It was equal parts dazzling, disappointing, chaotic and dramatic as Marcus Ericsson took the Music City GP away from Colton Herta with an inspired drive. The Nashville crowd was massive, impressive and so patient as 70,000 hung in there for three hours in 90-degree heat. We can only hope first-timers don’t judge IndyCar’s product by Sunday, because it was a clunker.
Thirty-three laps of caution in 80 laps, two red flags and some sorry driving made you want to hide. How slow were the fastest open-wheel cars in the world? Ray Harroun averaged 74.602 mph in 1911. Over 100 years later, Ericsson wins on the Nashville course at 72.607 mph. There were zero on-track passes for the lead. But Scott Dixon came away with a more a more positive perspective.
“On the parade lap the crowds were nuts, and through the whole weekend, the intensity of qualifying and practice… the big grandstands were full,” he says.
“The thing that kind of shocked me was pit straight – the stadium is right there, all the stairs and all the levels of the stadium were full with people. Say what you want; people were excited about it. They knew what was going on and were into it. Our PNC CEO (Bill Demchak) was there. Yeah, there were lots of cautions and reds, but you could just hear the crowd cheering.
“No matter what was going on, people in the stands were paying attention and going nuts.”
Dixon and his fellow drivers will make suggestions to track designer Tony Cotman for making the track racier.
“The layout for qualifying was crazy busy, nuts, fun… but race-wise, we need to create some racing zones and passing zones,” he says. “If we could extend the track a little bit into Turn 4 it would be good. There are other possibilities (where) if we could just open them up and make them a little wider (they could be) passing zones. If you lock up going into Turn 1 and 2, you need some run-offs. Yellows breed yellows and yellows breed reds and no one wants to see those.
“Everyone has some tidbits here and there on making it a more racy track, but the event itself was done amazingly. Of course there could improvements on the track, but that’s true for many places.To fix the raceability… there are definitely options, and we can talk about positive solutions to help the track.”
Dixon also wants more consistency in how races are controlled.
“It gets a little bit funky when you create a red and, say, eight people in that one accident got their lap back,” he says.
“In a normal race they’d all go down a lap down. I felt bad for the next yellow we had, because the two people caught in the tires continued on and lost a lap. There’s gotta be some consistency in that scenario. It’s not fair. All of us want to have consistency because then we knew how to race.”
For IndyCar regulars the inaugural Music City Grand Prix was a 2 on a scale of 10, yet those Tennessee fans liked the speed, the close contact racing and overall atmosphere and were still cheering after almost three hours. They will decide the fate of this event in the next two years.
But promoter Scott Borchetta’s years of hard work and dedication finally paid off – not where he originally planned in Indianapolis, but in his hometown Nashville where he’s built a music empire.
“Wow. We did it…” Borchetta texted me at 1:00 am at following the event. He did everything right, and I just hope he’s rewarded with a long, strong partnership with IndyCar.