IndyCar setup sheet: Streets of Nashville

IndyCar setup sheet: Streets of Nashville
IndyCar setup sheet: Streets of Nashville

What: Big Machine Music City Grand Prix / Race 13 of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series

Where: Nashville, Tenn. — 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street course 

When: Sunday, Aug. 6, noon ET (green flag 12:30pm ET)

When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, there’s a well-proven mantra: “It’s IndyCar — anything could happen.” And that’s never truer than in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.

In IndyCar, the margins between triumph and disaster, confidence and confusion, and winning and losing, are fine ones, but they’re seldom finer than on a weekend in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. 

The 2.1-mile street course that zips past the Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans NFL team, and crosses the Cumberland River via the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge, is one of the most distinctive race tracks in the world, and the first two IndyCar races there have been suitably memorable. 

The first, in 2021, saw Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson caught up in an accident in the opening laps — one violent enough to lift his nose almost to the vertical after running into the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’ AJ Foyt Racing machine. But after limping to the pits for makeshift repairs, then suffering a drive-through penalty, and spending the remainder of the race with askew steering and bent suspension, the Swede came home the winner.

Remarkably, another Ganassi driver, ageless master Scott Dixon, won last year’s Nashville race (below) after suffering early damage and dropping way down the order. He shrugged off the seemingly debilitating effects of major damage to his car’s floor and multiple early pit stops to run a very long final stint. Despite extremely worn tires, he survived a late-race restart to hold off fellow Kiwi and polesitter Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske on the run to the checkered flag and his 53rd career IndyCar win.

Can the third Music City GP produce similar drama this weekend? You better believe it. It’s as if track designer Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting devised the layout in the heart of country music land to throw as many challenges as possible at the drivers, engineers, engine manufacturers and tire supplier Firestone. 

Damper setup is key as the cars pitter-patter over the bumps in the braking zones, and the differentials need to help a driver rotate the car on turn-in, yet be forgiving enough to help settle it and allow the outside rear to dig in rather than spin away its 750hp-plus. The Firestones are worked hard too, the green, guayule-infused sidewalls of the alternate compound and the black “primaries” providing enough stiffness to maximize the footprint, but enough flexibility to work with the suspension and grip the pavement even when lightly loaded or on off camber turns. 

The engines, too, must provide enough lowdown torque to push the cars hard out of the tight corners, yet the power must arrive progressively enough not to leave the rear tires scrabbling for grip and burning off their shoulders. The long “straight” of the gently curving bridge, particularly on the return leg from Turn 8 to Turn 9, sees the engine working hardest, from a slow (greater than 90-degree) right-hander taken at 47mph onto a flat-out blast that sees the cars reach 177mph before braking for the left-hander. 

The back-and-forth blasts across the bridge are so key to the lap that, however tempting, engineers and drivers won’t dare to load up the cars with downforce for the tight, tricky, weaving run between the buildings on the remainder of the track. That means the drivers must live with their cars running loose, and must judge how much speed they can take into the turns to leave enough space to catch the tail on exit. It’s a quite mesmerizing sight in qualifying, and adds to the drama on race day as the drivers seek alternate lines to catch the car in front or hold up the one behind.

There’s another mantra in IndyCar, and it’s that “cautions breed cautions.” Again, Nashville’s the poster child for that one. The tight track and the “Hail Mary” nature of some of the passing attempts mean an incident is never too far away. In 2021, nine cautions accounted for 33 of the 80 race laps, and despite a growing familiarity with the track and its challenges, eight cautions ate up 36 laps last year. If it’s more of the same this time around, race strategies can change with every full-course yellow, but it’s also a chance to shine for the brain trusts calling the plays on the pit stands and their abilities to react, improvise and second guess.   

You can follow the action on Peacock — practice on Friday, August 4, practice (x 2) and qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 5, while NBC (and Peacock) will provide the race day action. And to get even closer to it all, grab the best seat in the house with the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA and its 14 race day live onboard cameras.   

TUNE IN

Friday, August 4 / 4:00pm – 5:15pm ET – Practice 1 – Peacock

Saturday, August 5 / 11:40am – 12.40pm ET – Practice 2 – Peacock

Saturday, August 5/ 2:45pm – 4:15pm ET – Qualifying – Peacock

Saturday, August 5 / 6:25pm – 6:55pm ET – Practice 3 – Peacock

Sunday, August 6 / Noon – 3:00pm ET – RACE – NBC

• All sessions and the race are also available as audio commentary on SiriusXM and INDYCAR Radio.

Ride along with the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA

Taking you inside the action, 14 drivers will be carrying in-car cameras. During the race, you can live-stream every one of them with the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA. You choose who you ride along with, and you can switch drivers at any time. The App’s free to download for fans worldwide and you can find out more HERE. If you’re not already onboard, take your viewing experience to a whole new level HERE.

Bringing you the onboard action from the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix are…

Josef Newgarden / No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet
His pair of wins at Iowa Speedway (below) have helped two-time IndyCar champion Newgarden trim the gap a little to runaway 2023 points leader Alex Palou — the Chip Ganassi man who beat him to the 2021 title. But the canny Spaniard’s podium finish in the second race in Iowa still leaves the Penske driver with an 80-point gulf to traverse, despite now matching Palou’s victory tally of four. Although this is his home race, Nashville has not yet been a happy hunting ground for Newgarden, who finished only 10th and sixth in the first two editions of the Grand Prix here. That form must improve for any chance to catch Palou in the points with only five races to go.

Pato O’Ward / No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet
O’Ward is a threat on any type of track — his fast hands and deft feet can make a car dance like Fred Astaire. However, with the exception of the new track in downtown Detroit, the Arrow McLarens haven’t looked quite on par with the best of the opposition on bumpy street courses in 2023. On the basis of his lost victory in the season opener at St. Petersburg, when O’Ward was clearly punching above his weight until stymied by a transient engine issue, it’s fair to say a temporary track owes him.

Colton Herta / No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda
Herta (below) was eye-poppingly fast at Nashville in 2021, and so confident that he was able to save a set of fresh Firestone alternate tires for Q3 and take pole by half a second. Unfortunately, the timing of caution flags left him with much work to do on race day, and as he tried to pursue surprise leader Ericsson in the closing stint, he made hard contact with the wall. Last year, a mistake in qualifying left him 23rd on the grid, yet he climbed to fifth in the race. At some point, Herta’s sheer pace around here should pay off with a podium finish: given Andretti Autosport’s pace on temporary tracks this year, this could be his weekend.

Will Power / No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet
The defending NTT IndyCar Series champion boosted his pole tally to 70 with P1 for both races at Iowa Speedway last time out, and also scored his fourth podium finish of the season. But like fellow series veteran Scott Dixon, Power is still seeking his first win of 2023. He’s plenty fleet on the streets — witness his strong runner-up finish in Detroit — and he has an uncanny knack for late braking on uneven surfaces, meaning that he’s not intimidated by a lowly start position. But doubtless he’d rather tackle this Sunday’s race from a 71st pole…

Kyle Kirkwood / No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda
It’s an extremely strange season for the young man who had the greatest junior formula results, had a fast but fractious time in his rookie IndyCar season with AJ Foyt Racing, and then won — in fact, dominated — only his third outing at the top level for Michael Andretti’s team. That Long Beach victory is not only his sole podium finish of the season, it’s his only top-five result in a dozen races. Yet he’s done enough to suggest he can be at the sharp end of the AA attack this weekend. 

Scott McLaughlin / No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet
McLaughlin returns to the scene of the second of his three pole positions in his still-young IndyCar career (below), and he has good reason to feel optimistic. He personally continues to shine between the concrete walls of temporary tracks and he also has the car to give the street course benchmark Andretti cars a sizable challenge. As well as rapid, the Kiwi’s tidy and neat, and this composure can reap huge dividends in the type of scrappy races we’ve come to expect at so-called “Crashville.” 

Christian Lundgaard / No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Last year at Nashville was when Lundgaard confirmed that Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s impressive pace at Toronto three weeks previously had been the start of a genuine surge in form on street courses, the Dane qualifying third for the second Big Machine Music City GP. Last month, of course, he famously grabbed pole and victory in Canada, so it’s not unreasonable if the IndyCar sophomore expects to be a major contender again this weekend. The margins are fine, the demands of the crew in a tight pitlane are high, but all on the No. 45 car believe in themselves and each other now.

Romain Grosjean / No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda
Looking at Grosjean’s results on street courses as a form guide is quite useless: he was taken out, an innocent victim, and finished 18th after earning pole and deserving victory at St. Petersburg. The Frenchman (below) was a strong second at Long Beach, but then had self-induced accidents at Detroit and Toronto. He can’t even console himself with memories of Nashville in 2022, for on that occasion he was side-swiped into the Turn 9 wall by Newgarden. Yet he absolutely has the talent to win this weekend, especially given the speed of his Andretti Autosport machine.

Graham Rahal / No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Still seeking his first top five of the season, Rahal does at least know that RLL should provide him with a package somewhere in the ball park. The veteran is also a smart cookie as a driver, and tends not to push beyond the limits of what is and isn’t possible. If he finds himself down a setup cul-de-sac, he won’t shunt the car trying to overachieve, but will instead glean intel from his teammates and apply it to his own efforts. His race day efforts can rarely be faulted. 

Alexander Rossi / No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet
For five straight races, this former championship contender has been unable to finish higher than 10th. And yet Rossi remains in the top 10 in championship points and should never be counted out — and as a two-time Grand Prix of Long Beach winner, especially not on a street course. That said, he may find himself looking wistfully at the performance of his former team, Andretti Autosport — or he may also bring very useful insights from that team that boosts Arrow McLaren in the Music City.

Felix Rosenqvist / No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet
His sole IndyCar win so far came on the vast open sweeps of Road America back in 2020, but Rosenqvist’s forte — in this writer’s opinion anyway — is street-course performance. He can often outpace his teammates in qualifying on a temporary course and his two podiums for Arrow McLaren have come at Toronto and Detroit. For whatever reason, he seems remarkably unlucky, too, but give him a car with a stable rear end and the Swede will get the job done. 

Linus Lundqvist / No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda
The driver who should never have been left on the sidelines this year — the reigning Indy NXT champion — is set to make his “big car” debut at one of the toughest venues of all, as former champion Simon Pagenaud misses his fifth race since his heavy Mid-Ohio shunt and Tom Blomqvist is busy on IMSA duty for Meyer Shank Racing at Road America. The good news for Lundqvist is that he knows the Nashville track, having taken pole and victory here last year (below). Nonetheless, he faces a daunting task. 

Agustin Canapino / No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet
The touring car convert remains impressive, and if the perils of this 2.1-mile course may seem particularly daunting to a Nashville newbie, remember that Canapino has faced a major learning curve on almost every race weekend this year. Note, too, that he’s already shone on street courses, with 12th-place finishes at St. Petersburg and Toronto and 14th at Detroit. Avidly watching onboard footage and learning from teammate Callum Ilott and the whole Juncos Hollinger Racing team continues to pay off.

Ryan Hunter-Reay / No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

While the 2012 IndyCar champion is searching for the one-lap pace he used to produce on a regular basis at the height of his powers, he is still a racer at heart and is hoping that having been brought into the Ed Carpenter Racing fold midseason, he can find a setup window in which he can display his old magic. Teammate Rinus VeeKay is a tough but useful benchmark, and Hunter-Reay did finish fourth on IndyCar’s Nashville debut.

The INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA is free to download and access, so don’t miss out — CLICK HERE to get started.


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