Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
It’s time to head to the Streets of Crashville… sorry, Nashville, for Round 13 of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series for the last street circuit of the year, with the championship chase potentially on, as well as pressure to get into the Leader’s Circle, there is plenty to play for in Nashville, and with the unpredictability of the event - anything can happen. But who can possibly predict a winner, so the main question is - how many cautions will we see on the streets? But before we ‘look forward’ to Nashville, let’s cast our minds back to the previous event at the much calmer Iowa Speedway, with the weekend being about one man - Josef Newgarden, who to the surprise of absolutely nobody, dominated the weekend - taking home both victories, to cut the gap at the top of the championship standings - albeit the American still a mammoth 80 point gap to Alex Palou.
But Palou had his best ever weekend on a short oval, a very respectable eighth in Race One, followed by an excellent third in Race Two, overcoming what seemed the biggest hurdle between him and his second series title. Others impressed too - the other Penske’s of Scott McLaughlin and Will Power both claimed second-place finishes, with Felix Rosenqvist agonisingly missing out on a podium spot after a late caution, in what was a very disappointing weekend for Arrow McLaren - the team still winless twelve rounds into the season.
But now, let's look ahead to the chaos of Nashville, a 2.170 mile (3.492 km) street circuit, embedded into the centre of the city - a spectacular sight, particularly when cars cross the Korean Veteran Boulevard Bridge twice in the lap - the circuit having the weird quirk of having to deploy marshals on the Cumberland River, in the highly unlikely scenario of a car flying over the bridge.
The lap starts with a left-right chicane, taken at very low speed, in a very narrow complex, with only space for a singular car. The circuit then has a left-hand kink, before a tricky right-hander brings you on to the bridge. Drivers then face an 825-metre run into the next braking zone, where drivers will be hard on the brakes, just after taking the almost flat-out right-hander at the end of the Korean Veteran Boulevard Bridge. The successive 90 degree left-hander has been the site of many incidents, as drivers try optimistic moves at the end of the bridge, or lock-up their brakes.
Following the 90-degree corner is a very narrow, single-car complex, a slow-speed right-left chicane, immediately followed by two tight left-handers, which was the site of a multi-car pile-up last year, and took Pato O’Ward out of championship contention. Drivers will then swing right back onto the other side of the bridge, and will finally be able to go back side-by-side after an enduring wait during the previous complex.
The returning side of the bridge is more forgiving - the right-hander being comfortable flat on the return, before drivers are welcomed by a very inviting left-hander, very wide on entry before dramatically narrowing on exit - being the site of many accidents, including David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood last year, as well as a fiery incident between Josef Newgarden and Romain Grosjean.
Drivers will then head down Interstate drive until they meet a 90 degree left-hander, with the final corner on Russell Street being yet another 90 degree left-hander - the sight of another huge pile-up in 2022 (I hope you’re getting the picture by now).
So, let’s try and predict what will happen in Nashville, and you wouldn’t be a genius to predict multiple cautions! The 2021 affair saw no less than NINE cautions and two red flags. The 2022 race did its best to match that figure, but ultimately failed at a pitiful EIGHT cautions, and a singular red flag… you can see where I’m going with this.
So, who might go well here? As you can imagine… it's very hard to predict. The endless caution cycle can simply elevate anyone around the pack depending on your pit strategy - which was pivotal in both Marcus Ericsson’s and Scott Dixon’s victory at the circuit - neither were the quickest on the day of their victories.
Andretti Autosport have tended to be strong at street circuits this year. Kirkwood won ahead of Grosjean in Long Beach - the latter would have likely won in St. Petersburg had he not collided with McLaughlin. Colton Herta was the class of the field in the 2021 event - and would have won, had he not thrown it away when chasing Marcus Ericsson. With Andretti’s street course form this year, they could be a strong bet, however, this is also Andretti Autosport, and all their drivers have a slight fondness for the barrier, and Nashville is plentiful in that department.
Scott McLaughlin was the class of the field last year, and lost out by less than a tenth of a second to Dixon. McLaughlin has also historically gone well around street circuits, and could be another decent bet for this weekend. Alex Palou is Mr. Consistent, and his ability to pull out a result this year has been remarkable, and you’d also be brave to bet against him in his current form.
Christian Lundgaard could also be one to keep an eye out for. He won on the last street course in Toronto, and has gone well at recent races. He was particularly strong at Nashville last year too, qualifying third, and was on for a podium, had it not been for caution number eight.
Nashville hasn’t been kind to some though. Josef Newgarden has never finished inside the Top 5 at his home race - and he wasn’t helped by contact with Grosjean in last year’s race. Arrow McLaren hasn’t had much fortune here either. Pato O’Ward has been involved in incidents in the previous two years, although Felix Rosenqvist has finished in the top eight at both events.
Ahead of the weekend, there is one driver change to make you aware of. Simon Pagenaud has been declared unfit for the fourth event running, and will be sitting out of the action. Conor Daly has been racing for Meyer Shank Racing in the ovals, with Tom Blomqvist on the road and street courses. However, Blomqvist has IMSA commitments this weekend, meaning Linus Lundqvist will make his IndyCar debut - a debut that almost all commenters will say is well overdue. Lundqvist won at Nashville in Indy Lights last year - and with the unpredictability of the circuit - Lundqvist could have the opportunity to pull out an excellent result, as teams look to him as a potential option for next year.
But, with so many potential permutations for the race, it’s very hard to accurately predict what the outcome will be - almost the complete opposite of Iowa. The tight and twisty nature of the circuit means there will be incidents, with the only predictable thing being unpredictability (as well as a multitude of cautions). Nashville will simply be a case of: Be there at the right moment, in the right place, on the right strategy, and whoever can do that best - it may not be the fastest - will be primed for victory at Nashville. So what will happen - how many cautions will there be? Will Palou either make or break his championship? Let’s sit back and wait for the Nashville chaos to unfold.