Making the Changes Fans Wanted

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The much-maligned street course used in the Inaugural Music City Grand Prix last August is getting a few tweaks for 2022. Last year’s crash-filled race brought out nine cautions and two red flags. The race featured two signature moments in my mind, and neither were very good. One is that of Colton Herta crashing with six laps remaining, after completely dominating most of the afternoon (and early evening). The other is that of eventual winner Marcus Ericsson flying over the car of Sébastien Bourdais on a restart. Both of these incidents may or may not have been caused by the very tight confines of the track.

Fortunately, the officials have listened and the complaints from fans (and probably drivers) did not fall on deaf ears.

Several changes to the track and the event were announced on Monday. One of the biggest changes is what we all thought should be the case throughout the weekend last year – all restarts will take place at the starting line coming off of the bridge, as the cars are headed back to the east bank.

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With the suites behind the pits bringing a hefty sum of revenue, event organizers thought it would be a good selling point to have the race finish on the stretch behind the football stadium, with the finish line being the fifty yard-line. OK, I get that, but for some reason – someone thought it would be a great idea to have all restarts take place in that very crowded area around the stadium. You can go back and watch a replay of the race and realize that was not a great idea.

With the area coming off of the bridge offering one of the few passing zones, you would have thought that they would have come up with this idea last year. Fortunately, they realize a mistake was made and they are taking steps in Year Two to rectify things.

So now, the line that theoretically extends from the fifty yard-line will serve only as the finish line, and it will never be the starting line for anything. That’s a wise move.

Another wise move is that the Turn Eleven apex is being opened approximately six feet, to not only increase the track width but to provide better vision for drivers. This was one of the big problem spots last year – especially on restarts that have now been moved to the bridges. But any track widening that occurs in that area is a good thing.

Another positive move is that the transition areas at both ends of the Korean Veterans Bridge are being smoothed out as much as possible to reduce the potential of the cars bottoming coming on and off the bridge. Also, they are resurfacing the area around the Turn Five apex to minimize the noticeable bump there.

What may not be such a great move is that the Turn Nine area (where Herta crashed last year) is being narrowed to fifty feet to accommodate some new suites being built in the prime passing area. My concern is that the area may not be so prime, if they are narrowing the track there. Turn Nine is the first left-hander than drivers navigate after coming off of the bridge. I don’t know of any turns on that course that needed to be narrowed.

There are two more changes that don’t affect the racing, but will certainly help the fan experience. First, they are apparently increasing crossing areas. This is huge, because last year, there were only two crossing areas with cars on track – an area south of the pits with a narrow foot bridge that everyone had to use, and I do mean everyone. I saw Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi both using that bridge at different times. As you can imagine, it stayed backed up most of the weekend. The other was a bridge in the Turn Ten area that gave people access to the hospitality area. The press release did not say where these crossing areas would be, but anything will be helpful.

Lastly, the starting time for the race has been moved up. Due to last year’s Olympics, the race did not start until after 4:30 pm CDT. With nine caution periods and two red flags, it was practically dark when the race ended. TV cameras can produce some magic when you open up the iris. I noticed that when we watched the replay. But I will assure you – anyone who was onsite will tell you that it was near dark when the checker flags waved.

This year’s race starts at a much more fan-friendly 2:00 pm CDT. Darkness will not be a problem at all, this year.

Tickets went on sale last week, and they are reportedly selling very well. I’ve heard reports of some of the stands with the best views are already sold out, but I don’t know that for certain. One thing I do know – those that came last year had a blast, regardless of the quality of the racing. This year, race officials have done a good job of listening to the fans, and making the necessary changes. Will they work? Time will tell. Most likely, some will work better than others. But give them credit for trying to make this a great event in my hometown.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Making the Changes Fans Wanted”

  1. Yes, these look like improvements for sure. Our tickets are sorted [MusicCity were excellent in sorting them at a distance as we are in the UK] and we’re looking forward to great weekend…..

  2. I like most of the changes, but narrowing turn 9 is a head scratcher.

  3. “Darkness will not be a problem at all, this year.”
    i will steal that sentence as motivation for 2022.
    thanks.

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