CM – IndyCar’s new Nashville route looks tight, a little sketchy

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But the track designer says cars can’t fall off the bridge into the river, which is comforting.

In recent history, new IndyCar races on street circuits have taken a very special path: an exciting announcement of one ambitious new race, the unveiling of a questionable track layout, a first race full of shaky reviews of a poorly thought-out track and a quick end after just a few years of racing. This cycle dates back to 2007 and once used up promising street races in San Jose, Sao Paulo, Baltimore, and Houston, as well as a questionable permanent street course in New Orleans. The brand new race this weekend on the streets of Nashville promises to be a more sustainable and permanent event, but the first day of test drives raised some questions about the track design.

The route is divided into two parts, a relatively straight road from right angles through the parking lot outside the Tennessee Titans Stadium and a much narrower, Baku-like complex at the opposite end of the river. The parking lot section is nothing new, but the narrow section across the river can be a little more problematic.

On-board recordings from today’s exercises show that these corners, which in the original track layout that counts from the start, are numbered 4 to 8 of those that count from the finish line, numbered 7 to 11 are, in their place about a lane and a half width have narrowest points. The braking zones are relatively narrow, the corner exits are particularly merciless and the straights are so short that the entire complex can be driven without real hope of another car. If a car spun in these sections, it would block the track, which will be instantly familiar to anyone who remembers the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix. Thankfully, the Nashville track has at least no train tracks or temporary baffles for cars to jump over.

Head to @ColtonHerta to understand the bumpy crossings on and off the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge. # INDYCAR // #MusicCityGP pic.twitter.com/tgLJUkDIzo

However, there is a particularly rough bump at the seam just before Turn 7, where the field shifts from the ultra-fast bridge to the narrowest paved section of the route. This could make one of the best places to overtake the track on race day especially questionable, while the bumps in the track in general will force teams to switch to a softer and compromising set-up like most teams use on Belle Isle.

But bumps also mean the risk of losing control. One driver, Conor Daly, blocked his rear wheels over such a bump in a braking zone and landed him late in the first practice session in the tires that protected the outer wall.

The footage on board is not all bad news. When the route was announced, two long straights stood out at either end of a bridge connecting both sides of downtown Nashville. Apart from the transition bumpers, it looks absolutely sensational. It’s even better for the audience, who can see both sides of the drama directly from the starting stand.

. @ PatricioOWard hit the wall hard in row 3. He was seen and released by the medical team. Practice 1 is green again. # INDYCAR // #MusicCityGP // @ArrowMcLarenSP pic.twitter.com/244O5D0lDC

In practice, championship contender Pato O’Ward knocked in one of the closer ones High-speed turns onto one inside wall, instantly broke that suspension curve and snapped O’Ward’s car back into the other wall. It’s the type of crash that drivers could become very familiar with over the course of the race weekend. He went on to tell NBC Sports that the bumps at Turn 4 were labeled « violent, » but despite the crash, he didn’t really see it as a problem.

Simulator runs performed by individual teams prior to the race weekend, seem to indicate that this very narrow track will work for full contact racing between a field of IndyCars. If the race goes as planned, an expected sell-out and a month of hugely successful promotions around the event should ensure it continues for at least the next few years.

Of course, racing across a river raises some questions about cars, who go into this river. Track designer Tony Cotman told Racer yesterday that these concerns were unfounded, claiming that the barriers installed on the track were designed to prevent a car from entering the water. Divers are ready when a car actually flies over a fence, which is at least reassuring.

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