Was crazy Nashville race good or bad for IndyCar? - The Race
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Was crazy Nashville race good or bad for IndyCar?

Aug 9 2021
By Jack Benyon

Some people loved the bizarre and dramatic nature of IndyCar’s inaugural Nashville street race, while others were not so happy with things like 33 of the 80 laps of the race running under caution.

People use the phrase ‘it had a bit of everything’ too often, but you can certainly apply that to the Music City Grand Prix.

Aug 12 : Is ex-F1 driver Ericsson an IndyCar title threat?

Asked about some negative interpretations of the race on social media, six-time champion and race runner-up Scott Dixon replied: “Everybody else seemed pretty pumped. I don’t know if they’re drunk, but they were pretty excited!”

It seems there are two schools of thought over the success of this event.

On the one hand, you may think that this race felt too unpredictable in the sense that the fastest driver didn’t win (although Colton Herta did ultimately make a mistake and crash), and a driver who qualified 18th and was launched into an airborne crash did win.

That’s never going to go down well with a purist. Untangling what happened should never be this difficult for a motorsport fan. Even Ericsson took some time to process and understand how he won, and who would blame him given the circumstances?

The addition of Romain Grosjean this year has brought more attention to IndyCar and only further shone a light on the fact that this is one of the most competitive open-wheel championships in the world.

Is a crash/caution/red flag-fest going to enhance that reputation and help arguments that this is the ultimate drivers’ championship? No.

Is it going to make IndyCar look more attractive to drivers on the outside? Probably not, even if the unpredictability does mean anyone can win.

Then there’s the opposite side of the coin.

The drama created by such an entertaining race may well have inspired the people of Tennessee, both the ones that attended, and the ones in surrounding areas who didn’t but may have been switched on to IndyCar and will look to attend an IndyCar race in the future because of it.

Nashville IndyCar 2021

Also, the dramatic nature of it may have inspired the people who made the race happen to continue to support it, whether it be local officials who agreed to close off large parts of the busiest part of the city to allow the race to go ahead over three days, or the sponsors who helped to fund it.

I think I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle of these two trains of thought.

There’s one easy move that will immediately improve next year’s event. There needs to be a rule of no overtaking before the start line on restarts as that would have saved at least one of the incidents that halted the race if not two. That’s certainly a view shared by podium finisher James Hinchcliffe.

James Hinchcliffe Andretti Nashville IndyCar 2021

“In Long Beach we’ve had this problem, too, right?” says Hinchcliffe.

“In IndyCar, on the restarts, when the green flag flies, you can pass. Nine times out of 10, that’s not a problem.

“What we were seeing in Long Beach, as the leader comes out of the hairpin, the green flag flies, the guy in 10th dive bombs the guy in ninth. We end up with a completely clogged racetrack.

“We came up with a gentlemen’s agreement to not pass under the hairpin, wait ‘till the start/finish.

“I think if we did that in Turn 11, said you can’t pass until the start/finish line, you would have eliminated at least one of the reds and another yellow from guys just trying to get cute going into the last corner there.

“There are definitely things we can look at.

“Look, it was the first time we were doing it, right? There’s always going to be things you can improve from year one. For a first crack at it, as an event, this was pretty frigging awesome.”

Many drivers have discussed the layout and if it could be widened, but for the most part the track did its job.

The drivers have a big role to play in the outcome of the event, too. Herta was able to overtake opportunistically at Turn 10, which is arguably the tightest corner on the track. So the layout wasn’t really an issue, it came down to the drivers.

Some drivers at least need to take responsibility and do a better job next year of living up to the praise that has been handed out over 2021 – that this is one of the best drivers’ championships in the world and the standards are sky high.

For all Will Power’s qualifying prowess and success in the series and for all Pato O’Ward’s natural talent – deemed worthy of an F1 test by McLaren – both went for ill-timed moves in the Nashville race – Power on more than one occasion – and they were not alone.

The race winner, Ericsson, took his eyes off the ball and had a huge launch over the back of Sebastien Bourdais’ car. Grosjean and Ed Jones were also guilty of punting other cars.

So basically, anyone criticising the event for the way it played out needs to take a look at the drivers too. They are the ones behind the wheel, even if they are under heavy pressure and fighting for tenths of a second.

Jgs 2021 Nashville 190496 1

Nashville may have been a bit too wacky, but in Hinchcliffe’s words it was a “pretty frigging awesome” attempt at a new street race built from scratch, totally under the looming cloud of the pandemic.

There were no signs of that cloud when it came to the atmosphere at the track.

“The crowd in Nashville, unbelievable,” added Hinchcliffe.

“You think this race had been going on 40 years.

“It’s like a Long Beach, Toronto, St Pete – in year one.

“Excited to come back, huge credit to everybody that put on the event.”

Nashville IndyCar 2021

From Thursday through to Sunday, Nashville was absolutely rocking as it made this event its own.

I think a slightly over-dramatic race can be forgiven amid the entertainment it provided to a new audience, in a new city, which could be extremely important for IndyCar’s future.

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