Kanaan Leads Opening Day of Practice at NOLA Motorsports Park

AVONDALE, La. (Friday, April 10, 2015) – Tony Kanaan, who will make his 296th career Indy car start this weekend, posted the quickest lap in the first practice session for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.

It was a good first day for Kanaan as he shoots for the Verizon P1 Award in qualifications Saturday, then goes for the win in the 75-lap race Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at NOLA Motorsports Park.

Kanaan, driving the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, recorded a lap of 1 minute, 18.8753 seconds (125.058 mph) on the 2.74-mile, 13-turn road course during the 90-minute session early in the afternoon. A heavy rainstorm delayed the second practice session and limited track time in dry conditions, so no one was able to surpass Kanaan’s best lap from the opening session.

“It’s still really early in the weekend, but finishing P1 in our first practice session on this track is a good feeling,” said Kanaan, who earned his 119th career top-five finish in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29.

“The car tested really well here a few weeks ago, so I was confident that we had a good car coming into this weekend. It was much hotter this afternoon than it’s been when we’ve tested here in the past, so our lap times were much slower, but the track is still really good. Like I said, we still have a ways to go before the race, but it’s definitely a good start.

“The track looks good,” continued Kanaan. “Big props to the people in New Orleans. People know about the race, people know what’s going on and those are the places we want to come.”

Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power, who was runner-up to Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya two weeks ago on the St. Petersburg street circuit, posted the second-quickest lap (1:18.9292) today. Kanaan’s teammate, three-time series champion Scott Dixon, was third on the time chart (1:18.9662). KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (1:19.2563) was fourth and first-year Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud (1:19.2782) was fifth.

Chevrolet-powered cars took the top seven positions in practice, with James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports the fastest Honda in eighth (1:19.4764). Fifteen of the 24 drivers were within one second of Kanaan’s quick lap.

A 45-minute practice is scheduled Saturday preceding the three rounds of qualifications (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

NOLA Trophies Take on Local Flair

The trophies to be presented to the podium finishers and winning team owner following the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana capture the personality of the Big Easy, state and – through extension – venue owner Dr. Laney Chouest and his wife, Ruth.

There’s a bit of whimsy, too. On the translucent turquoise body of the champion’s trophy are two alligators biting each other’s tails. An alligator preparing to take a bite out of a tire is on the second- and third-place trophies. A red fleur de lis is atop all the trophies. Local artist Marshall Gaudet was commissioned to create them.

“I’ve been in the art community for a long time and, when I’m thinking about a trophy, I’m going to the art community,” said Ruth Chouest, a jeweler by trade. “I don’t want to go to a trophy maker. I just love the strength of it and it conveys the ferocious, wild nature of this sport.

“To me, turquoise became an obvious choice because turquoise and red are complementary colors. Also, it brought in this funky Indian, Louisiana feel. I’m sure that the racing community in general doesn’t see this kind of stuff.”

Coletti Eager to Race for Louisiana-based Sponsor

Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Stefano Coletti is excited to be racing at NOLA Motorsports Park this weekend for a couple reasons: He enjoys the track and he’s carrying the colors of a locally based sponsor.

Coletti is piloting No. 4 Variable Bore Rams-KV Racing Technology Chevrolet in the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. The genesis of the sponsorship dates to a chance vacation meeting between KVRT co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven and VBR president Hines “Chip” Marshall, Jr. Kalkhoven invited Marshall to the 2012 Indianapolis 500, which led to VBR becoming an associate sponsor on Tony Kanaan’s Indy 500-winning car in 2013.

Marshall decided to sponsor Coletti’s car for the inaugural NOLA event to thank Louisianans for their support of VBR, based in Broussard, La., and celebrating its 35th anniversary in June.

“I thought this would be a great way to show my appreciation to the people of Louisiana, the way I feel about them,” Marshall said. “And do something fun for a change.”

Coletti is eager to attack the NOLA track. He was among the many who tested here in the pre-season, but there have been a host of safety improvements addressed since then.

“All the changes they made on the track were great,” Coletti said. “They put a lot of gravel beds around (in runoffs) and I think they moved some tire barriers and they made it a lot safer. I like the track. The first time I came here, I thought the track was a lot of fun to drive. I think it’s going to be better this way. I think there’s still some improvements to do, but they came a long way and I think we have to thank the people from the track for doing all this effort.”

Of Note:

A black flag indicator (text and/or light) is mandatory in the dash/steering wheel configuration for each Verizon IndyCar Series entry starting this weekend, according to the rulebook. It will be triggered through the timing transponder by race control. … All Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda cars are carrying “Get well soon MJ” stickers for their weekend races at NOLA to honor Pro Mazda driver Michael Johnson, who was injured in a practice session crash at St. Petersburg on March 27. Kyle Connery, teammate of Johnson’s at JDC MotorSports, has a sticker on his helmet that reads “Get Well Michael.”


TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet, fastest of the day): “It’s still really early in the weekend, but finishing P1 in our first practice session on this track is a good feeling. The car tested really well here a few weeks ago, so I was confident that we had a good car coming into this weekend. It was much hotter this afternoon than it’s been when we’ve tested here in the past, so our lap times were much slower but the track is still really good. Like I said, we still have a ways to go before the race, but it’s definitely a good start for the No. 10 NTT DATA Chevrolet.”

WILL POWER (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, second fastest of the day): “It’s really cool (NOLA Motorsports Park). Really fun. The two road courses that I absolutely love are this track and the Indy road course. They are just a lot of fun and have very similar flows to them.”

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We tried a lot of things today on the Verizon car. I wasn’t really happy with the balance of the car this morning. We still have a ways to go. It was a lot of fun to get out there and get some laps when the track was drying. We don’t know what the weather will do tomorrow or Sunday, so we’ll just have to see what it brings for the rest of the weekend.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “To be honest, we still have some work to do here at NOLA. We are close but we still need to find a little more. We did want to make a few changes to the Hitachi car between the morning practice and the afternoon session, but the rain kind of hurt that. It was good to get back out there for a few laps after the track dried, but we weren’t able to do too much with it. We will try to see what we can do on Saturday.”

STEFANO COLETTI (No. 4 Variable Bore Rams – KVRT Chevrolet): “We have had a great day in the No. 4 Variable Bore Rams – KV Racing Technology car. We worked through a lot of things in the first practice session and ended up finishing P6. The second session was shortened due to the rain and the track was still half wet and half dry, but we were able to get a few good laps in at the end and finished P4. We still have some work to do in Practice 3 tomorrow and then hopefully we will have a good qualifying session in the afternoon.”

SAGE KARAM (No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet): “We went out to get a baseline feel for the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet in the first session to better the car and the balance. At the end of the session, I was pretty pleased with the car. We took a new set of black tires, but I struggled to get a clean lap. It’s good to know there’s speed in the car. The track had rubbered in a bit this morning for more grip, but with the rain all that will be gone for tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Brita Chevrolet): “In the first practice session we worked on balance overall. The Brita car was too loose on new tire runs, but I think that will translate to faster lap times when we go to the alternate red Firestone tires. We had a fair amount of traffic at the end when we tried to put a lap together, so I think there is more left in the car. Overall the team has good speed in all four cars and that’s a great way to unload here at NOLA and get started.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Team Mistic E-Cigs-KVSH Racing Chevrolet): “It was a good day. We thought we were going to get rained out and that didn’t happen, at least for the first practice. I am really happy with the Mistic E-Cigs car. The crew did a really good job. We unloaded pretty strong. Then we tried some things and it didn’t make it better. We had other ideas for this afternoon, but the weather decided otherwise. Overall, I am pretty optimistic for this weekend.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply Co. AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “It was a difficult first day for NOLA. The first session, we were struggling with the grip level and the balance when the track was dry and we had to go through a lot of items and data to figure out why. In the second session, the track conditions were a little tricky because it was damp but towards the end it was 80-90 percent dry but there were still a couple damp spots. It’s relative but the car improved a lot and the car is in the ballpark. It was a good improvement and we were very happy that we were able to run the second session to check it out.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 D-A Lubricant Company Honda): “We didn’t have the best first session, but I really do feel that we learned a lot and figured some stuff out with the car. We’re going to go back more towards what we ran here at the test, which will probably help us. The track temp was so much warmer today than when we tested here. It’s really kind of hard to tell exactly where we need to be with the car setup but I think we’ll be OK. We have learned a lot and the guys are doing a great job. We’ll just keep working hard on this thing and get it better and better. We’re not far off, it’s just so competitive. We’ll be there; we’ll be fine. There wasn’t much to be learned in the wet session, but we had a couple of things we wanted to check and were able to do that.” (On racing in the rain): “Racing in the rain is always a different art. I think the biggest thing here is to see how the drainage will be. We’re going to have to see how that plays out. It is a permanent road course so that should help versus some of the street courses.”

CARLOS HUERTAS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “This morning was OK. I think the pace was decent even though we had a bit of problem on the second set of tires. It was a bit unfortunate I couldn’t improve my times. There were a lot of red flags; I even spun myself. I don’t really know what happened when I spun. I lost the rear before the apex, which is quite strange. Maybe I touched the grass under braking or something. Overall, it was a good session. It is interesting because the track was really different from when we tested here, but I think we have a good dry setup.”

FRANCESCO DRACONE (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “The morning session was positive and the car is doing really well. Carlos (Huertas) has been very fast and consistent. From my side, I made a few mistakes and my good laps were ruined by red flags. It is difficult waiting for the track to dry because I just want to go out and run. I think we had a good setup this morning due to the testing we did here. Unfortunately, I was not able to drive as fast as I had hoped, but the car is great and the team has done a great job.”

LUCA FILIPPI (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet): “This morning was a bit of a messy session with many yellows and red flags so it was a bit difficult to find a rhythm. I feel confident that we didn’t really express our potential. Josef (Newgarden) did well and I think we were able to get close to him, so it’s good that we are working toward the right direction. The car is getting where we want. We have to be positive and tomorrow I think will be a good day for us.”

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda): “This afternoon’s session was much better, definitely. It was a little short, but I think we improved a lot from the first session. We still have some work to do, but looking forward to getting back in the car tomorrow.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 AndrettiTV/Cinsay Honda): “Our day on track was a bit shortened because of the weather conditions, and the first session had a lot of red flags, so we didn’t get as much green time as we would have liked. For sure, we are already more competitive than we were in St. Petersburg. In the second session, when the track was drying up, the people who got the most laps out of it, of course, were quickest in the end. Anyways, we have to focus on tomorrow. Tomorrow the weather also looks really inconsistent – a chance of rain again – so we’ll see what happens.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Merchant First/Snapple Honda): “With the delays, the second session was extended a bit and we ended up running out of fuel when the track was under the best conditions. We just never really got the clean laps we needed to gauge things and get quick times. We were on a good lap when (James) Jakes spun in front of me – I was on a lap for a quick time right there. We’ll pull together and hope for more tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It was an incomplete day for us with the DHL Honda. In the first session we never really got going in our changes. We were trying some big experiments with some of the aero package that didn’t end up panning out for us, so we ended up going fastest in our first outing – which was unfortunate. But we were able to get a little track time at the end of the day and I think we have a potential direction for tomorrow.”

JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 41 ABC Supply Co. AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “We didn’t roll off in the direction we should have, but we wanted to try something that we thought was the way, but we found a new direction the second session and I think it made a big difference. Both cars are looking a little bit better now and hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet): “Today was good. We unloaded off the truck better than where we were at the test here, so I think we feel more confident than we were in the offseason around this track. Everyone did a good job just trying to get up to speed quick. We didn’t get the second session in, but the first session was really clean for us and we learned a lot. I think we’ve got a pretty good mindset going into qualifying tomorrow and we’ll just try and make the most of that so we don’t have to start at the back here.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “There are definitely some things that we need to improve on before qualifying tomorrow. We had some mechanical issues that held us back and I had a little spin about halfway through the practice. The good thing is that the pace of the (Nos.) 9 and 10 cars during that first session was pretty fast, so we can learn a lot from both of them and continue to better the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet. We’re really close and I’m feeling really good about where we are heading into tomorrow.”