Why IndyCar chose “basic” Nashville track to replace Laguna Seca as its finale


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The unveiling of a new layout for the IndyCar Music City Grand Prix and the concurrent announcement that its championship decider will be relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, was met with a mixture of pleased and sceptical reactions.

When officials from IndyCar, Big Machine events, as well as the mayor of Nashville and the governor of Tennessee, announced the decision in a press conference on the Thursday before the race, the Nashville circuit had hosted two IndyCar events.

These races were marred by a total of 17 caution periods and three red flags. From a possible 160 laps of racing, 69 were completed behind the Safety Car. The “Crashville” tag looked hard to shake.

Perhaps that’s why, outside of IndyCar’s stakeholders, the announcement seemed to generate little excitement. It didn’t sit well with some to see IndyCar’s final race moved from a historic and beloved permanent road course like Laguna Seca to a street circuit with no history but a short and alarming track record of glorified demolition derbies.

Moreover, the new Nashville layout looks, at first glance, bland and uninspiring: Fewer complex corners and more 90-degree turns and straights, just like the new Detroit Renaissance Centre circuit. Not to mention a bizarre pit road configuration similar to that seen at some Formula E venues.

Colton Herta is one of the drivers that are eager to give the new Nashville street circuit a chance next year. Andretti Autosport’s ace driver moved to Nashville earlier this year and said the 2024 track “looks really cool.”

“Obviously from a track standpoint, it’s seven corners, right, so it’s fairly basic,” he acknowledged. “The way that the roads go – I’ve seen it, I actually saw the track layout a few weeks ago – I thought, ‘Man, it’s going to be really cool.'”

The 2024 circuit still retains the signature dash back and forth across the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge, where cars coming westbound over the bridge will have to slow down and mind the bumps in the surface as the road sweeps downhill and to the right at turn four before a tight 90-degree turn five, which will take the field through First Avenue.

“Turn four is going to be a very tough corner,” Herta added. “Braking into turn five, fast right-hander.

“That’s going to be the most difficult. I think we’ll have to see what they do. You can’t ground off bumps there because it’s coming off of the bridge. We’ve tried to work with that. You still get those big ‘bottoms’.

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“Scott McLaughlin had a big moment there last year, Jimmie [Johnson] two years ago. That’s going to be an even faster corner. You’re going to most likely be pretty much flat through it. That could make it pretty interesting, for sure.”

The familiar blast across the bridge will remain
The cars will travel along First Avenue before making a left onto Nashville’s vibrant Broadway thoroughfare, a city landmark lined with the bright lights of the city’s honky-tonk bars similar to Times Square in New York City. A left turn onto Fourth Avenue will take the cars through the start/finish line before an off-camber left-hander back onto Korean Veterans Boulevard will take the cars uphill and back eastbound across the signature bridge.

Heading in the direction of the event’s former hub, the Nashville Coliseum (current home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and Nashville Soccer Club), the cars will instead have to navigate a hairpin left-hand turn three, coming downhill off the bridge at nearly full speed before standing on the brakes for a potential overtaking opportunity.

“The track design on paper, yes, it is basic,” Herta continues. “But the bumps and stuff, the way that the streets are crowned off, it is going to make it pretty technical – even though it looks fairly basic on paper.”

“The racing should be great,” Herta continued. 90-degree slower corners leading onto a big straight. Should be able to get fairly good runs, especially if you’re on fresher tires. I do think the racing will be even better.”

“Already there’s a lot of passing at this place, but could be even better, I think.”

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At least this year’s Music City Grand Prix proved that the circuit is capable of hosting a fairly clean race. This year, only eight laps were run under a full-course caution – though the final 10 saw two incidents including a red flag for a track-blocking, multi-car crash at turn 11, a notorious hot spots for carnage on what is now the ‘old’ circuit.

The narrow, twisty section north of the bridge will be dropped
The change of layout was required to make way for the construction of a new, £1.6 billion stadium for the Titans that is scheduled to open in 2026 – less than 30 years after the construction of their current stadium.

IndyCar’s press release on Thursday promised that by incorporating more of the ‘heart’ of downtown Nashville, including Broadway, the Music City Grand Prix will also feature “a takeover of Broadway and a massive street party that only Nashville can throw, featuring live performances by many of music’s biggest artists” at the end of each day of the weekend.

The race will now take on a true festival flavour at a revised circuit whose philosophy feels more like Formula 1’s upcoming Las Vegas Grand Prix, where the series will race through Vegas’ most famous thoroughfare and landmarks.

Two-time IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden, born and raised near Nashville, is optimistic the city will serve as a great venue for a championship-deciding race. “I think we’re going to put on a really good show for the season finale,” he said.

Dwindling attendance is reported to be the reason behind IndyCar’s decision to move the finale away from Laguna Seca. The beloved venue with its signature Corkscrew turn will feature on next year’s schedule. However it tends to produce processional races.

IndyCar has used street circuits for its season finales in recent seasons. The Covid-affected 2020 and 2021 finales were held at St. Petersburg and Long Beach respectively.

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“It’s going to be chaotic which is going to be great for the fans,” said Newgarden. “You’re going to hope for a tight championship finale.

Start, Laguna Seca, IndyCar, 2021
Laguna Seca will hold this year’s finale again
“For us it’s stressful, but the fans are the winners in this thing.”

It’s not hard to see why Nashville’s new layout and elevated stature come across as a cynical, money-driven stunt from a series that, despite the undeniably high quality of its racing across multiple types of circuits, has struggled to captivate American audiences outside of the Indianapolis 500. Then again, the same was said of NASCAR’s recent race around the streets of Chicago, which turned out to be a hit among national and international audiences – despite inclement weather running the risk of it being called off entirely.

It’s possible that the IndyCar finale moving to Nashville could flop, but equally possible that it could be what propels the Music City Grand Prix to be a long-term fixture of the calendar, remembered for the right reasons this time.

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Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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18 comments on “Why IndyCar chose “basic” Nashville track to replace Laguna Seca as its finale”

  1. Coventry Climax
    8th August 2023, 12:25

    Can you blame a country with no heritage for not recognising heritage?
    Can you blame a country that’s all about the dollar for going after the dollar?

    Streets are for road cars, circuits for race cars. Streets are the reality and dullness of daily life, circuits are special.
    Better than Laguna Seca? Better for the fans? Define ‘better’ please. Likely, that would not be my definition.

    1. How pretentious of a comment.

    2. Yawn. Ever use some of the things that country made for the almighty dollar? Google, Windows, Android, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, GPS… I could go on endlessly. Maybe trying to make a buck isn’t so bad?

      1. Coventry Climax
        8th August 2023, 18:05

        Sure, some things are inevitable, like Windows, at work. Linux at home though. And Android or IOS, no other real options there.
        Apple? Google? No thanks.
        Amazon? That’s by far the most lousy site ever created.
        Social Media? Nope.
        GPS, yes, had one once, but from a european manufacturer.
        And I too, could go on.

        The point however was, before you changed it to this, that ditching Laguna Seca for a city street track is – in my view- a stupid choice, which can almost certainly only be made to not make a buck, as indeed there’s nothing wrong with that, but to make more and more and more bucks, brushing aside -my opinion- other values involved.

        1. AFAIK nobody is ditching Laguna Seca, it is still on the calendar, it is just being moved to a spring date and Nashville will be the season finale instead.

      2. Coventry Climax
        8th August 2023, 18:12

        Oh, and Don, can we leave the fish be please? Their numbers worldwide are dwindling enough already.
        Scientifically proven: They have feelings, feel pain and fear.
        Fishing is not a sport, it’s torture. Nothing to be proud of.

  2. I’d always prefer a season starting & ending at venues which are not only good tracks from a racing standpoint but which also have a great atmosphere which helps build excitement & makes the start & end of a championship season feel that extra bit special.

    I’ve always hated F1 starting in Bahrain & ending in Abu Dhabi as even though Bahrain is a decent track that can produce good racing the lack of a crowd & blandness of the location been in the middle of a desert just takes away some of the overall spectacle you get from the season starting in Melbourne. And Abu Dhabi is just an awful track that usually makes a final race title decider fall completely flat (2021 been the exception) compared to when the season ended in Brazil or Japan.

  3. More safety cars means more advertising breaks means more money. I once enjoyed Indycar, but I do not regret my decision to stop watching it a few years ago, and spending that time watching WRC instead.

    1. @ferrox-glideh WRC which may also be about to ruin itself in the name of ‘the show’ with more ‘For TV’ show over sport format changes.

      I miss when WRC used to be more of a true test of endurance featuring longer rallies, Longer stages & more unique stages rather than a made for TV shorter sprint over only 3 days with as many repeat stages as we now have.

      They brought back a Safari Rally that simply isn’t the Safari Rally & doesn’t deserve to have that name as the current iteration is just another rally rather than the truly unique & completely different test of endurance & survival that it once was.

      I think in basically every regard the WRC was a far better spectacle, Far more thrilling & just far better 25+ years ago before it got butchered for TV which ended up doing nothing but driving off both viewers & manufacturers.

      I think they are currently in the nascar spiral where the initial ‘for show’ changes drove off most the fans, Didn’t bring in newer ones but now they are just constantly bringing in more ‘for show’ changes to bring in newer fans which is not only not really working but also just driving off more of the longer term fans who don’t like what the show over sport changes are doing to it.

    2. As a result, you’re missing the best racing there is. Your loss for your misguidedness.

      1. Don, I watched Indycar and its earlier forms for decades. It has become more of a lottery than a show of driver skill.

  4. The Nashville MLS team, the Nashville Soccer Club, plays at its own new stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds not at Nissan Stadium (not Coliseum), home of the Tennessee Titans.

  5. I do not usually watch Indy but absolutely love Laguna Seca for MotoGP, it’s too bad the circuit is not up to F1 standards because I’d love to watch F1 cars doing the corkscrew.

    I am afraid the change will be much for the worse

  6. Nashville has a good buzz to it, and racing down Broadway next year will be the next thing to going down the Vegas Strip. It should be terrific!

    1. Coventry Climax
      8th August 2023, 18:23

      Should be, but isn’t and won’t be.

  7. I look forward to seeing the new layout in use & I understand Indycar’s logic to move, although I disagree. The grandstand picture in this article is very interesting because its tightly framed and its the only grandstand that was actually full at the event. There doesn’t seem to be many seating areas and all but the main one were deserted. So I’m confused about the hope and potential to draw more of a crowd as I’m not sure where these ppl are suppose to actually view the race. And its entirely possible the title is wrapped up well before the final round anyway.

  8. Makes total sense. Just watch the first 15 seconds of the 2022 Laguna Seca highlights to see why. The crowd assembled there for a title decider is abysmal. Even the tiny main straight stand is barely half full, and there are basically no meaningful stands at any other place, not even at the signature corner, the Corkscrew.

    It’s a shame in a way, because the race was great and the track is good fun to drive (even if it’s visually not very appealing with all the brown hills and typical US-track car parks around it).

  9. Laguna Seca is one of the best circuits in IndyCar.

    Not sure if any improvements make it better than the former crash-fest at Nashville. Better or boring? But it is not Laguna Seca for sure.

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