Streets of Nashville

It’s quite literally going to be an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race like never before when these athletes take on the streets of Nashville today for the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.

It’s near impossible to predict how this race will unfold on the 11-turn, 2.17-mile temporary street circuit that runs on a portion of Nashville’s downtown streets and across the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge twice. But what we can predict is that the thousands of fans that flocked to the Music City and the millions watching and listening at home are in for an exciting and unforgettable NTT INDYCAR SERIES race.

The weather forecast predicts sunshine and a high of 89 degrees around the time of the green flag at 5:30 p.m. (ET). Humidity is expected to hover around 45 percent with 7 mph winds.

The heat and humidity will make for a slick racetrack, creating a struggle to find grip on a bumpy course that’s already making it hard to keep the race car under control. Hold on tight!

Firestone Racing is supplying more than 1,700 race tires for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, using the same tire compound as in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in April. Each team has received seven sets of primary (black) tires, four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain (gray) tires.

Firestone Racing, whose parent company Bridgestone is based in Nashville, has donated over 10,000 tires to help build the safety barriers in runoff areas around the course.

Make sure you’re glued to your television set or radio for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix when coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN and INDYCAR Radio Network. You can listen to broadcasts live on network affiliates, SiriusXM205, Sirius 119, and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.

Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action:

Careful at Start

The start line for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is not at the traditional start/finish line heading into Turn 1, just as is the case at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Instead, the race will begin on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge coming back from downtown Nashville and heading into Turn 9. This allows the drivers to start on a longer straightaway as opposed to the short straightaways and multiple corners that make up the complex around the finish line.

With that in mind, this could be one of the hairiest starts to an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race this season.

In practice alone, dozens of drivers have overdriven Turn 9. The bumps across the bridge make for a challenging ride, and the jarring transition from the concrete bridge to the asphalt streets has wreaked havoc on drivers all weekend long as it comes right around the point drivers need to brake.

Many drivers have wheel-hopped by locking up the brakes, while others have overdriven the entry in an attempt not to have to hit the brakes on the transition, and that’s just by themselves. Just imagine what will happen when 27 race cars barrel into Turn 9 when the green flag flies.

This Track Is Gnarly

Two practice sessions and NTT P1 Award qualifying is all drivers have had to figure out this new racetrack before the warm-up (1 p.m. ET, Peacock) and race. From what we’ve seen, it’s going to be a wheel full.

The rush across the Cumberland River is proving to be one of the bumpiest sections of racetrack on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule, with many drivers saying it might be rougher than the notoriously bumpy Raceway at Belle Isle.

Because of that, some of the best drivers have struggled to adapt. Those that have found themselves in the wall or backward this weekend include Pato O’Ward, Conor Daly, Scott Dixon (twice), Scott McLaughlin (twice), Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Max Chilton, Jimmie Johnson and Josef Newgarden.

Now, while it’s been an unexpected challenge, the drivers are up for it. In fact, it appears to be a near unanimous opinion throughout the paddock that this course is already a favorite of most drivers.

Colton Herta, who paced the two practice sessions and won the NTT P1 Award this weekend in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, said coming into the race weekend he was skeptical of what to expect. But the young American has changed his tune, and he loves this racetrack.

“It’s just brutal. It’s very physical. It’s tough,” Herta said. “The track is honestly so much fun to drive. On paper, it doesn’t look great, just a lot of 90-degree corners. But how the bumps are and, honestly, they’re 90-degree corners, but they’re all super different and that makes it super interesting. Everybody that’s put on the race has done a great job promoting it and building the track. It looks spectacular, and it’s definitely a challenge for us.”

Who’s Good?

That’s a great question. It’s hard to predict who will shine brightest when a new circuit emerges on the schedule. But history, context and practice can give us an idea of who you should put on your INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge Driven by Firestone team.

Herta is the favorite to win the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix after being the fastest driver all weekend. He set the fastest time in both practice sessions and won the NTT P1 Award for pole. His best lap time of 1 minute, 13.6835 easily beat second-place starter Scott Dixon in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, who put down a best lap time of 1:14.2327.

Not only has Herta been strong this weekend, but he dominated the first street course race of the season in St. Petersburg, leading 97 of 100 laps on his way to Victory Circle. He finished fourth on the most recent street course race at Belle Isle-2, and he’s the most recent driver to win a new NTT INDYCAR SERIES race when the series ran at Circuit of The Americas in 2019.

However, there are other drivers you should keep your eye on, including Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet, who has a knack for new racetracks.

Power won INDYCAR’s debut street race in Baltimore in 2011, as well as the second race of the first doubleheader weekend on the Streets of Houston in 2013 and INDYCAR’s return to Road America in 2016. He won the second and third races at Barber Motorsports Park in 2011-12, the second race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2015 and the second race in Portland in 2019. He starts 11th.

Don’t sleep on Felix Rosenqvist in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, a solid, experienced street course racer.

Rosenqvist is a two-time winner of the Macau Grand Prix, the most prestigious Formula 3 race in the world held on an intense 19-turn, 3.8-mile street circuit. He also has two Formula E wins in the Streets of Berlin and Streets of Hong Kong.

Rosenqvist was in the top 10 in both practice sessions in Nashville, coming in seventh in Practice 1 and sixth in Practice 2. He put another impressive run together in qualifying, with his best lap time of 1:15.0045 putting him fifth on the starting grid.