There are few things more satisfying than driving a high-performance vehicle in the way for which it is intended. We recently had a chance to spend some time with the all-new 2015 Lexus RC lineup, including the RC 350, RC 350 F-Sport, and performance-focused RC-F. Lexus was smart enough to know that, while the RC sports coupes mostly are going to be driven on the streets at sane and responsible speed limits, unless you can really open it up, you’ll never fully understand the pure joy of driving a well-engineered automobile. Which is what brought us to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the NOLA Motorsports Park.
NOLA served as the base for the day’s driving routes, and also provided us a chance to take the RC-F on the track to appreciate the power and handling of the 467-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 engine residing under the hood. More about the experience of driving the RC-F in a minute; first, we want to tell you about NOLA Motorsports Park, as it was a new venue for us, and worth spreading the word.
NOLA Motorsports Park is a too-well-kept secret. As automotive journalists and racing enthusiasts, there are few tracks we haven’t seen, reported on, or driven around. This was a new track for us, mostly because it’s fairly new. NOLA Motorsports Park opened in 2011, but is one of the most complete motorsports parks in the country. While we were there for only a brief time, we experienced the road course, the event center, and the charming hospitality of the staff.
Designed by Alan Wilson, who also designed both Miller Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park, NOLA is located in the town of Avondale, on 1,700 acres, about 20 minutes from downtown New Orleans. The focal point of the park is a 2.75-mile track that features 16 turns and a 5,200-foot straightaway. Unfortunately, because we weren’t racing F1 or Indy cars, Lexus installed a coned chicane to slow us down on that magnificent straightaway. Otherwise we might have pegged the RC-Fs at its top speed of 170 mph. We did get a few good runs up to 100 mph on that straight, even with the planned cone fest, and we can’t say enough how stable the RC-F felt as we flew down the track. Apparently, NOLA has plans to include a South Track that will link with the North Track to form a five-mile course, which would make it the longest track in North America.
Because the track is so new, connectivity and telematics were incorporated from the beginning. Cell phone service was not the best inside the building, but the WiFi was excellent. The park also includes over 100 miles of fiber optics, and the most advanced timing and scoring equipment. While we appreciate the charm and historic significance of an older track, you can’t beat technology for making the overall track experience a more pleasant one.
The track offers a variety of configurations. For the Lexus event, they provided us with enough area to experience all the RC-F had to offer. The long straight goes into a sweeping late apex turn, and a great series of S-curves that only requires the slightest throttle modulation and no braking made it an absolute blast to fly through with this sports coupe. The course was long enough to have fun, but not so long that you couldn’t memorize it after a few laps. And since there were only a handful of journalists on the track (the other half was out prowling the streets of New Orleans in the other RCs), it felt as if you had the whole track to yourself. It was a flat track, with no perceptible elevation changes, which makes it easy for novice drivers, but the best part of all was the covered pit area that provided shade and comfort from the warm October sun.
In addition to the big track, NOLA MP features a karting facility that made us a bit envious since we didn’t get a chance to have some fun on that venue. The karting venue includes 30 acres of track area, with seven acres featuring lights for nighttime fun. In addition, the three circuits offer over 80 configurations. The Karting facility not only offers daily rental of the track, rental leagues and karting series, but you can also purchase a kart from NOLA’s in-house shop if you are so inclined. (Beware: karting is a bug that, once bitten, is addictive, but also expensive!)
While there are a lot of great tracks in America, when it comes to hospitality services, often that’s an afterthought. At the NOLA facility, the Event Center features 34,000 feet of meeting space, dining space, and whatever else you can dream up. There are two bars, great views of the track from upstairs, a full commercial kitchen, two restaurants, production and office space, and more.
NOLA Motorsports Park also is making it easy for film crews to shoot there. It’s all privately owned, and only requires one permit for everything, which includes a 12-acre lake (we didn’t see it), 25 miles of off-road trails, 24-hour security, 40 acres of paved parking, two 14,000-square-foot warehouses with 23-foot ceilings, a repair shop, an in-house fleet of performance cars, and more.
While all this sounds great, the owner didn’t build it solely with small events in mind (although the facility is more than happy to host any size gathering). So next April 2015 will be the first IndyCar race at the park. With the easy location, plentiful parking, variety of hotels nearby, a fun city overall, and a great track, this just might be the primo venue (outside of Indy) to see a race. For more information, visit nolamotor.com.