The NTT IndyCar Series is going to Tennessee this coming weekend for the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the Nashville streets. Because it is a first-time event on a temporary street course that’s in the midst of build-up, there are very few ways for drivers to prepare for their 80 laps around the 2.17-mile layout, aside from the obligatory track walk with engineers prior to the first, single Friday practice session. There is a second, Saturday practice prior to qualifying for Sunday’s event.
circuit was designed by Tony Cotman who has been a vital track designer of these street courses for the past few decades. His most recent design prior to this was the Baltimore street circuit a decade ago. The signature segment of the 11-turn layout will see cars racing across the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge, which stretches across the Cumberland River, connecting East Nashville with the city’s downtown core. The track also includes the area around Nissan Stadium, home to the Tennessee Titans football club.
Preparation is vital for any race but even more so for a first-time, unseen temporary street circuit like Nashville. With Honda leading Chevrolet in the engine manufacturer points – which is most important to each manufacturer – by a scant margin of 28 points, the Japanese manufacturer’s Indianapolis offices are in high demand? Why, you might ask? Honda Performance Development (HPD), the motorsports arm of Honda devised the Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulator several years ago to assist its corps of racers in their preparation for competing on both familiar and prreviously-untested circuits.
The HPD simulator offers both teams and drivers the chance to replicate on-track situations and test chassis setups, aerodynamics, engine mapping and development paths in a cost-effective environment. Some of the situations a driver might experience using the DIL simulator include changing track conditions, variations in ambient temperatures, tire grip and wind speed and direction.
Former Formula One racer Romain Grosjean is the latest driver to run virtual Nashville laps on the DIL simulator. “For me,” he said, “this year as a rookie in INDYCAR, having the Honda Simulator has been hugely important. It has helped me learn the tracks, set up the car and understand what it takes to go fast – and to get there quickly! The days we’ve had on the simulator have been quite valuable for us.”
After racing seven times thus far in 2021 – Grosjean won’t tackle an oval until the late August trip to World Wide Technology Raceway and had his first, successful oval test at the track last week – he’s earned a single pole position, a pair of top five and four top-10 results, leading 45 laps and running at the finish five times.
“Here’s a funny story,” Grosjean noted of using his simulator preparation in actual competition. Preparing for his first Indianapolis Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, “Before the Indy GP, on Thursday morning I was on the simulator here, working on the setup for the Indy road course for the race, and then on Friday afternoon, we scored our first pole! So it was quite valuable for us that weekend.
“Nashville looks like a super-challenging track, but also super exciting,” he continued after his session on the simulator. “It’s tight, it’s bumpy, but then you have a super flat-out section where you go over the bridge, and then a very flowing section next to the stadium. It’s a very complicated layout, but once you get into the rhythm, I think it’s going to be an incredible event.”
When using the simulator, Grosjean wears his racing gloves and boots, as a laser-scanned, 180-degree image of the circuit appears on the console. He feels the undulations of the Nashville course, hears engine notes rise and fall through his headset as he accelerates and brakes. HPD engineers on-site implement and monitor programs requested by the teams and/or drivers, with real-time data, HPD said.
To see footage of Romain Grosjean on the Honda Performance Development Driver-in-Loop simulator, fans can go to: https://www.dropbox.com/s/mqyaljfmm87zkio/HPD_Simulator_NashvilleGrosjeanSessions_BRollSequence_V3.mp4?dl=0