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TN-KYLE KIRKWOOD WINS 3RD ANNUAL BIG MACHINE MUSIC CITY GP


Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Motorsports took his second-ever Indycar victory today after winning a sweltering Music City GP. Both of his wins have come on street circuits, having won earlier this year at the Long Beach GP. In 2nd place, trailing by 0.76 seconds was Team Penske's Scott McLaughlin.



Series points leader Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing claimed the final podium position finishing 1.72 seconds behind Kirkwood. Nashvillian Josef Newgarden finished 4th, unable to close the points gap to leader Palou, who maintains an 80+ point lead with 4 races to go in the season. Notably, last year's winner, Scott Dixon, made his 318th career start, tying him with Tony Kanaan for the most IndyCar starts ever.


The Music City Grand Prix, in its 3rd year, never fails to provide challenges and surprises. In its first 2 years, the race has averaged 8.5 caution periods per race, earning it the nickname "Crashville'' among the drivers. The racecourse is laid out over city streets, Nissan Stadium parking lots, and the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge. Race drivers describe it as a highly technical course with multiple pavement surface changes, bumps, seven 90-degree left turns, four 90-degree right turns, 160 mph+ top speeds, and over 70 ft of elevation changes. Adding to the challenges this weekend was the weather. Rain on Friday left a very green, still slightly damp track in places, for Friday practice.




I spoke with McLaren's Pato O'Ward after this session and asked him which was going to be the preferred race tire for Sunday. He told me that they just couldn't tell at this point; there just wasn't enough information. This turned out to be the only dry practice session as Saturday practice was in the rain and final practice was canceled. This meant that none of the teams had any long-run data on the tires and tire strategy for the race would be best-guess.


Saturday's qualifying session was pushed late after rain earlier in the day. Temperature was 88 degrees with 86% humidity and a track temperature of 96 degrees. The track would continue to cool and "rubber-up" and get faster. I was looking for times in the 1:14s and wasn't disappointed. Group 1 saw McLaughlin, Dixon, Malukas, Rossi, Newgarden and Lundqvist go through to the Fast 12. This was quite a pleasant surprise for the rookie Linus Lundqvist, in his very 1st IndyCar race, filling in for the injured Simon Pagenaud. Group 2 saw Herta, Kirkwood, Palou, O'Ward, Grosjean and Power go through.


The shocker here was the elimination of Marcus Ericsson, the 2021 MCGP champion. Round 2 saw a very rare mistake and crash by Scott Dixon with 18 seconds left in the session leaving him starting from 12th position. Dixon said afterward that the track's sudden "grippiness" had caught him out somewhat. Palou took the very unusual strategy of running the primary tires during qualifying. He laughed afterward and said that they had tried it once earlier in the season and it didn't work out then either, but maybe they'd still try it again sometime. Meanwhile, Scott McLaughlin was untouchable, leading into the Fast 6 and winning pole position with a time of 1:14.6099. He said he loves this track and it sure looked like it.


Earlier, during the rainy practice, after drifting the IndyCar around the slick course, he got out of the car and proclaimed it to be great fun. Qualifying order for Sunday's race: 1) McLaughlin 2) O'Ward 3)Herta 4) Palou 5) Malukas 6 Grosjean 7 Power 8 Kirkwood 9) Newgarden 10) Rossi 11) Lunqvist) 12) Dixon



Race Day: The rain disappeared on Sunday and the sun was out. The temperature was 86 degrees at the race start with 70% humidity and a track temperature of 111 degrees. Indycar officials have mandated that all cars have ventilation scoops attached to the top of the cars' windscreens to direct airflow onto the drivers to help cool them. Otherwise, the temperature inside the cockpit will rise to the track temperature or higher. After a wave-off of the initial start, the race got underway, with McLaughlin leading the early laps, followed by O'Ward, Herta, and Palou.




Lap 15 saw the race's 1st real caution period and it was due to a mechanical failure when the rear wing detached itself from Malukas' racecar. Alex Palou took this opportunity to pit and get off of the alternate (soft) tires and onto the more durable hards. Pitting this early was built into their race strategy, based on the history of multiple yellows at Nashville. As we shall see, this almost backfired on them.


On the restart, Herta's alternate tires had lost grip and he basically got mugged, getting passed by multiple cars and banged into the wall before pitting on lap 16. O'Ward was asked on the radio if he could stay out for 10 more laps and he stays out but is passed by Grosjean, Kirkwood, and Power before pitting on lap 23. McLaughlin, also on alternates, began to lose pace around lap 24 and pitted on lap 25, only to exit the pits into traffic. Meanwhile, Kirkwood's race strategist Bryan Herta had made the decision to start on primary tires which, on a hot track, were now in their window for good lap times and Kirkwood was able to stay out until lap 29.


A good stop and he was able to exit the pits ahead of McLaughlin and he was now on the alternate tire, which should be faster, for a while. On lap 45, Palou pitted again, getting a long fill from the fuel tank. For him to get to the end of this race without another stop, some laps under caution will be needed and so far, only the one caution period has occurred. Kirkwood made his final stop for fresh primary tires on lap 52 with McLaughlin doing the same one lap later. After pitting Kirkwood and McLaughlin were in 4th and 5th positions with Palou following in 6th.


The leading cars had not yet pitted, so this was the effective running order for the lead of the race. By lap 65, Palou and his race strategist, Barry Wanzer, were on the radio discussing the need for a final splash-and-go fuel stop. If they did this, the Spaniard would emerge from the pits in 15th place or so and take a big hit in his championship lead. As luck would have it, the rookie Lundqvist saved Palou by crashing into the wall in Turn-11 on lap 70 bringing out a full-course caution. Lundqvist made the tiniest of mistakes after sweltering in his cockpit for over 40 laps without a ventilation scoop that had vibrated off the car earlier.




By this time the track temperature (and the temperature in a non-ventilated racecar) was 123 degrees. As they say, cautions breed cautions and on lap 75 a 3-car pile-up in Turn-11 of Rosenquist, Pederson, and Canapino resulted in a red-flag situation while officials tried to clear the carnage. Drivers were forced to sit in those 125-degree cockpits for several minutes before the race was able to get underway again.


When the green flag flew with 3 laps to go, Kirkwood got an excellent jump on the field. Passing was extremely difficult by this time due to the amount of tire marbles that had built up off of the racing line. McLaughlin was able to close up on the final lap, but from the final pit stop, the outcome never really looked in doubt. This is the 2nd consecutive year Scotty Mac has finished second. Nashville is known for its bridesmaids and he won't like being the poster child.


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