Scott Dixon has finished second at a wild inaugural Nashville Music City Grand Prix at the famed city’s new street circuit. The result sees Dixon leap up to second position in the championship standings, in a race where things didn’t go the way of the other main championship challengers.
It was an action-packed race, punctuated by a long string of safety cars, two red flag, and an early finish. Polesitter Colton Herta dominated much of the event, but numerous poor strategy calls plunged him down the order as the race wore on. It created a fascinating run to the flag, Herta climbing from eighth place all the way to second. Herta looked likely to steal the lead from Marcus Ericsson, only for him to crash out with just five laps to go.
This forced a late red-flag and a subsequent two-lap race to the flag; Dixon facing off against Ericsson. In the end Ericsson was able to survive at the front; claiming his second race win of the season — recovering from a spectacular crash earlier in the race, no less. Video of the crash can be seen below.
It was a chaotic race for Scott McLaughlin; the former Supercars champ finishing outside the top 20. After showing pace and benefitting from a few strategy calls, McLaughlin’s race was ruined by two spins; the first dropping him down the pack and the second (caused by contact from teammate Will Power) resulting in a long pit-stop for repairs.
Mixed fortunes in qualifying saw the two IndyCar Series Kiwis starting at opposite ends of the grid; Dixon from second and McLaughlin from 23rd. Dixon slotted into third off the start behind Herta and a brave late-diving Alexander Rossi. An exciting opening lap ended somewhat prematurely with the stationary, stalled car of Dalton Kellet. This prompted the race’s first caution.
McLaughlin gained two spots off the first lap, while at the front Herta, Rossi, and Dixon led Romain Grosjean, Felix Rosenqvist, and Pato O’Ward. McLaughlin soon improved to 17th, after a bizarre incident just after the green flag waved. It was business as usual up front, but further back a spectacular crash unfolded involving Sebastien Bourdais and Ericsson.
The pairing came together nose to tail, sending Ericsson’s car skywards. Everyone behind them scattered, including McLaughlin, as the race briefly flicked into green-flag conditions before going under safety car once again. Ironically Ericsson was able to press on after getting a new nose-cone, while Bourdais was forced to retire.
The race restarted again on lap nine, and finally the race was able to settle into some green-flag rhythm. Herta bolted, quickly building a two-second gap, with Rossi, Dixon, and Grosjean all separated by about a second a piece.
McLaughlin lost a spot to Takuma Sato, as the mid-field battle grew more tense, before spinning on lap 16 following contact with Ed Jones. The Kiwi reported that the car didn’t have any damage; Jones making an opportunistic dive late coming off the bridge. This prompted a third safety car, with quick recovery from the marshals helping McLaughlin recover without losing a lap. Jones was eventually handed a penalty.
A flurry of drivers decided to pit, one being series leader Alex Palau (having spent most of the race in ninth) and another being McLaughlin. Dixon and the rest of the top five stayed out; meeting the green flag on lap 20. But, they didn’t have to wait long for the race to once again be suspended — this time by a red flag.
The stoppage was caused by a sudden ambitious dive from Will Power on Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud has been balked by a slightly premature jump from the restart. Pagenaud being wide saw him go straight into the tyre wall at turn one. This blocked the track, and halted Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jimmie Johnson, and everyone that had peeled off for a pit-stop minutes prior to stop (including Palau and McLaughlin). Surprisingly few drivers took on damage, as most were able to stop without hitting anything.
A lengthy delay ensued. The race eventually resumed around 20 minutes later with just 23 laps completed. Dixon was still third, and Herta was still absolutely flying. by lap 25 he had 3.4 seconds in hand over Rossi and Herta. McLaughlin meanwhile was up to 17th, having benefited from some of the casualties of the red-flag crash.
As quickly as the race had restarted, another safety car ensued. Rinus Veekay, having already gone a few laps down due to damage sustained in the red-flag shunt, crashed by himself at the safety car. This was bad news for Herta, Rossi, and Dixon at the front. It was a win for those who had stopped earlier in the race, and ensured that all the lead runners would lose their track position.
Rather, it would’ve been bad news, but for very slow speeds behind the safety car for the rest of the field (due to the location of Veekay’s crashed car). Instead of coming out at the bottom of the top 10, Herta emerged all the way up in third, Dixon meanwhile was seventh. Ericsson, after his scary shunt, was in the lead over Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Herta, Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, Jack Harvey, and Dixon in ninth. McLaughlin, meanwhile, was 15th.
The race resumed on lap 37, with Herta and Rossi wasting no time in being aggressive. The duo both passed Hinchcliffe at turn eight, with Herta immediately latching onto the back of former champ Hunter-Reay. By lap 40, the race’s halfway point, Herta and Rossi had both got by Hunter-Reay to sit second and third. An on-track pass on Ericsson looked like it was moments away, until yet another caution on lap 41.
This time, it was for the stricken car of McLaughlin. Sitting 15th, the Kiwi was spun into the Nashville concrete by teammate Power. He initially made minor nose contact, before also copping a front-end whack from Kellett. The time in pit-lane put him more than 10 laps down, and further strategic implications were to result for the leaders. Talk was also starting to emerge about whether the race would go the full distance. The sun was setting, shadows from the surrounding buildings were long, and the race was well behind its timed schedule. Adding to the wild mix of storylines was the discovery of a huge puddle of water on track. This only caused more delays.
Lap 45, under caution, was a critical one. Herta stayed out, and Ericsson, Rossi, Dixon, and a raft of others pitted. The hope from the latter was that the race wasn’t likely to complete its full 80 laps. Although it was becoming clear that the running order meant increasingly little, Herta nevertheless stayed out front ahead now of Newgarden, Daly, Harvey, Grosjean, O’Ward, and Pagenaud. In eighth was Ericsson, the first driver to have pitted. Dixon was 11th; gaining a few spots by virtue of a curious pit-stop with no tyre change. Dixon had only done four green laps on his tyre-set and around the tight course track position was king.
The race restarted on lap 51 surrounded with uncertain circumstances. Rossi’s chances of victory were killed after a huge dive under brakes from O’Ward while the pair were battling for eighth, at the same corner that had caused the red-flag earlier. It looked like the race might not have gone under caution, but O’Ward was unable to get his car re-fired and yet another safety car period was summoned.
The melee elevated Dixon up to ninth, and then he promptly moved up to sixth when a swag of drivers peeled out of the top 10 for pit-stops. This included Herta; the Andretti pilot making his inevitable final pit-stop, dropping behind all of those he had been battling earlier on. Leading now was Grosjean, ahead of Ericsson, Hinchcliffe, and Hunter-Reay.
Dixon, despite his older tyres, wasn’t taking prisoners. At the end of the first lap under green he was third, leaping by Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe in rapid succession to sit third. Yet again, green-flag running was paused by another safety car on lap 56 for the stalled, spun car of Cody Ware. With Grosjean pitting under safety car, Dixon was up to second to Ericsson.
The race for the win was far from over for Herta. By lap 60 he was up to third, with a pass on Dixon seemingly imminent. And, with 19 laps to go, Herta was by the defending champion. It set up a fabulous, tense fight between Ericsson and Herta in the dying laps; the latter showing plenty of mongrel over radio in his push to claim the win. Despite his red tyres being long in the tooth though, Ericsson was keen to fight. His Ganassi Honda also appeared to have much more straight-line speed than Herta’s Andretti Honda.
It came to a head on lap 11, when Herta dived from miles back under brakes at the end of the back straight. The former leader locked his tyres and madly wrestled with the steering wheel to both avoid Ericsson and to avoid the concrete wall on corner exit. He didn’t hit either, but the moment cost him almost two seconds. This swung the balance in Ericsson’s favour. This was until eight laps to go, when it was confirmed to Ericsson that he was low on fuel. His margin to Herta appeared to immediately take a half-second dive.
Having resisted all sorts of pressure all day and having rebounded from all of the day’s prior setbacks, Herta’s run of incredible speed came to an end just five laps away from the finish; the formerly dominant racer crashing hard at nine all by himself having locked his inside tyres. The race was subsequently red flagged a second time, in an attempt to finish the race (all of its original 80 laps) with a grandstand sprint.
The race ended up boiling down to a two-lap sprint; Ericsson versus Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, and Graham Rahal. After all the drama early on, the last two laps were comparatively pedestrian. Ericsson was unshakable at the front; quickly building a one-second gap over Dixon, who himself was comfortably ahead of Hinchcliffe. In the end, the top five didn’t change; Ericsson winning by 1.5 seconds.
Dixon and Hinchcliffe rounded out the podium, ahead of Hunter-Reay, Rahal, and Ed Jones. Series leader Palau could only muster seventh place, seeing his points lead over Dixon slashed as the series enters its home stretch. Palau has 410 points against his name, with Dixon now just 42 points behind (having been 56 points behind heading into the event). Ericsson’s win, meanwhile, sees him rise to fifth in the standings, 79 points behind Palau.
Rosenqvist, Helio Castroneves, and Newgarden completed the top 10. McLaughlin ended up classified in 22nd.