After a well deserved month-long break, the NTT IndyCar Series returns with a brand new race on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee. Alex Palou still leads the championship by a thirty-nine point margin over Patricio O’Ward, with Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon not far behind in third place. IndyCar’s most recent winner Josef Newgarden enters his home race in fourth place in the championship, while Marcus Ericsson rounds out the top five in what has been his breakout season.
This new 3.49 km, 11 turn circuit has been highly anticipated since its’ announcement last year, packed with unique features like the straightaways across the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge. It is the first new street circuit since the Grand Prix of Houston in 2013.
This weekend will also mark the returns to the grid of Santino Ferrucci for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, reigning Indianapolis 500 Champion Helio Castroneves for Meyer Shank Racing, and NASCAR Cup Series regular Cody Ware for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing.
A new circuit will create a level playing field for the entire grid, and with only six races remaining in the championship, every point is crucial. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix of Nashville.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?
In short, everything! This will be a completely new challenge for even the most experienced drivers on the grid, and with how competitive the field is, a surprise finish might be in store.
But to go in-depth, the track layout creates unique challenges for teams not seen at other street circuits. Primarily, thanks to the bridge section, there will be significant elevation change. Most street circuits are rough, bumpy, physical affairs with little elevation change, but the bridge provides an extra curveball for teams to deal with.
Usually, cars would be set up with the most downforce possible for a street circuit, but the long bridge section will make teams question their setups to account for the two long straightaways. Practice will be worth a watch to see how teams tinker with this challenge.
It is also worth noting the track’s pit lane, which spans two straightaways at the end of the lap. The large left handed curve might make pit box entry and exit something to watch come raceday, and there will almost certainly be practice time dedicated to pit stop practice for teams with those stalls.
Another feature to look for will be race starts. Like the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Nashville will use different parts of the lap for the start and finish lines. The start line will be after the second bridge straightaway, with a run through turn eight and into turn nine, where most of the overtaking action will take place. The track designers gave this corner a twenty-four meter wide corner entry, one of the largest on the calendar, so expect some audacious overtaking attempts here. The finish line is located two corners later in front of Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
Not much is known about it right now, but as the weekend unfolds expect to learn more about the race strategy. How long will the alternate Firestone red tyres last compared to the primary black tyres? How long does it take the alternates to get up to optimal conditions for qualifying? Never have practice sessions been more exciting to watch.
The defending Indy 500 champion Castroneves and consistently impressive Ferrucci return to the grid this weekend, this being the first of four more races Castroneves will race with MSR at the end of the season. In his first race back with the team, Castroneves will likely have to re-adjust to open-wheel cars after competing in the Superstar Racing Experience series over the summer, but that shouldn’t be an issue for a man with over twenty years of IndyCar experience. Expect the Brazilian to be a threat come raceday.
Ferrucci also returns to RLLR, looking to continue his streak of top ten finishes, never finishing worse than that during his time with the team this season. Two of those top tens came on the street course at Belle Isle, so another street course top ten could be on the cards for the 23-year-old American.
Most recently, Ware announced on Wednesday 04 August that he will be coming back to IndyCar this weekend for his second ever race in the series. Ware competed last at the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America earlier this year, finishing twentieth.
But perhaps the driver with the most eyes this weekend will be Team Penske‘s Newgarden. A native of Hendersonville, TN, just outside of Nashville, this will be his home race and the pressure to have a good performance will be on with the fans behind him. Look to see if he can live up to the expectations this weekend.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THIS WEEKEND?
Friday 06 August
1610 EST / 2110 BST – Practice 1
Saturday 07 August
1300 EST / 1800 BST – Practice 2
1630 EST / 2130 BST – Qualifying
Sunday 08 August
1730 EST / 2230 BST – Race
WHERE CAN I WATCH?
Coverage in the UK for the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.
In the United States, coverage for practice and qualifying will be broadcast on the Peacock streaming service, with the race being broadcast on NBCSN.
HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?
You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions. You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.