After more than a month without a race, the NTT IndyCar series returned to action today at a place they have never been before. Practice kicked off the highly-anticipated event on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee. The inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix features 27 drivers that will be vying for a chance to become the first race winner on this spectacular layout.
There was significant news even before the green flag waved for the first practice session. Championship leader Alex Palou was given a six-place grid penalty for an unapproved engine change that was required following last week’s private test at Portland International Raceway. The Ganassi driver holds a 39-point lead over Pato O’Ward entering these final six races but will start the race six spots behind whatever place he qualifies tomorrow.
Friday Practice Results
It was refreshing to see teams and drivers get back on track for the first event in more than a month. There were also some familiar faces that returned to the paddock in Santino Ferrucci, Cody Ware, and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian will be busy closing out the season as he prepares to go full-time with Meyer Shank Racing in 2022.
In addition to the championship contenders, there are several drivers needing to close the season on a positive note. Former series champions and Indy 500 winners Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Ryan Hunter-Reay are all winless this season. Alexander Rossi is seeking his first win since 2019. Graham Rahal is still searching for his first victory since the 2017 season. Others like Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, and Ed Jones need something positive to help them land a seat for next season.
There was a red flag about 30 minutes into the practice session when O’Ward made contact with the Turn 3 barrier. The bumps were a major concern with this circuit, especially going across the bridge. There are also many areas of the track that are seemingly very narrow, which will be interesting to monitor on Sunday. “I got caught out by the inside wall in Turn 3,” O’Ward said. “I’ll be fine, man. I love this place. What a cool track. The damage doesn’t seem to be too bad. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
When the dust settled on Friday, it was Colton Herta laying claim to the top spot on the time chart with a best lap time of 1:16.5875 around the 11-turn, 2.17-mile course. This should not come as a surprise, as Herta won both inaugural events in 2019 at Circuit of the Americas and Laguna Seca. His prowess on street circuits is also something that cannot be ignored. Scott Dixon was second fastest on Friday, followed by Romain Grosjean, Rossi, and Marcus Ericsson. Palou was sixth, Felix Rosenqvist seventh, and three Penske drivers rounded out the top ten with Power, Scott McLaughlin, and Pagenaud.
“We’re just getting to grips with the track,” Herta said. “Obviously, we came here with a really good package. We were fast right away, and I felt very comfortable getting up to speed. It’s a little nerve-wracking, the first time you have to go flat over the bridge with the bumps because the last thing you want to do is for the car to bottom and you send it into the wall on a straight; you kind of look stupid with that. The simulations we did beforehand were on point for what we expected, and it made my job a lot easier.”
The session ended with another incident when Daly had a hard hit into the Turn 9 barriers. The red flag ended the session but the good news was that O’Ward and Daly were both able to walk away from their incidents.
There will be one final 45-minute practice session tomorrow at 1 PM ET, followed by qualifying for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, which begins at 4:30 PM. Live coverage of qualifications is available on Peacock Premium.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar