Will course changes work for Sunday’s Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) why restarts are going to be dicey if you’re the leader

NASHVILLE, Tenn — A new restart zone is the highlight of several track modifications for the second annual Big Machine Music City Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.

That is one of a few alterations to the 2.1-mile circuit but one that will likely play a pivotal role in who wins the 15th round of the 2022 season.

During last year’s inaugural NTT INDYCAR SERIES race in Nashville, the restarts occurred at the finish line in front of Nissan Stadium but this weekend it will move to the long straightaway as the field exits the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge and toward Turn 9. It will be the same zone that was used for the start of each race last season and should provide cleaner restarts and more immediate passing opportunities.

As a result, the leader of the race could be at a large disadvantage once the green flag drops. With a slow corner prior, it’s not like the lead can get any sort of separation on the field before. Maybe mid-pack on back, but on the 2nd and 3rd place cars?

The ones behind have the advantage.

“I think it’s going to be tough if you’re the leader to get a good jump,” said Herta. “It’s a really long straight coming out of a really slow corner. I think it’s better, yeah, because we don’t want super long safety cars and just the mess of what Turn 11 was last year on the restarts.

“I think it is a good decision. It’s going to be tough as the leader, I think, to get a good jump on the field, but it is a really long straight, but now with the tighter Turn 9, probably a pretty good braking zone. It’ll be interesting, though. It’ll for sure promote some passing, I believe, and yeah, maybe guys will check it up the inside of Turn 8 before the restart and whatnot. It’ll for sure be interesting.”

Will Power agreed saying that you definitely don’t want to be the leader on the restarts.

“You’ll be more of a sitting duck, yeah. I mean, if it keeps the race greener, I hope I’m not the leader, hope I’m second (smiling),” he notes.

Marcus Ericsson had wishful thinking that the track wouldn’t change much. He admits he’s biased though because he is the only person on this planet so far to win an INDYCAR race here. He does agree though that restarts will play a role in who wins this weekend’s race. The thing is, he snaked his way to hold onto the lead on the final restart in the May 29 Indianapolis 500 so maybe he knows a thing or two about holding those off behind him.

There may be plenty of restarts anyways so this could be a key area of the track. We saw 9 cautions for 33 laps just last year. In 75 minutes of practice on Friday, there was three stoppages. Will Sunday look more of the same?

With 8 restarts last year, I don’t think we necessarily see that many on Sunday, but with how difficult it is to pass here, if you get a restart in the final pit window, it could in turn sway who wins this race or not.

Christian Lundgaard was quickest in practice on Friday in Nashville. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

“I feel like this year, whether you start — I mean, the worst crash last year, or I guess the worst crash that could continue, won last year,” said Pato O’Ward. “I guess it doesn’t really matter where you start, thinking of what the history has been here.

“It’s a good place to start (5th). There’s just going to be I think a lot of yellows. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I don’t think we’re going to go full green. I just don’t see that happening with how hot it’s getting inside the cars, with how long the races are, with how hot it’s going to be. People are going to get tired, touch a wall here or there. There’s going to be mishaps for sure.

“You can be pole, you can be second or third. We’re starting in the first three rows. A yellow falls not in your favor, you’re going straight to the back.

“I think tomorrow it’s going to be all about nailing and having some Lady Luck with the strategy because I don’t think it’s going to matter where you start. I think someone with a good car in the back, they nail on a good yellow, they’re going to go straight to the front and they’re going to stay there.”

Other modifications or changes to the 2.17-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit include:

  • Turn 11 apex being opened approximately 6 feet to not only increase the track width but provide better vision for drivers.
  • Transition areas at both ends of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge being smoothed as much as possible to reduce the potential of the cars bottoming coming on and off the bridge.
  • Resurfacing at the Turn 5 apex to minimize the bump.
  • Track width into Turn 9 being reduced to 50 feet to accommodate additional suites in a primary viewing area.
  • Additional gates being added to maximize track crossings at several locations.

Will These changes help?

“Yes, I think the restart zone was the big one that needed to change, so that’s a great easy change,” Felix Rosenqvist said. “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.”

Last year, the NTT IndyCar Series and the city of Nashville were both setup on a blind date. Each were established and very successful on their own but were setup for a first meeting in person together in Aug. 2021. The Friday practice was in fact the first time the two sides had ever gotten together. See, it was slated to be a perfect arrangement that was supposed to lead to a long successful marriage to one another.

Two sets of friends were setup earlier this summer and both were a hit. The NASCAR Cup Series visited the Nashville Superspeedway for the first time ever back in June and it sold out. The SRX Series visited the Nashville Fairgrounds not long after and that event too sold out too.

Well, this one had all the potential to be a successful one, like the ones that their friends shared separately. The thing is, the two sides were also quickly finding out that in order to make this work, they’ll have to adapt and adjust. It’s more about what can happen in the future than the present but in order to make it a happy fairy tale future, you have to pass the audition and so far, results have been mixed.

Still, all great relationships are about give and take and adapting/adjusting to one another — hence the updates to the track.

No one expected a debut to be perfect and last year’s was far from it. However, in order to get fans to want to come back to watch your second date next year, the first date needs to improve. Forget what’s occurred outside the fences, that’s a story for another day, but what’s going on inside the track, well it showed that if this race is going to be in the same realm as Monaco or Long Beach, well it has a long way to go to get there.

We saw several incidents last year. Saturday alone saw 8 of the 27 cars involved in incidents and that session was only 45 minutes in length. It looked more like a Daytona or Talladega NASCAR race than an INDYCAR practice.

The race looked the same.

The first hour of the race saw six green flag laps, four cautions and one red flag period. The race distance was 2-hours, 18-minutes and 49-seconds. By comparison, the Indy 500 is over 300 miles longer and lasted only 2-hours, 37-minutes and 19-seconds in 2021.

“Of course, the race was tricky. I don’t know what happened back in the pack. There was definitely a lot of cautions,” Scott Dixon said last year. “I felt like the front group was doing really well, taking care of each other, not making these dives that maybe created some of these issues early on.

“I think there were some regulars making mistakes and hitting people. Maybe that needs to be looked at. All the penalties need to be stronger when you cause accidents like that.

“There was just no flow to the race, right? It was like you had six races. So, yeah, I don’t know how it played or how it looked.

“I don’t know. It’s a tricky track. It’s really difficult. Especially on restarts with trying to get temperature in the tires, knowing that it was going to be somewhat hard to pass, there was a lot of people trying to make it happen on restarts. I totally get that.

“I don’t know. It’s a balance, right, that you got to try to work out. Maybe next year I think there may be some areas of track that can change a little bit that would create some passing zones, maybe make the racing a little bit better.

“You look at Herta, he made the passes happen. It can be done cleanly, like he did.”

James Hinchcliffe agreed.

“It was eventful,” he said. “We were at the back, front, kind of ran a little bit of everywhere today, in the middle. Like Scott said, we probably had a few too many yellows for what we would have wanted to put on a good show for everyone here.”

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