Pato O’Ward, who is second in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings, will have ground to make up Saturday after damaging his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in Friday’s first practice in Nashville.
O’Ward clipped the entry of Turn 3 – the corner preceding the first run up the spectacular Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge -- with his car’s right side, which sent him on a path to the retaining wall at the corner’s exit. The impact to the left side of the car was abrupt but mostly flush, but the damage was enough to sideline him for the rest of the session.
O’Ward will have 45 minutes in Practice 2 – 1 p.m. (ET), Peacock Premium – to gather information the rest of the field already has in preparation for NTT P1 Award qualifying at 4:30 p.m. The 80-lap race is at 5:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBCSN.
O’Ward trails Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda) by 39 points with six races remaining, which means it would behoove O’Ward not to lose ground in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. Thus, he has work to do. But he didn’t sound concerned after climbing from the damaged car.
“We’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll see what we have for qualifying.”
O’Ward’s confidence is rooted in his enjoyment for the new 11-turn, 2.17-mile temporary street circuit. Quite simply, he loves it, especially the aggression that it takes to manhandle the bridge’s bumps.
“(I love) that it’s violent,” he said. “Going into Turn 4, the bumps are very violent. You’re going through there and the (steering) wheel is getting knocked out of your hands.
“It’s very unique, unlikely any other place we go to, for sure.”
Colton Herta, the driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian who led Friday’s practice, said the track is “even bumpier than Detroit.”
“Which we always say is the most difficult track that we go to,” he said. “This one might take it.”
The good news for O’Ward is, he was second on the speed chart at the time of the incident. At the conclusion, his lap of 1 minute, 18.6224 seconds left him 21st of 27 drivers. Palou ended up sixth at 1:17.2264. Herta led the field at 1:16.5875 and might be the driver to catch after dominating the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the season’s second race. He led 97 of the 100 laps there.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly (No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet) ended the practice four minutes early with a slide into the Turn 9 tire barrier. Daly said the brakes locked in the late approach tot the corner, and the impact was relatively flush with the right side.
Daly’s best lap – 1:18.8007 – put him 22nd on the speed chart.
INDYCAR’s First Long Bridge
It turns out this is not the first extended water crossing in the motorsports careers of Sebastien Bourdais and Romain Grosjean. In Formula One, each raced at the Valencia, Spain, street circuit that used the port city’s famous swing bridge over 450 feet of the harbor.
Bourdais finished 10th in the inaugural race in 2008, and Grosjean made his first Grand Prix start there the next year, finishing 15th. Grosjean qualified fourth before retiring in his only other F1 start there, in 2012, the last race at that circuit.
INDYCAR has two brief trips over water at the Belle Isle circuit in Detroit, and it previously raced over water – again, briefly – in Surfers Paradise, Australia.
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) said he didn’t expect to even know he was driving over the Cumberland River until he saw the photographs.
“We’re so low in the car hopefully we won’t even know water exists,” Rossi told The Tennessean.
The distance over the river is 800 feet, easily the longest stretch in INDYCAR history, and drivers cross the bridge twice per lap.
The Fight for Rookie Title
With Grosjean driving the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR for the rest of the season, INDYCAR has an interesting two-driver battle for the Rookie of the Year Award.
Grosjean trails Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet) by 47 points. But if the three oval races, which Grosjean did not compete in, were factored out, the standings would look different.
McLaughlin scored 64 points in the two Texas Motor Speedway races and 20 more in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. That’s 84 points in McLaughlin’s favor.
Grosjean appears primed for a run at the award, and that includes competing in his first oval race, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on Saturday, Aug. 21 at World Wide Technology Raceway. He recently tested there and came away pleased.
Based on Friday’s practice times, the battle could indeed be on. Grosjean was third, McLaughlin ninth in the weekend’s debut session.
“Obviously, they’ve got that rookie thing on,” Grosjean said. “I need to catch up to him in points.”
Odds and Ends
- Dalton Kellett’s car did not participate in Friday’s practice after AJ Foyt Racing discovered a mechanical issue on the No. 4 K-Line Insulators Chevrolet that could not be repaired in time.
- The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix has 27 car-and-driver combinations, the most for an INDYCAR race not held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the 2013 Long Beach race.
- Firestone is using the compound and construction of the race tires used earlier this season in the St. Petersburg street race. To help learn the track, teams received an additional set of primary (black) tires – seven in all – to go with four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain (gray) tires. Firestone brought more than 1,700 tires to the event.
- Josef Newgarden’s Celebrity Ping-Pong Challenge, which the driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet won Thursday night in Nashville, raised $136,000 for the SeriousFun Children’s Network. Then, Newgarden’s team owner, Roger Penske, said he would match that total, bringing the donation to $272,000. About half of the INDYCAR drivers, plus numerous dignitaries, competed.
- INDYCAR teams have “Get Well Robin” stickers on their cars this weekend in support of longtime motorsports reporter Robin Miller, who has been battling health issues and is not attending this event. Miller is best known for his work in The Indianapolis Star, RACER.com and NBC Sports’ television coverage. Stickers are available for $20 at https://bit.ly/3lF4q0Q, with all proceeds going to charity.