Do The Two-Step (2021 Music City Grand Prix Review)

This weekend showed the best of INDYCAR…as well as some of the most unfavorable parts of the series. There is no doubt that the inaugural Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville put on a show. What I still can’t figure out is: what type of a show it was. Was it a spectacular show of racing and entertainment, or was it a shit show? One the one hand, if you over look the yellow and red flags, the ultimate racing product was a great show and the whole weekend kept race fans on their feet. However you really can’t overlook the numerous crashes can you? 

Ten minutes into the start of the first practice, it was clear what the drivers were facing. The turns were extremely narrow and tight. Ninety-degree turns in a very narrow street course means crashes every time cars are on track. That’s exactly what happened. I don’t believe I can give an accurate count of the number of crashes that happened. Luckily, they tended to be one-car incidents (more on the ones during the race later). It was also just a rough and tumble course, certainly all street courses are, but you could really see the steering wheel trying to fly out of the driver’s hands. Here’s how you know the course is just too narrow and rough: practice session two was going to end with the drivers getting one more timed lap. The green flag flew and chaos ensued. C-H-A-O-S. 

I don’t want to spend too much time on qualifications. Just enough to say that Colton Herta gave a fantastic performance. He put down flyer laps on primary tires, and only switched to the quicker alternate tires in the last round. It’s no wonder he clenched the pole position. On the other end of qualifying would be Jimmie Johnson and Josef Newgarden. Johnson wrecked his car on the instal lap of the first found of qualifying, bringing out the red flag and severely hindering the rest of the drivers in that group. Then…poor Josef in his hometown race he crashed during the second round ultimately qualifying in 12th place. Sadly his luck continued to suck the rest of the weekend including a broken tow-link on the first lap of the race that he actually never got fixed (seriously!). 

So onto the race. How do you recap this race? Talk through every caution? Focus on the end? Cry for a few minutes and move on to focus on the next race? The whole race can be wrapped up with this statement: the driver who won the race had a big crash on Lap 5 where his car was up in the air, then served a drive-through and a restart at the back of the field penalty. Yes – that driver won. This was a race where it was equal parts luck and skill (some may say luck weighed heavily than skill). So who had more luck versus skill? 

As far as the unlucky drivers, there were a lot. Sebastian Bourdais suffered the hit by Marcus Ericsson and was out of the race on Lap 5. Dalton Kellett continued to have horrible luck (or perhaps skill) by first having a single-car incident on the first lap by spinning his car, then later in the race he attempted to avoid hitting Scott McLaughlin and failed. It quite truthfully was an unlucky race for all of the Penske Team. Josef suffering a horrible qualification and then the broken tow link on Lap 5.  Scott McLaughlin and Simon Pagenaud both were caught in incidents with their other Team Penske teammate – Will Power – though the incidents never took them out of the race. The incident between Pagenaud and Power was just spectacular and involved approximately twelve cars caught behind them in a true traffic jam. Rinus VeeKay, despite a really awesome cowboy hat, found himself with a bucking bronco of a car and lost control of it quite a few times. 

I do have two unskilled drivers. Jimmie Johnson was disqualified for unapproved work during a red flag. This was not a simple change tires, add gasoline. They had the car in pieces and the series said “nope”. Then Cody Ware was disqualified for failure to maintain a competitive speed. Anyone remember the last time that happened? 

Who was the luckiest driver? Hands down Marcus Ericsson to come back from a Lap 5 crash and two penalties to win. I’d also put James Hinchcliffe in that category as well. He drove quite well, but he found some luck with pit cycles as well. Of course someone has to be the unluckiest, and that would be Colton Herta. Though the unluckiest he was the most skilled. Herta gave a show the whole weekend. He got the track down immediately and showed speed and ability. He was passing where other drivers weren’t. He led the race with style getting great starts and restarts. The final ten laps of his race were just fantastic to watch he and Ericsson battle out on the track. It truly was a battle: Ericsson had the speed on the long straight aways across the bridge, but Herta was out braking Ericsson on every corner and would catch right up to him and then hit a straight away. Sadly, and I mean truly sadly, Herta’s luck ran out and he crashed into the wall on Turn 9. Watching him in the AMR Safety vehicle was heart breaking, you could just see the pure anguish and disappointment on his face. Quick shout-out to the AMR team as one of them stood kind in between the camera and the window and just talked with Herta. That was nice. 

One last point of discussion would be the overall first-year kerfuffles that the race suffered. The biggest issue would be that until Sunday morning not all of the grandstands were built. If you happened to have seats in those stands you were shuffled about until your seat was constructed. Irritating? Yes. Something that should not happen: also yes. I’ve heard multiple stories, one of them being that the track didn’t get access to the site until the Tuesday of the race. True or not, it’s the whole idea that piss poor planning on someone else’s part does not constitute an emergency on my part. Unfortunately for those with grandstand seats it did. However the track is rectifying the situation with refunds to those seat holders, so good on them. 

As far as other common first-year issues: the track did well. There was a lot of food options in every area of the track (and I am sure I walked the whole track multiple times per my pedometer!) as well as numerous bathrooms. Outside of having the grandstand seats, it’s vitally important to have enough food and restroom facilities: Nashville did. I would challenge the track next year to pay more attention to the positioning of their viewing screens. Quite a few were positioned facing…nothing. Additionally those of us in GA seating had limited areas where we could see a screen. This is however things they can easily fix for the race next year. 

What type of show was it? Personally, as much as I would like to overlook the spectacular crashes, it was a shit show. There were glimpses though of a great race in the making. Perhaps widen the track a bit in a few areas, and next year we’ll have a hell of a race. I’m excited to see it next year.