Nashville Wrap-Up: A Couple More Race Thoughts and The Event

Indycar photo by Chris Owens

Marti Update: She is doing very well and is awaiting for a space to open up at a rehab facility in Indianapolis. I think we will see a full recovery. Thanks again to everyone for their concern and the many people who asked about her this weekend.

Per my post earlier this afternoon, my condolences to the family of Bob Jenkins, who lost his battle with brain cancer today. He was my favorite broadcaster of this era, and Imissed his voice at IMS this May.

Final Race Musings

James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay picked up the gauntlet for Andretti Autosport yesterday with their best finishes of the season. Hinchcliffe’s podium is probably too late to save his seat in the 29, but might help him land somewhere else for 2022.

I don’t think enough has been said about how well Marcus Ericsson drove once he got to the lead on lap 56. He easily kept Colton Herta at arm’s length and pulled away from Scott Dixon on the final restart. In spite of his crazy day, Ericsson deserved the win.

Bad races happen, and it is unfortunate that the first Music City Grand Prix turned out to be one. Running 42% of the laps under caution is not great for attracting new fans.

What Needs to Improve

Five things that will improve the fan experience:

  • Signage- as the weekend went on, more directional signs appeared, but not all of the grandstands had exterior signs indicating which sections were at which entrance. More track maps would have helped as well, especially having them near the directional signs.
  • *Water filling stations. The Know Before You Go section said fans could bring an empty water bottle and that there would be places to fill them. Outside of the fountains in the stadium concourse, I only saw one place to fill bottles, and it didn’t appear until Sunday morning. There need to be several of these in different locations, and they need to be there on Friday.
  • Tickets- I hated the electronic tickets. They were difficult to access. Sending tickets via email link that can be screenshot on your phone would be much more convenient, especially when for the first time all weekend, they started checking tickets at the grandstand entrance. It created a backup with everyone having to get out their phone and find their tickets again.
  • Grandstand Access- A reserved seat had to be purchased as a three day package. On Friday and Saturday fans could go into any grandstand they wanted to and no one checked their tickets. On Sunday for the Indycar race, security guards began checking tickets. People who had been sitting in the stands all day had to have their tickets checked. Other street races make Friday a free day to attract more local fans, which leads me to my final point.
  • Pricing- I thought this was the most expensive three day seat I have purchased at a street race. Because of the ticket price, I did not buy a paddock pass. I thought the paddock should have been included at the price point of the seats. It would have made the tickets more reasonable.

Ending With Some Positives

The promoters got what they wanted- a well attended, well promoted event. I saw signs at several major intersections in Nashville during the two weeks I was in town.

There was local buzz. The television ratings in Nashville were exceptionally good. This morning I stooped for breakfast at a Starbuck’s. I was wearing on of my The pit Window shirts. The woman taking my order noticed and asked me if I enjoyed the race. She then asked how I though the event could improve next year. I shared a few suggestions. She said,”Well I hope you come back for it next year.” This is exactly how street races grow.

When I got to the hospital this morning, Marti told me her nurse Sunday afternoon said that everyone at the hospital was talking about the race.

Now that it appears we have another solid street race in the making, let’s find a couple more ovals.

Thanks for following along this past weekend. There is another race this coming weekend, I hear.

Quick Thoughts- Music City Grand Prix

I will have more tomorrow night after i return to Indianapolis. Marti is awaiting the okay to transfer back to a rehab facility in Indianapolis.

I have seen worse races. I just don’t remember when. I don’t mean bad races, such as Texas 1 this year where there is no passing. I mean races where caution follows caution continuously. There were nine cautions today. The frequent yellows threw all pit strategies out the window, and the red flag with five laps to go did bit help things for a race that just needed to be put out of its misery as soon as possible.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Laps 50 -75 were really good, as we watched Colton Herta pick off one driver after another and stalk leader Marcus Ericsson. When Herta locked up his tires in an attempt to pass Ericsson, he needed to settle for second place. His crash brought an effective anticlimactic end to the race.

A very good day for Andretti Autosport turned into just a good day, with James Hinchcliffe earning a podium and Ryan Hunter-Reay finishing fourth. Besides Herta’s crash, Alexander Rossi was running in the top three when came together with Pato O’Ward, ruining both drivers’ chances for a good result.

Winner Marcus Ericsson had an up and down day-literally. On the first restart he plowed into the back of Sebastien Bourdais’ car, lifting the nose of Ericsson’s car in the air, served two penalties, made six pit stops, yet somehow through the chaotic pit stop schedules ended up leading the race.

Alex Palou didn’t have a great day as he got stuck in traffic after his first stop and couldn’t seem to pass anyone after that. Still, he ended up seventh and actually increased his points lead over second place. Palou continues to take what the race gives him to get the most points he can. This is why I thnk he will win the championship.

Dalton Kellett completed just 37 laps but seemed to be involved in several incidents.

Marcus Ericsson is fifth in the points with a second and a first in his last two races.

The race took just 18 and a half minutes less to complete than this year’s Indianapolis 500.

I will have more on the race tomorrow night and a weekend wrapup on Tuesday. there is lots to discuss about how this event needs to move forward.

Nashville Race Day

The inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is ready to go at 4:30 pm Central Time on NBCSN. How clean a race will it be? If the trend we have seen in practice and qualifying continues, it could be a long race with possibly a red flag stoppage.I hope the race can run cleanly, but I’m not sure t can. The first lap is the key. If the field gets through the first lap unscathed, we might be okay with just an occasional spin or crash. Yellows breed yellows could never be more true than it might be today.

Here’s hoping for a safe clean race. Scott Dixon could tie Mario Andretti for second on the all time win list today. Can Alex Palou increase his points lead? His six place grid penalty means he as his two closest contenders, Dixon and Pato O’Ward, starting ahead of him.

Tire and pit stop strategy is a factor today. The reds didn’t get much time so they are a bit of an unknown for the race. Pole sitter Colton Herta was very fast on the primary black tire. Look for which tire the top qualifiers begin the race on. That will indicate how they plan to run the race.

Today’s Schedule:

I bought a program yesterday. Outside of the Indianapolis 500 I don’t usually buy a race program, but since this is the inaugural event, I thought it would be nice to have. I like the cover art, featuring hometown driver Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou, and Pato ‘Ward. Interesting that they omitted Dixon, who won hree times at Nashivlle Superspeedway and is third in points.

Herta’s Very Hot Lap on a Very Hot Day

Photo: Colton Herta after his win at St. Pete

From the practice results and the early qualifying rounds, it was pretrty clear that Colton Herta would win the pole for tomorrow’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. The shock was two fold- His margin over Scott Dixon- more than a half second- big by Indycar qualifying standards- and this pole winning lap time-0 1:13.683. Looking at yesterday’s and this morning practice times, I though a lap in the 1 minute 14 seconds range would take the pole. I certainly didn’t expect a lap below 1:14.

Herta finished second in his round 1 qualifying group without going to the alternate red tires. Because of a late red flag in the morning practice, no one got many laps on the reds. Herta then had two sets of freshc reds for the final two rounds of qualifying.

The Andretti Autosport driver will be making his fifth front row start this season, and fourth in a row. Today’s pole is Herta’s second in 2021. He won the pole at St. Pete and ran away from the field in a dominating win. He has won from the pole the lastr three times he started at the point.

Herta is becoming a qualifier in the mold of Will Power. he is always a threat for the Fast Six and can never be counted out for the front row. Speaking of Power, it is hard to believe he has yet to win a pole this season.

Some of the pole drama was lost when Josef Newgarden crashed in turn 10 just as the second round was ending. Newgarden was fast enough to make the Fast Six, but the crash wiped out his best lap. He will start 12th. Newgarden had not shown much pace in practice, but his car was beginning to come alive in qualifying. He has to be a bit frustrated at how his hometown race has gone so far.

Alex Palou, the series points leader, qualified third but will start 9th because of an unauthorized engine change at the test in Portland. I think he is still in good shape He actually gains because none of his closest competitiors won the bonus point for pole.

If there aren’t a lot of yellows or red flags tomorrow, which is iffy, I look for Herta to disappear from the field’s view at the start and not be caught. Given the craziness we’ve seen so far this weekend, that may not happen.

Notes

Romain Grosjean continues his quality qualifying. He made the Fast Six at Newgarden’s expense, but it was another top 10 effort from the rookie who may be bound for bigger things kin the series next year.

Grandstand 6 was nearing completion by the end of Indycar qualifying, but the fans who purchased tickets for arguably some of the best views of the track were unable to use their seats for the second day in a row. It appears the stand should be ready for the race tomorrow. The Grand Prix is issuing refunds, but several of the fans I talked to who had tickets in that stand are not happy.

Workmen continue to assemble Grandstand 6 during Indycar qualifying.

There have been long lines at the ticket resolution windows as well. Some people have had trouble accessing their mobile tickets. I did as well, and it still takes me a couple of tries to find them. I think it was a mistake to have ticket access through the Tennessee Titans team app. A direct link sent via email like Gateway and some other tracks do would be much simpler and reliable.

Today’s crowd was bigger than the Friday crowd. The gas station which was closed for the weekend was packed with viewers.

Day 2 at Music City- More Speed with Reds? Palou Penalty

Photo: Jimmie Johnson enters turn three

Welcome to Qualifying Day at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. I am eager to see how much times drop on the alternate red tires today.

Today’s schedule- All Times Central

From last night

Herta Leads Successful First Day for Music City Grand Prix

Herta Leads Successful First Day for Music City Grand Prix

Indycar gets on the track earlier today for a 45 minute practice at noon, followed by qualifying at 3:30. Both sessions are streamed on Peacock. Because of the Olympics, NBCSN will not re-air qualifying later tonight. It’s sad that this event does not get any wider media exposure than the race on NBCSN tomorrow. I hope this is an NBC race next year.

Points leader Alex Palou will have a six place grid penalty for an unapproved engine change after the Portland test. This is the second grid penalty this season for the NTT Data team. Palou also started six places lower than he qualified in Detroit Race 1. He finished 15th. Palou needs to qualify in the top three or four to have a chance of maintaining a healthy lead. He was sixth yesterday. Scott Dixon, third in the standings, was second.

I’ll be back later tonight with a qualfying wrap-up.

Herta Leads Successful First Day for Music City Grand Prix

Alex Palou leads Graham Rahal heading to turn 9.

Colton Herta took first day honors on the first day of practice for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. Herta has been on the front row of the last three races, and he showed no signs of letting that streak last. Herta’s time of 1:16. 587 beat Scott Dixon by 0.38 seconds. Points leader Alex Palou was sixth fastest as Hondas took the first six spots and seven of the first twelve. Dalton Kellett sat out the session with a wiring issue discovered after his installation lap.

The top 13:

I thought today’s practice round was one of the best of the season. It might have been the novelty of the new track, but it just felt like a great session to me. Pato O’Ward hit the wall hard exiting turn 3, causing a six minute red flag. The session ended early when Conor Daly spun into the tire barrier in turn nine with less than five minutes to go.

Pato O’Ward hits the wall exiting turn 3. Photo from O’Ward’s Twitter account

It was fun seeing the cars going both directions on the bridge at once. It looks like there are several places to pass. The most difficult places on the track are turn 1 where it runs alongside pit out. Tis area could be dicey on race day; turn 3 is very difficult- there is is bump right at the apex of the turn. Some drivers figured out how to get through the corner without touching the bump. Drivers tried several different lines,many of which resulted in a significant wiggle upon exit. The turn 4 and 5 complex at the far end of the bridge is tight, and there were several close calls there. Overall, this track is great for Indycar.

Graham Rahal approaches turn 3

A Great First Day

The Music City Grand Prix had a great first day. There were the usual first day glitches- grandstands not complete, some staff not sure how to solve issues,and some materials not cleaned up. I think tomorrow will be much smoother.

The rain passed without falling. There was a cloud cover and a breeze with made the temperature a little more comfortable. The next two days are expected to be warmer.

There is an advantage to having a football stadium as a base for a street race. It provides a place for shelter should the weather turn bad, it allows the race management to have ticket space and entry gates built in, and they have ready made concession stands.

The food choices aren’t limited to the stadium. Multiple food choices abound inside and outside the track. On one side of the stadium sat a line of food trucks with a large variety of offerings from empanadas to cupcakes. It is probably the largest variety of concessions I have seen at a track. I liked that fans did not have to travel far to find food. At some tracks some grandstands are not close to any concessions. The promoters have made sure no one has to go far for food and drink.

I am already thinking about next year’s event.

It Begins

It is time. The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix has its first on track activity today. While Indycar isn’t on track until 3:10 Central Time, there is plenty of action until then with Trans Am and SRO GT America beginning at 11:00. The Indycar practice is streamed on Peacock. I will be heading to the track around noon.

It’s great that the gates don”t open until 10 so fans are not fighting the Friday commuter traffic. That has been an issue at other street races on Fridays.

Today’s schedule:

I will have a report on today’s action this evening.

Music City Grand Prix Preview

Photo: Jimmie Johnson’s livery for this weekend.

After nearly a year of buildup, the NTT Indycar Series has finally arrived at the inaugural weekend for the Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville. Can the race and the event live up to the hype? I think the event can. I am more confident of a decent race than I was a few days ago. The action on and exiting the bridge should make for some good racing.

All the elements for a successful street race are in place- sponsorship, government support, and community buy-in. People I spoke ith in Nashville last week are aware of the race and looking forward to it.

The organizers hope fans make it an entire day at the track. There are five concerts scheduled over the three days, one each day after track activity ends.

In addition to the race there is a weekend in Nashville. I have already spent a week there, and I like the city a lot. There are lots of great restaurants, the city is clean, and Centennial park is a nice place to go just a break from all the hectic action.

Writing about a new track is hard. There is no history, I’m not sure where the tricky parts are, and we don’t have a driver who has dominated the venue. Still, there are things to watch for as this race is the first of the final third of the season.

The teams and drivers have just two hours total practice time to figure out the new circuit. The 75 minute Friday practice will be interesting.

Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Fast Facts

https://thepitwindow.blog/2021/08/04/big-machine-music-city-grand-prix-fast-facts/

Helio Returns

Helio Castroneves returns to action for the first time since winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 in May. This time, he isn’t going anywhere. Castroneves will drive in five of the last six races in 2021 and will be full time with Meyer Shank racing in 2022.

Castroneves return is great news for the series as he is part of an expanding 2022 grid.

27 Entries- 2022 Preview?

The 27 entries for the Nashville race is the largest non-Indianapolis field since 2013 at Long Beach. That number could be the size of the full time grid next season. There will be several driver changes, which I will discuss next week, but I look for larger grids overall for 2022. I anticipate at least 25 cars for each race the rest of this year.

That many cars on a narrow street circuit means more traffic for the leaders to get through later in the race. It could make for some interesting situations in the later laps.

Palou Looks to Expand Lead

Alex Palou will seek to widen his lead in the championship. He leads Pato O’Ward by 39 points, Scott Dixon is 56 points behind, and Josef Newgarden trails by 69 points.

Alex Palou

Palou’s third place at Mid Ohio showed that he has learned to maximize the points he can get. I think he will be tough to beat.

This weekend is a home game for Newgarden, but no one has been able to win twice in a row this season. I think that trend continues.

I think this race goes to a veteran, and Will Power will break both his pole slump and his win slump by the end of the day Sunday. I am not surprised Power hasn’t won a race yet this season. Last year he didn’t win until Mid Ohio in the middle of September. I am surprised that he has not won a pole yet in 2021.

I will be attending the race and I will have reports each evening and at the beginning of each day.