By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NASHVILLE – The debut weekend of the Nashville street course has been a handful for everyone in the NTT IndyCar Series, but Colton Herta has been able to tame the beast so far, as the fastest driver in both practice sessions that have been held on the challenging circuit.
Herta’s lap of 1 minute, 15.353 seconds was good enough to boost him to the top of the leaderboard for the second day in a row, besting Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, and Sebastien Bourdais.
“It feels good,” Herta said. “The car is feeling really good. The track is very difficult to drive, but it’s a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it. I feel very comfortable with the car, with the track, and that’s super positive.
Despite the positive vibes, Herta noted Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race were still going to be very difficult to get a grip on, especially with the heat that is forecasted to be prevalent for the remainder of the weekend.
“It is going to be difficult. It is going to be super hot. Late in the day, too, so right in the prime time of when the heat is going to be here. We haven’t learned too much, but I think warmup will be a good tell for like tire deg and what we’re going to see out of the tires. If they’re going to last or not.
“Until that, we’re just kind of focused on qualifying, I think we’ve got a good car for it.”
While it has been smooth sailing for Herta, it was anything but for a number of other drivers, as practice featured a number of off-track excursions and encounters with the wall during the session.
Among those that found themselves in a bad position during practice were the second and third fastest drivers, Rossi and Dixon.
The start of the session saw Dixon loop his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda around, bringing out the red flag as safety workers were sent out to help get the car re-fired and sent back on its way. While that spin was no harm, no foul for the six-time champion, a second spin late in practice saw the rear wing of Dixon’s car make contact with the outside wall as he tried to pull a 180 and get back on track, with the wing eventually falling off being dragged down the track.
As for Rossi, his issues came with just over three minutes remaining in practice, when he locked up his No. 27 Andretti Autosport heading into Turn 10, making contact with the wall and causing significant damage to the front wing and suspension of his car, leaving his crew with much work to do before qualifying later Saturday afternoon.
Others that ran into trouble during the session included Graham Rahal and Scott McLaughlin, with Rahal glancing off the wall just before heading back out onto the bridge en route back toward Nissan Stadium. Meanwhile, McLaughlin spun in Turn 7 and backed it into the tire barrier, bending the rear wing in the process.
The drivers and teams will have a few hours to get themselves collected before getting back on track for qualifying at 3:30 PM Central, where the field for the inaugural running of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will be set.