every troll on Twitter and every critic with an ax to grind. Everyone wanted a full race and lots of green flag racing on a sporty, fast circuit, but fan safety trumped all. IndyCar made the only choice it could make for the circumstances.
IndyCar will weather this storm, and hopefully NOLA Motorsports Park will, too. The Verizon IndyCar Series needs to be the premier race at this track as it grows in the coming years. A spot on the calendar needs to be found in the early spring where this event will blossom. Until other road courses starting knocking on the series’ door, IndyCar needs to party in New Orleans, rain or shine.