Colton Herta led the opening practice Friday for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, taming the varied corners and considerable bumps of the challenging street circuit for this new NTT INDYCAR SERIES event.
Herta’s best lap was one minute, 16.5875 seconds in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda around the 11-turn, 2.17-mile temporary street circuit that includes two trips over the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge per lap.
“We’re just getting to grips with the track,” Herta said. “Obviously, we came here with a really good package. We were fast right away, and I felt very comfortable getting up to speed.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking, the first time you have to go flat over the bridge with the bumps because the last thing you want to do is for the car to bottom and you send it into the wall on a straight; you kind of look stupid with that. The simulations we did beforehand were on point for what we expected, and it made my job a lot easier.”
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon was second at 1:16.9653 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda. Rookie Romain Grosjean was third at 1:17.1305 in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda.
2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi was fourth at 1:17.1742 in the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, and Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top five at 1:17.2168 in the No. 8 Bryant Honda.
Honda-powered drivers took the top six spots on the time sheet during the 75-minute session. Series points leader Alex Palou was sixth at 1:17.2264 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda.
Track action resumes at 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday with a 45-minute practice, with NTT P1 Award qualifying following at 4:30 p.m. Both sessions will be live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s streaming service. The 80-lap race starts at 5:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday, live on NBCSN.
The 27-car field – the biggest outside of the Indianapolis 500 in the series since 2013 – took its time getting up to speed on the fascinating new circuit, which includes sweeping corners around the paddock complex, two long straights over the Cumberland River and a tight section in downtown Nashville. But two drivers still had unplanned meetings with concrete retaining walls or tire barriers.
Championship contender Pato O’Ward opened his weekend with a small setback when he crashed in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet 22 minutes into the session. O’Ward’s right front wheel clipped the barrier in Turn 3, which leads to the bridge, which then pitched the car into the barrier on the other side of the circuit.
O’Ward climbed from the car without injury, and the left front wheel/suspension assembly and left front wing suffered moderate damage. O’Ward is second in the series standings, 39 points behind leader Alex Palou.
“I got caught out by the inside wall in Turn 3,” O’Ward said. “I’ll be fine, man. I love this place. What a cool track. The damage doesn’t seem to be too bad. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
The retaining wall also collected Conor Daly with four minutes to go. The rear wheels of Daly’s No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet locked up as he braked for Turn 9 exiting the bridge, and the right side of car slid into the tire barrier. Daly climbed without assistance from the car, which suffered moderate damage.