As the NTT INDYCAR SERIES hit the streets of Nashville for the first practice session ahead of Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix (5:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN), the practice charts showed some of the usual suspects near the top.
But nestled in between drivers like 2021 race winner Colton Herta (first), six-time and defending series champion Scott Dixon (second) and 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi (fourth), there stands two names race fans might be surprised to see, but shouldn’t be: Felix Rosenqvist and Scott McLaughlin.
Rosenqvist drove his No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet to seventh fastest on the speed charts with a best lap time of 1 minute, 17.2264 seconds, just slightly over six-tenths of a second behind Herta, who led the session with a time of 1:16.5875.
Swedish driver Rosenqvist is no stranger to street courses like this one. And when it’s a new track on the schedule, his experience on the slick and bumpy courses allows him to shine.
Rosenqvist is a two-time winner of the Macau Grand Prix, the most prestigious Formula 3 race in the world, in 2014-15. He won both races from the pole position on the incredibly tight and challenging 19-turn, 3.8-mile street circuit.
He also competed in Formula E from 2016-18, scoring wins in Berlin, Hong Kong and Marrakesh. Berlin and Hong Kong were street courses.
While the streets of Nashville are nothing compared to Guia Circuit, the name of the street circuit that hosts the Macau Grand Prix, there are certainly lessons from that daunting racetrack that will help Rosenqvist this weekend as he races across the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge and over the big bumps that punctuate the course’s return to normal asphalt streets.
This has given Rosenqvist a dose of needed optimism considering his best finish of the season is 12th, coming at the first street course of the year, in April in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“I think my street course experience definitely helps with this course,” he said. “It is a fun track and really tricky. The straight after the bridge, where you are bottoming out, is just nuts. I had a really big moment there at the end of the session. It’s going to be a good challenge and take the best out of us. The best driver will win.”
McLaughlin, on the other hand, used his expertise as an Australian V8 Supercars champion to punctuate his start to the weekend by finishing first practice ninth on the charts with a best lap time of 1:17.4072 in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet – second fastest of the four Team Penske cars.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie McLaughlin won three consecutive championships in the series that includes plenty of street courses. In particular, McLaughlin is a winner of the Bathurst 1000 at Mount Panorama Circuit. The race on the 3.861-mile street circuit is the most prestigious race on the Australian V8 Supercars schedule and challenges the best drivers in the world with its extreme elevation changes and narrow racing line.
Clearly, McLaughlin is comfortable throwing four-wheeled machines around rough-and-tumble street circuits.
“The DEX Imaging No. 3 Chevy was amazing,” he said. “I felt really strong. It’s nice to go to a track that other people haven’t been to before and you can really hustle it and find your way slowly. I felt like I had a really solid run, a really solid start to the session. We slowly chipped at it and found ourselves in the whereabouts of the No. 10 (Alex Palou, championship leader). There’s still plenty left in me and the car.”
It was an impressive start to the weekend for the rookie who hasn’t scored a top-10 finish since he finished eighth in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in May. But his performance Friday caught the attention of fellow Rookie of the Year competitor Romain Grosjean, who immediately pointed to the Kiwi as someone he is watching.
“As I told him, I’m super impressed with Scott McLaughlin’s season,” Grosjean said. “Coming from V8 Supercars and being that fast, it’s impressive.”
Rosenqvist, McLaughlin and the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES athletes will get another chance to adapt to this new and daunting 11-turn, 2.17-mile circuit with Practice 2 at 1 p.m. ET Saturday (Peacock Premium). It will be their final chance to fine-tune their cars before NTT P1 Award Qualifying at 4:30 p.m. ET (Peacock Premium).