Why IndyCar now has its own iconic street course

Jake Nichol August 9, 2021
Why IndyCar now has its own iconic street course
Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The much anticipated inaugural IndyCar race on the streets of Nashville delivered a chaotic and memorable event.

At times the race bordered on the ridiculous, but for a first attempt, organisers could not have hoped for anything better.

Start as you mean to go on

That split-second after Marcus Ericsson’s Chip Ganassi Racing machine was launched into the air was terrifying.

Fortunately, he was not going fast enough to flip over in a manner similar to Mark Webber in the 2010 European GP.

But it was still worrying to see such an incident, so early on.

It came when Swede ran into the back of Sebastien Bourdais on the restart, following an early caution.

With Bourdais slowing up to avoid cars ahead as the field prepared to go green, Ericsson was left with nowhere to go – except about three metres in the air.

The rear of Bourdais’s car as destroyed, bringing about an immediate DNF.

He was furious with the ex-Formula One driver, controlling his thoughts immediately post incident to NBC TV crews.

“I won’t even go there because I don’t want to be a douche,” he said, through rather gritted teeth.

Ericsson was slapped with a drive-through penalty by the stewards, serving it when he finally brought his car, wing flapping, back to the pits.

Having done the time for the crime, the CGR driver got lucky.

He cycled through to the lead through a mix of caution periods and fuel strategy.

It wasn’t a fluke.

He held off six-time champion team-mate Scott Dixon and a charging Colton Herta – until the latter crashed with five laps to go.

A penny for Bourdais’ thoughts then, when Ericsson crossed the finish line in first place two and a bit hours after their collision.

Layout provides a challenge

So the saying goes, one caution breeds another – especially on a street course.

Just under half of the race’s total distance was run under caution – 33 of 80 laps, as two drivers were black-flagged.

Jimmie Johnson was disqualified as his CGR team worked on his machine during a red flag, prohibited under the rules.

Part-time IndyCar and NASCAR racer Cody Ware was parked for driving too slowly.

If you pack together a group of racing drivers on a tight circuit, by the law of averages, they are going to hit something, or someone.

The layout of the Nashville circuit devised by IndyCar, in places made Monaco look like Daytona.

Surprisingly though, everyone was rather well-behaved in in the loop section coming off the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge.

It was the tightest section of track, but the layout flowed well.

This allowed drivers the opportunity to set moves up for the return blast across the bridge, and into the braking zone at the end of it.

Most of the trouble came in the tight, 90 degree apex corners around the pitlane and finish line.

In total, 33 of the race’s 80 laps were run under caution, with nine drivers issued penalties.

Power’s Penske problems

Will Power can be forgiven for wanting to try and make something happen, given his troubles this season.

The Australian has just two podiums to his name, and is outside the top 10 in the championship.

In fact, his boss Roger Penske would expect nothing less.

After all, when you race for The Captain, you’re expected to make things happen.

But he also expects you to not make contact with another of his drivers.

Power’s lunge up the inside of team-mate Simon Pagenaud sent the Frenchman into the barriers, and brought out the red flags.

Pagenaud stricken Penske blocked the field, leaving downtown Nashville looking like a parking lot for Indycars.

Fool me once.

Power was able to squeeze through as the track became blocked and go on his way.

It can almost be forgiven, coming on a restart following an incident for, ironically enough, another Penske driver – Scott McLaughlin.

Fool me twice.

But what Penske will not be as forgiving to Power about is his removal of McLaughlin from the race later on.

The 2014 champion tried to lunge up the inside of McLaughlin at Turn 9, the fast left-hander coming off the bridge.

A driver of Power’s calibre and experience should not have made such a move – even if McLaughlin left the door open.

Power’s demo derby came just after two of Penske’s NASCAR Cup drivers made contact at Watkins Glen.

Brad Keselowski was a passenger after spinning out, and it just so happened that the car he hit was team-mate Joey Logano.

The events of the day sort of summed up Penske’s racing season.

Needless to say however, that those competition meetings this week should prove rather interesting…

Big targets pre-race

As Oscar Wilde once declared: there is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about

The bemusement; the shock at star of the race Colton Herta sticking it in the fence five laps from home; the race between the setting sun and laps remaining.

Not to mention the chaos of what order the field should be in for restarts and the track being flooded at one point.

It all got eyes on the event.

Pre-race, Mark Miles – the president and CEO of the Penske Entertainment Group had made a bold prediction.

“In its first year, Nashville is going to join Monaco in the absolute top tier of auto racing across the globe.” Big words.

Comparisons to F1’s fastest street track

While IndyCar and Nashville did show, just about, that racing on a tight street circuit is possible, another F1 track springs to mind.

After a turgid affair in 2016, the Baku street circuit in Azerbaijan exploded into life in ’17.

Team-mates hit each other, the leaders collided and there was just general all round chaos in the Azeri capital.

Photo by Resul Rehimov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

But it got people anticipating what would happen the next time F1 raced there.

One race built expectations high, and the circuit has generally delivered memorable races in the three subsequent visits.

By that metric, IndyCar at Nashville was a huge success.

Yes, there could have been more green flag running, and better all-round driving.

But a boring, processional race would not have done Nashville any favours.

For it to be a success in the coming years, it needed to be a chaotic, verging on the edge of the ridiculous to build its reputation.

An iconic IndyCar image

F1’s most iconic race track is Monaco. Everyone has heard of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Nashville will have to go a long way to usurp the Indy 500 as IndyCar’s standout event.

The 500 is such that arguably, it holds greater meaning to the outside world than the championship itself.

But while the oval section of the IndyCar season is dominated by the 500, the road/street course section isn’t.

There is no one track that provides an image as identifiable as Nashville did.

Outside of the dedicated fan, it’s unlikely someone will remember the circuit where the fountain at Long Beach or the runways of St Pete are.

The sight of cars thundering over a bridge, suspended 80ft above the Cumberland river can become iconic.

The roots of IndyCar in Nashville have now been planted. This time next year, we’ll see just how much they’ve blossomed.

Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Jake can usually be found writing about or watching anything to do with motorsport – from Formula 1 to NASCAR to British Truck Racing. His work as a motorsport journalist has been published by the likes of Autosport, Motorsport.com and Motorsport News – all highly respected names. Away from racing he is a keen amateur astronomer, podcast listener and enjoys long walks in the park with his three dogs.