By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NASHVILLE – The NTT IndyCar Series is going into its third season racing in the Music City and while the focus is on this weekend’s running of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, all eyes will be on the series in 2024 when this race makes a big move downtown.
With the impending construction of a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans, the current 11-turn, 2.1-mile course will not be able to be used starting next season. Instead of making some minor changes as a workaround during the construction, series officials and race promoters in Nashville made a big swing for the fences and early indications are, they hit a home run.
The new layout will be a 2.17-mile, seven-turn circuit comprised mostly of downtown streets, including a section of Nashville’s iconic Broadway, as well as keeping a staple of the current course – the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge – in play.
In addition, the race will move from its current early August date to the season finale, taking the place of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which hosted the finale in 2022 and will again this season.
The season finale in Nashville also marks the third time in recent years that a street course has capped off the year with races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach in 2020 and 2021.
In the first two iterations of this race, chaos has been the name of the game, so what does the driving corps think of the move to make Nashville the place to crown a champion?
“It’s definitely designed for the fans. For it being a season finale, I can’t think of a better market to have that. I think it’s bad ass,” said Pato O’Ward.
“In terms of the race, I don’t know how it’s going to race. We always seem to find ways maybe not the most raceable tracks race. I’m not worried about it. I think it’ll be a show as it always is and pictures will look cool.”
Fellow Arrow McLaren driver Alexander Rossi echoed his teammates comments, comparing what INDYCAR is doing in Nashville to be on-par with the much-hyped Formula 1 race in Las Vegas later this year.
“I’m stoked,” Rossi said. “I think having the season finale in a place like – this is where you want to be. I think including Broadway…everyone is saying ‘We’ve got to compete with F1. We’ve got to do things like F1. We’ve got to make a splash.’ Next to the Strip in Vegas, this is as good as you’re going to get is putting race on Broadway in Nashville.
“I’m thrilled about it. It’s going to be great for the series. The city obviously sees the benefit of us being here.”
Rossi added that when the news of the new Titans stadium going up in the current location of the Nashville race broke, he was worried that the series might lose the race from the schedule, but the face that they were able to shift gears and make it even better for next season showcases the importance of racing here.
“The fact that the track is going to be even more central and include more of the city and the energy of the city, I think is a huge win for INDYCAR. It proves the importance of INDYCAR to these cities that we go to and it does show the trajectory we’re on is the right one.”
Add Felix Rosenqvist to the chorus of drivers in favor of the move, especially racing downtown and on Broadway.
“When you look at a big city, you always want the race to go through the main area and that’s not always an easy thing to pull off, so big creds to Nashville and INDYCAR for sorting that out,” Rosenqvist said.
“It’s fairly similar. You still have those quick right handers after the bridge. The bumps obviously. You still have a tight hairpin on one end. And lots of 90 [degree turns] which we already have. A bit like Detroit maybe, but a bit simplified. I think the set-up and challenge of the course will be fairly similar.”
Six-time INDYCAR champion Scott Dixon and the defending winner of this race is another that had nothing but positive things to say about the new season finale.
“In principle, it’s really good,” said Dixon. “I think it’s pretty special and pretty unique that one, you’ve still got a bridge, and two, you’re using Broadway, which is really cool.
“The straights are long. You’ve got a nice hairpin. You’re looking for more of what’s the raceability and I think they’ve done that well. Maybe they can expand on it down the road. The problem with Detroit was it was too short at 1.6 or 1.7 [miles] especially with 27 or 28 cars. It should be good. It might look a bit basic, but all of them are difficult.”
Marcus Ericsson, who won the inaugural Music City Grand Prix is no doubt a fan of the current layout around Nissan Stadium, but is also looking forward to seeing what racing through downtown brings in 2024.
“The layout doesn’t look as fun as this layout, but the fact that we go through Broadway and go through there, I think is going to be super cool. So, I think that’s amazing. The fact that it’s the season finale, that’s great news for the whole sport and everything. I think it’s really good. I’m really happy about it.”
While the overall consensus is a positive one, there are some that aren’t 100% on board with the move. One of those drivers is 2021 series champion and current points leader Alex Palou.
Though Palou may have won his first INDYCAR title in a street course finale at Long Beach, his comments indicate he’s not the biggest fan of moving the championship deciding race to such a chaotic event.
“It’s exciting,” Palou said with a grin. “Honestly, yeah, I don’t know. I need to see it on track and drive around, but it looks different.
“Obviously, they had to change and we couldn’t really make this one bigger and better and we had to avoid the construction. It looks like it’s going to be challenging and it’s going to keep the chaotic Nashville thing, which maybe it’s great for the season finale.
“Honestly, my opinion is the season finale is already exciting and you don’t need to put even more excitement in it, but it’s going to be a crazy good atmosphere and I’m sure it’s going to be a great event. It’ll be alright. Hopefully we can do our job before coming here and letting Nashville decide it.”