Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS, Pirelli GT4 America and TC America competitors are headed toward a new challenge in the Big Easy. The three SRO Motorsports America series are competing at NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans this weekend, a new track for almost everyone, and a track that hasn’t hosted much racing of this caliber barring a lone IndyCar event several years ago.
NOLA was a late substitution for the not-ready-for-primetime Ozarks International Raceway stop that was originally scheduled for this weekend. Competitors are looking at heat, likely rain, and a new track that few have seen before. One driver that has seen it is NOLASport’s Jason Hart, half of last year’s GT4 America Pro-Am championship duo with Matt Travis. But even he hasn’t seen it in its current state.
“The track will be a little bit different even for me, because they’ve been making many improvements to the surface and the drainage since I’ve last driven it,” Hart explains. “There was like a… version one, I’ll call it, that they did that I’ve driven. And the improvements were very, very good. Everybody knows that Turn 1 was extremely bumpy, along with a couple of other corners. And the areas that I drove where they had done their Phase 1 improvement, they were very good. And from what I understand, they have made more improvements.”
In contrast to the opening weekend at Sonoma Raceway last month, NOLA is about as flat as racetracks get. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its challenges.
“The corners that I think everybody will talk about are Turn 6 and Turn 8,” Hart says. “Turn 6 is a mega challenge; it’s very fast and the track-out comes up very quickly. And then Turn 8 basically tests any driver’s resolve on entry. You typically cannot do it flat. You have to do some measure of lift, but the speed is very, very high into a quick brake and transition left. So I would say 6 and 8 you’re going to hear most of the drivers talking about the challenge and the speed is very real.”
That’s going to be especially true in the wet, and there seems to be a very good chance of rain on Saturday, moreso on Sunday. So drivers could encounter tricky conditions during the races that may not have seen in practice or qualifying. Rain or not, they’ll face hot, muggy conditions that will test their fitness.
The Pro category will look a bit different in GT World Challenge America, as the series implemented a new rule last week that requires an FIA Silver-rated driver in the lineup. That means that defending Pro class champions Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper can no longer compete as a team for K-PAX Racing. Pepper will now be paired with Misha Goikhberg in the No. 3 Lamborghini Huracan, while Michele Beretta will join Caldarelli in the No. 1. Giacomo Altoe, who competed with Goikhberg at Sonoma where they were elevated from Pro-Am to Pro, will no longer be part of the K-PAX lineup and instead moves to TR3 Racing with Ziad Ghandour.
Greg Gill, president and CEO of SRO Motorsports America, says the reason for the rule change was the number of Silver-rated drivers.
“After reviewing the global availability of Silver ranked drivers, including more than 275 Silver drivers in the US, we elected with our Pro teams’ feedback in hand to change the Pro pairing requirements for GT World Challenge America,” he says.
One of the Pro teams that intended to run the full season will likely not make the NOLA event. Russel Ward crashed his Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca a few weeks ago, and Winward had to use their GT World Challenge America car in IMSA’s Mid-Ohio event last weekend. With only a few days and a few hundred miles in between, the team said there isn’t enough time to make the turnaround in between events.
Otherwise, the GT World Challenge America lineup looks very similar to Sonoma. GT4 America has a solid 32 entries, while TC America has 29 across TCX, Touring Car and TCA. Each series will have two races, and all qualifying sessions and races will be live streamed on YouTube (GTWorld) and Twitch (SROMotorsports).
Of course, in New Orleans, what goes on off the track may be just as important as the racing. Beignets and chicory coffee at breakfast, jambalaya or etouffee for dinner, a good steak at Dickie Brennan’s or, for a classic New Orleans experience, a fine meal at Commander’s Palace. Those are the well-known places, but there might be others worth checking out, and if you’re looking for something a bit different, ask a local.
“The people are amazing, the food is amazing,” Hart says of his team’s hometown. “You know, you can use Google or whatever you want to find restaurants, but if you want to know that good stuff, you should probably talk to anybody on the NOLASport team because they know where the real spots are.”