NASHVILLE — Bumpy bridges and uncertainty greeted the NTT IndyCar Series in their first practice session ahead of Sunday’s (Aug. 8) Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, but Colton Herta overcame that to turn the fastest lap in practice.
The uncertainty began even before the IndyCar practice session, as during the second Trans-Am practice session, an Aston Martin hit the turn 4 wall and put down some fluid on the right side of the track. After some drying compound was applied to the track and was left to sit, the session began five minutes late.
On a brand new street circuit with limited track time during the weekend, any difficulties for any competitor are magnified, and after all 27 cars completed their installation laps, not all was well for Dalton Kellett.
A wiring issue that meant that the A. J. Foyt Racing crew had to take the No. 4 Chevrolet to the paddock to work on the car, and the Canadian was unable to turn a flying lap in the 75-minute session.
One driver who was able to turn some laps before falling out of the session early was Pato O’Ward. The two-time winner this year (Texas race two and Detroit race two) was going through the turn 3 right-hander when he clipped the wall with his right front tire, and that contact sent the Mexican racer into the wall on the left side of the circuit. O’Ward turned only seven laps in the session while the rest of his competitors turned 637 laps between them.
The fastest lap time in the session gradually fell as the drivers became more acclimated to the 2.17-mile, 11-turn circuit, but it was clear from all of the onboard camera shots that the bumps along the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge would be one of the main source of concern for drivers.
Braking in a straight line is always preferred from a driving perspective. Braking in a curve can be problematic, but throwing in bumps and an expansion joint for a bridge in the mix means a driver has to be even more on top of their car’s movements in order to maintain control, and most were able to do that.
Some, like Alexander Rossi and Sebastien Bourdais, went a little over the edge and went into the runoff area, but they were able to find reverse gear to back out of the runoff area in turn 9 in order to make the corner. However, Conor Daly was not able to maintain control of his car. While under braking, his car found a new bump that upset the balance of the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, sending it sliding into the turn 9 tire barrier in the session’s final five minutes, ending the session early.
Herta’s session-best lap of 1 minute, 16.5875 seconds in his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda averaged 98.711 mph. What may be more impressive is just before leaving the bridge heading to turn 9, Herta was going 175 mph during an onboard clip early in the practice session.
“I thought the bridge was going to be bumpy, but I didn’t expect coming off the bridge to be quite that bumpy,” Herta said. “It could make it a little tricky if you’re braking for (turn) nine. Especially (for turn) four it makes it tricky. I didn’t expect it to be quite like that.
“But it’s not a negative thing. I think it adds character to the track. It’s actually pretty interesting to follow people through there and see if people are staying out wide or cutting in, trying to avoid the bumps, just finding different lines.”
Herta did win the first IndyCar street race of the 2021 season at St. Petersburg, and starting off practice in Nashville fastest will only help his chances of winning.
Team Penske’s Will Power has had quite a bit of success at street circuits, with over a dozen of his 39 IndyCar race wins coming on city streets. However, he did not share the same opinion about the bumps after turning the eighth fastest lap in practice, particularly going to turn 4.
“If they could grind that [bump] down a little bit, it would be really nice,” Power said. “The track is cool, man. I really enjoyed it. Really typical street course, bumps and cambers of the road you got to deal with. It was fun, apart from the coming off the bridge heading into the city. That’s a bit sketchy with the bumps. That one big bump, that’s it, the rest are pretty good.”
IndyCar points leader Alex Palou was sixth in the practice session but will have to suffer a grid penalty for an engine change. Palou’s team changed out the Honda engine on his No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda after a test over at Portland International Raceway.
“I think they will adopt and change [the rule] in the future, I hope at least, because I don’t think it makes a lot of sense that you blow up an engine on winter testing and suddenly you are with a penalty in the season,” Palou said, referring to his team changing an engine that failed during preseason testing that went against his allotment of engines for the season.
“It is what it is. Nothing we can do now, nothing the team could have done before.
“It is what it is. We just have to recover those six places that we’re going to have. I think maybe this being a street course, street racing, it’s always a bit more crazy with the strategies, tire deg and overtakes.”
Scott Dixon turned the second fastest lap in his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, just .3778 seconds slower than Herta while Romain Grosjean was third in his No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda.
Hometown hero Josef Newgarden was 12th fastest, the Hendersonville, Tennessee native turning a fastest lap of 1 minute, 17.6603 seconds in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet.
Also of note, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was 23rd, 3.3002 seconds slower than Herta.
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