- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Graham Rahal bit into a beignet, sipped on a frozen cafe-au-lait and explained why he and fellow IndyCar drivers are eager to bring their series to the Big Easy.

“Everybody’s thrilled by this,” Rahal said Tuesday. “New Orleans is a place that everybody thinks of as fun - a destination - so for us to hit this market is great.

“We always as drivers like going to new places and being part of new events and exciting opportunities - and this is one of them.”

Rahal, the son of former racing star and current IndyCar team owner Bobby Rahal, is set to race in the Indy 500 this Sunday. On Tuesday, he took part in a quick visit to New Orleans to promote this weekend’s race as well as the 2015 Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park.

After a brief stop in the French Quarter, he toured the track, but refrained from driving a lap himself because of the major race weekend approaching.

He viewed planned changes to the track layout - which include changing part of an s-curve into a longer straight away, as well as the sharpening of some turns - and predicted that the venue would foster compelling racing.

“It’s going to be a blast,” Rahal said. “That’s what we look for in most places is long straights with hard breaking zones. And I think that’s exactly what we’re going to have.”

The NOLA Motorsports Park is a private, $60 million facility about 14 miles southwest of downtown New Orleans. It features a 2.75-mile road course that has already hosted AMA motorcycle racing and Indy Lights, as well as the Pro Mazda and USF2000 series.

IndyCar has an agreement to bring the series to the track for at least the next three seasons, though the hope is to make it a long-term annual event. The precise date for next year’s race has not been set, but officials expect it to take place on a weekend in late March or in June.

The track is owned by Dr. Laney Chouest, whose family founded and operates Edison Chouest Offshore - a company that builds and operates sea vessels specially designed to service the offshore oil and gas industries.

Rahal said he was impressed by the facility and expects its relationship with IndyCar to be beneficial to both the series and track.

“I think we can not only put on a great show, but also help really improve the facility and the circuit as well,” Rahal said. “It’s something that everyone here should be proud of.”

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