Despite being a resounding success, the NTT IndyCar Series’ debut on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee ran into several problems last year.
A crowd of 60,000 people and the most watched IndyCar race on cable television in at least two decades showed up last year to witness the first batch of hot laps with a city known for hot chicken, backing up Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles’ assertion that “Nashville is clearly the most popular city in America for sports and big events” .
But the first event also had its first year bugs with crowd control and some malfunctioning facilities. Water seeping onto the track from an overflowing air conditioner in the suite could actually spin one car and cause a long delay mid-race to clean up.
This was among nine warnings on 33 of 80 laps in a race that lasted almost two and a half hours.
Of course there were memorable moments, notably Markus Eriksson winning after taking off on lap 5 (and then overtaking Colton Herta on pole, who crashed while chasing the lead in the dominant car), but there were also enough traffic jams and congestion on the track to guarantee some alterations.
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NBC Sports recently interviewed Tony Cotman, head of consulting firm NZR, which has led the design and construction of the Music City Grand Prix for the past two years.
According to Cotman’s review, here are some of the significant changes that were made during the second year at Nashville’s 11-turn, 2.1-mile track:
– The biggest change is the new restart area, which will now be a long straight exit from the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge and turn 9. Last year it was used for the start, but the restarts were on the start-finish line.
Start and all restarts will now take place at the exit of the bridge at turn 9, which IndyCar sees as the best opportunity to pass.
The pole sitter and leaders will have the power to decide when they step on the accelerator to bring the field to the green flag, which is likely to happen around the top of the bridge (IndyCar wants most of the 26-car field to go through the turn). 8 when green flies). Push to pass will become active after three turns (or about half a lap) when the field crosses the finish line.
While it’s IndyCar’s decision to move the restart area, Cotman said it’s fully supported by the Music City Grand Prix promoters who lobbied for a restart area on the bridge last year because it’s in view of most spectators watching from the stands and suites.
“I think that when you come down from the bridge, it’s not only a sight, but also the best turn to pass,” Cotman said.
The corner of Turn 9 was also narrowed from 85 feet to 60 feet by the construction of a new compound in front of the Exxon gas station to the left of drivers entering the turn.
Being closer to 90 degrees instead of a tight turn, the new radius should be safer (with less chance of side-spin head-on collisions) and slower, which can result in more passing through a larger braking zone.
The new restart zone should also avoid the bottlenecks that were created when the pitch was bunched into and out of Turn 11. Eriksson took to the air after colliding with Sebastien Bourdais due to limited visibility.
“I just think you just need a few angles to sort yourself out,” Cotman said. “We see it in every race. Launches and restarts, everyone is trying to make money. And (the area) in front of the stadium (at the finish line) is narrow. Although turns 1 and 2 are quite wide for a street circuit, they are still narrow.
“When several cars are parked next to each other, someone just has to make a small mistake, block the brake, and you get what you had last year. I think there will be more nose to tail in front of the stadium. I’m not saying people won’t get through because they’ll still be diving there, but I think it will be a little more organized. It’s just a couple of turns, but at least they’ll have a chance to try before they get there. And from a viewer’s point of view, it’s better.”
– Turn 11, the last corner that exits in front of Nissan Stadium, has been widened 4 feet at the top to provide better cornering.
“It was a pretty sharp turn and someone could turn around and not see it,” Cotman said. “If you’re spinning and the car is 16 feet long and the track is 30 feet wide, it doesn’t leave you much room, especially when parking in the middle.”
– About 100 feet of walkways on both sides of the bridge have been repaired to provide a smoother ride. The cars probably won’t lower as much, especially at the entrance to the city center at Turn 4, but Cotman also noted that this is a “catch-22″ because teams will keep lowering their cars as a result. You can make it as smooth as you want and they will still find bumps, but it’s definitely an improvement.”
– The large ledge at turn 5 has been reshaped to make it easier to get uphill through the right turn that leads into the corner.
– No significant changes to the pit lane, which can accommodate up to 28 cars with 40-foot stalls, but IndyCar has lowered the speed limit from 45 mph to 40 mph (about 3 seconds more than the length of the pit lane).
– Kotman said that the other changes to the track would mostly go unnoticed. Race control has been moved to the paddock from under the stadium, where radio reception was hampered last year. In addition, spectator gates were added at the Grand Prix and work was done with staff to avoid some “First Year Issues” (e.g. spectator fences breached, suites leaking onto the track).
“There were some stupid things that had to be corrected,” Kotman said. “I’m sure this year will be much better.”
A new “upscale tiered set” was also built in Turn 3.
The track has been built over the past three weeks by a 15-man crew in Nashville, working Sunday through Thursday from 8pm to 5am (no work on Friday and Saturday due to downtown traffic).
The FIA-approved barrier system was built by the Swiss company Geobrugg, which has supplied mobile debris barriers for many other famous circuits around the world (Spa, Red Bull Ring, Mugello, Estoril, Imola and others). The Nashville system consists of 2,150 debris barriers and panels, including 650 custom-made for the bridge and its single center line.
Nashville marked Geobrugg’s street circuit debut and the company has since been hired to help run the new F1 Grand Prix in Miami.