Andretti claims NOLA track welched on IndyCar promoter fees

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The Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana—held in April just a few miles from New Orleans—may be in jeopardy after its inaugural year, as a legal battle unfolds between the venue where the IndyCar Series race was held and the race operator.

Andretti Sports Marketing, owned by Indianapolis-based IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti, earlier this month filed a federal lawsuit in Louisiana against NOLA Motorsports Park, where the race was held April 12.

Andretti, which contracted to organize the IndyCar race at the venue through 2017, claims in the lawsuit that it is owed $645,000 by NOLA Motorsports Park as part of its contract, plus $206,000 in expenses approved by track officials. Andretti officials in the filing also claim those amounts don’t include future payments outlined in their contract.

Louisiana officials had hoped to use the IndyCar race as an annual tourism driver for years to come. The event’s future is now uncertain.

Officials for Andretti Sports Marketing and NOLA Motorsports Park did not return calls seeking comment on the lawsuit and the event’s future.

Joseph Bruno Sr., a lawyer representing the NOLA Motorsports Host Committee, remains hopeful the dispute won’t halt future races.

“We … believe that this is a great racing venue and have high hopes that we can do it again,” Bruno told the New Orleans Advocate. “We trust that this will have no impact on future racing … at the track.”

IndyCar Series officials too are hopeful the event can continue.

"While we can’t comment on the legal situation, our focus is on finding a date for the event next year and making sure we have the incremental success we expect," said IndyCar Series Communications Director Mike Kitchel.

"Certainly our expectation is that the Verizon IndyCar Series will be racing in NOLA in 2016," he added. "It's a great market and we've been assured by the [track owner] that we'll be racing there next year.”

Bruno told the Advocate that Andretti could be replaced as race organizer if that was necessary to keep the race alive.

This year’s race was anything but spectacular. Fans grumbled because they had to park at least a mile from the track and take a shuttle, and monsoon-like weather hampered the entire weekend.

Twenty-six of the 47 laps raced were run under yellow, due mostly to slick and hazardous conditions. Drivers complained the 2.7-mile road course and surrounding infrastructure were more suited for amateur or club racing. After the race, IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi simply tweeted “Sorry.”

Veteran motorsports journalist Robin Miller estimated about 8,000 people attended the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana “if you count crew members, parking lot attendants, corner workers and the alligator outside the main gate.”

James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports won the race.

As part of a deal with Andretti to bring an IndyCar race to Louisiana, NOLA Motorsports Park created the not-for-profit host committee to receive a $4.5 million state grant for track improvements needed to host the race.

In its lawsuit, Andretti said it was assured there would be enough money from the grant to compensate it for all of its services.

Instead, the lawsuit claims, $3.4 million of the state grant was spent on track improvements, and what was left over was being used to pay off vendors who could place liens on the venue, rather than Andretti.

In its lawsuit, Andretti claims the not-for-profit is now “nearly insolvent.”

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