By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The NTT IndyCar Series heads back to the vibrant streets of Nashville for the second annual Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
Entering this weekend, weather is a huge concern with threatening skies all weekend. Already, the tension is there at a circuit that’ll be different from last year.
Among those changes being the restart zone not being a start/finish, but driving on the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge. The same spot where the green flag waved for the start of the 80-lap contest.
The circuit will also see a wider Turn 11 to allow for a better sight from the drivers. Due to having additional suites in Turn 9, the width was reduced to 50 feet.
Finally, the bumps in Turn 5 will no longer be an issue as the area was resurfaced along with the transition areas to and from the bridge. All done in anticipation that the racing product improves following a rough go last year where a series of crashes overshadowed the grand prix.
Nashville will also be the site of the first INDYCAR race that Firestone will have a new alternate tire during a race weekend. Sustainability is the word as Firestone’s tire is plant-based guayule.
An experiment Felix Rosenqvist is keen about, especially after competitors used this tire during the Pit Stop Competition during this year’s Carb Day at Indianapolis.
“I think it’s important for INDYCAR, for us drivers and teams and Firestone to show that we do our part in being sustainable. Obviously we’ll try this tire in Nashville,” said Rosenqvist. “It’s a little bit of an experiment, obviously. I’m pretty confident that Firestone has put something together.
“We actually tried them in the pit stop competition during the Indy 500. We only went like 100 feet in a straight line, but they seemed pretty grippy. They seemed very sticky when you touched them.
“Hopefully it’s going to be like a one-lap qualifying thing where you just go out of the pits slow and then hammer down one lap and then come into the pit. I think that’s pretty cool when you have that kind of qualifying. We’ll see how it goes.”
Outside of the race weekend, there were two major news coming out of INDYCAR.
First, Rinus VeeKay and Ed Carpenter Racing have come into terms of signing an extension deal. Thus, one notable driver is off the free agent market as VeeKay is looking forward of continuing to grow as a driver and provide more successful runs in the No. 21 Chevrolet.
“I am very excited to continue with Ed Carpenter Racing for what will be my fourth year in the NTT IndyCar Series,” VeeKay exclaimed in a press release.” “Ed gave me the opportunity to drive for the team when I came out of Indy Lights and has let me showcase my talents in an Indy car ever since,”
“The continuity at ECR is great, there have barely been any changes in my time here and it’s very nice to have the same group of people around me all the time. We have been stepping up our game every season and with the support of Todd Ault and BitNile, we can really move forward as we head into 2023.”
The other news focusing on Alexander Rossi’s post-race penalties. After ending a three-year drought, Rossi won last Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
However, INDYCAR found multiple issues from the No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry. The grand problem was noticing the drinking bottle being used as car ballast.
Consequently, the No. 27 team was fined $25,000 and penalized 20 entry points. Rossi also lost 20 championship points, dropping him from eighth to ninth in points. INDYCAR will allow the team to appeal the decision.
With four rounds remaining, the final push for the championship will march on. A strong result and simply surviving Nashville will come a long way for any competitor.
By the Numbers
What: Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 14 of 17
Where: Nashville Street Circuit – Nashville, TN (Road Course Opened: 2021; First INDYCAR Race: 2021)
When: Sunday, August 7, 2022
TV/Radio: NBC / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211) 3 p.m. ET
Track Size: 2.1-mile temporary street course
Race Length: 80 laps, 168 miles
2021 Race Winner: Marcus Ericsson – No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started 18th, 37 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Colton Herta – No. 26 Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda (1:13.6835, 102.601 mph – August 7, 2021)
From the Driver’s Seat
Felix Rosenqvist – No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
“The restart zone was the big one that needed to change, so that’s a great easy change. I drove that track on a simulator with other changes, and honestly it’s nothing really major. I thought Turn 9 just seems a bit tighter.
“I think the reason they did it was not because to change the racing or anything. It was probably because they needed to do it because there was like a building or something.
“But yeah, it’s very similar. It doesn’t really change much. It’s just a slower corner maybe that will promote more overtaking because it was kind of quick last year, so you needed a lot of confidence to send it in there to pass someone. So potentially better racing, and yeah, hopefully avoiding the red flag deal this year.”
Colton Herta – No. 26 Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda
“I think we have a great car for it. The damping thing is so important at every track we go to, especially the ones that are so bumpy, and I think we have a great damping program.
“It just seems to work. At all the street circuits we go to, we seem to have a phenomenal car to drive. Hopefully this kind of continues.
“We had a great car last year, but you never know what you’re going to get when you come back to a street circuit and there’s some changes to the track. I’m hoping it’s as close to what it was last year this year, and we should be in good shape.”
Last Time in Nashville
In front a strong crowd, INDYCAR made its first visit to the streets of Nashville and to say the race was wild would be an understatement.
All weekend, Colton Herta ruled the circuit but another man stole the headlines. Early in the race, traffic jam clogged up the back end of the field. Marcus Ericsson being one of the drivers stuck there, tried avoiding the madness but it didn’t work out.
Ericsson ran into the back of Sebastien Bourdais, launching him up in the air but kept it from hitting anything else. While Bourdais’ race was over, Ericsson only sustained front wing damage and got back going. Thus, the moniker of “AIR-CSSON” was born.
Through pit strategy and a series of full course cautions (including one red flag), Ericsson was suddenly a contender for the win. To the point that him out front struck a nerve on Herta, who pushed very hard to stay on par with Ericsson.
On Lap 74, Herta went wide into Turn 9 and slammed the wall to bring out the ninth and final caution. Additionally, the second red flag of the afternoon.
As the sun went down, the spirits of Ericsson went up as he held off his teammate Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe to score his second career INDYCAR win. Again, all of that after launching up in the air.
“Got some good airtime. I feel sorry for Seb. Thought they were going. One of those incidents,” said Ericsson after the race.
“I thought my race over there. Then we had to repair the car. I got a stop-and-go. We were dead last. It was all about trying to recover. I think the car got some damage, as well, from that flight. There was definitely some damage on the car.
“I thought I would try and recover as many positions as possible and have a solid, what, top 15 was sort of my game plan after that incident. Then, yeah, the team did a great job with the strategy. Pit stops were great. There were so many incidents. For sure there was a little luck there, as well, no doubt about that,” Ericsson continued.
“INDYCAR, anything can happen. It’s been like that over the years. Once again today it shows that you can never give up, you have to keep pushing all the time, keep believing. If you have a strong team like I have, anything’s possible.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, August 5
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (4:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, August 6
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, August 7
- NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. – Peacock)
- Indy Lights Race (1:00 p.m. to 2:05 p.m. – Peacock)
- Big Machine Music City Grand Prix (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – NBC)