Jack Harvey, RLL, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023

How IndyCar’s no-points, million-dollar ‘made-for-TV race’ will work


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There are no points on the table for the IndyCar drivers this weekend but there is a huge cash purse in what the series calls a “made-for-TV racing exhibition.”

The full, 27-car field will compete at a new venue, The Thermal Club road course in California. At 4.9 kilometres, this is the second-longest course IndyCar will race at this year, and its 17 turns make it one of the most complex layouts too.

Despite that, no more than half the cars will be in action at once during the competitive sessions. The field will be split into two for qualifying and the two heats which decide the starters for the 12-car final.

The event is being billed as the $1 Million Challenge, the prize available for the race winner. However each competitor will be paired with a member of the club, who they will share their earning with, meaning the winning driver actually receives $500,000. The promoter has also said “there will be a charitable component to the event” to raise funds for Martha’s Village and Kitchen, which provides care for homeless people.

Josef Newgarden, Penske, IndyCar, St Petersburg, 2024
Newgarden won round one but there’s no points this weekend
The two-day event will be the first time IndyCar has held a non-championship competition since its teams raced at Surfers’ Paradise, Australia during its reunification season of 2008. While that event ran to its regular format, IndyCar has devised a special format for the Thermal Club meeting.

It will begin with nine hours of testing, split across four sessions, two each on Friday and Saturday. The track should therefore be well rubbered-in by the time qualifying begins.


Two random draws will be held before the action begins. One will assign each driver to a member of The Thermal Club, who will share in their winnings. The other draw will split the field into two groups.

Instead of IndyCar’s usual knockout qualifying format, the two groups will each have a 12-minute qualifying session. Group one’s session will set the starting positions for heat one, and group two will do the same for heat two.

For qualifying, each driver will have one set of tyres and 40 seconds of push-to-pass. The timing clock will be stopped the first time a red flag is shown but not for any subsequent stoppages.

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The two heat races will decide the grid for the ‘All-Star’ final. Each heat will last for 10 laps, with a maximum time limit of 20 minutes.

Alex Palou, Ganassi, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Winding Thermal course plays host to its first IndyCar event
In a significant departure from IndyCar’s usual practice, laps will not be counted if they are completed under full-course yellow (FCY) conditions, though the race clock will continue to run down. However if an FCY is triggered on the final lap, the race will end at that point.

The rules around how the drivers’ positions will be determined when an FCY occurs will vary depending on its timing. If one happens before the final lap, drivers’ positions will be taken from the last timing line they crossed, otherwise their on-track positions at the moment the FCY begins will be used.

As in qualifying, drivers will receive 40 seconds of push-to-pass and a fresh set of tyres. Any driver who needs to replace a tyre they must fit one used in qualifying.

Drivers may only pit for essential, “emergency” service to their cars, such as damage repairs. If any work is done on their cars which does not meet this definition they will be disqualified.

The top six finishers in each heat will progress to the final. Whichever heat race winner set the fastest time in qualifying will take pole position for the final, and the other drivers from the same heat will take the odd-numbered grid positions in order of where they finished the heat. The other drivers will fill the even-numbered grid positions in the order they finished their heat.

‘All-Star’ Final

Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Drivers will have 40 seconds of push-to-pass per 10 laps
The format of the final will be similar to the heats. It will be run over a total of 20 laps but will stop at lap 10 for a 10-minute break. During this period the only work which may be carried out on the cars is refuelling and adjustment of wing angles.

Drivers will receive a fresh set of tyres for the start of the final. They may use up to 40 seconds of push-to-pass in the first half of the final and the same again in the second half.

If a FCY occurs during the second half of the final, the restart line-up will be determined by the drivers’ positions on-track at the moment it began.

Prize money

After sharing half of their winnings with the Thermal Club member they are paired with, the drivers will win the following based on their finishing positions:

1st: $500,000
2nd: $350,000
3rd: $250,000
4th: $100,000
5th: $50,000
6th-27th: $23,000

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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26 comments on “How IndyCar’s no-points, million-dollar ‘made-for-TV race’ will work”

  1. One day soon Liberty will make a joke of F1 the same way. They are building up to it.

    1. Unfortunately 100% true. Sooner than we think.

    2. They’ve already done it… At least Indycar has made this a no-points event. It’s completely separate from the Championship but has a nice prize for the drivers so they’ll go for it. Might be fun, might not. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it and you won’t have missed a second of the Championship. F1 brought in sprint races and immediately handed out points for it so if you ignore those, you could potentially miss a crucial moment in the title fight.

      1. I agree. I didn’t say it’s not a bit of a joke already, and sprints are definitely worse than this. Although my biggest issue with Indy is terrible, terrible broadcast; I find it almost unwatchable. There’s no Crofty and that’s the only plus I can find.

      2. Easy fix, don’t ignore them.

    3. For F1 it would be a good thing. F1 should have 18 races GPs max that count towards the championship. Rest can be exhibitions. Which isn’t far from the truth anyway lol

      1. Well my mistake I meant to say just not this format ofc.

        Also if F1 is going to have sprint races they may as well make them reverse grid. Currently it’s sorta pointless

  2. Well this is ridiculous. Why remove the racing element of this and turn it into essentially 2 quali heats and 2 mini-sprints?

    1. RandomMallard
      19th March 2024, 9:34

      @chrischrill Because there was never a racing element to this. All this is doing is adding a competitive side to what would normally be a testing session. I believe Thermal doesn’t have the facilities to support a full field race, and thus this was the only thing they could do.

      And to be honest, making something at least somewhat competitive out of a test session, along with it being non-championship, I think I’m fine with that. It fills a spot in the Indy calendar that they’ve really struggled to find events for recently as well.

      1. Ah, fair enough! I assumed, since the season had already begun, that this was in place of an actual race.

        1. RandomMallard
          19th March 2024, 16:58

          @chrischrill Sorry if the tone of initial comment was a bit harsh! But yeah, without this there’s a 6 week gap in the calendar before Long Beach, because NASCAR being difficult has meant that Indy can’t race at Texas this season unfortunately. I’m interested to see how this weekend will turn out, but hopefully they can return to TMS soon though!

  3. Unsurprisingly, Indycar goes from being a figurative lottery to being a literal lottery.

  4. What is the club member doing to earn 500k from a driver’s labors? Do they have to invest in the race and this is like they get a raffle ticket in exchange with a drivers name on it?

    1. Probably just by virtue of being a club member. The total prize money is about 2.2 million. Which is a lot but when you consider how much it costs to build a racetrack….

  5. By “made for TV”, I hope this means track action will not be interrupted by ad breaks for once?

    1. The “ad breaks” pay for the production. The US has no TV License fee, like the UK does.

      1. Except Sky manages to show every GP and sprint with no advert breaks and receives not a cent from the Licence fee. And the Sky operation is vastly more expensive…

  6. It could be fun, but the timing is very odd. This has a big “Race of Champions”, end of season video about it.

    1. Vibe, not video.

      Anyway, the timing of the Petersburg race seems the main reason for this, as having it in early March leaves a big gap in the calendar. I recall there was some talk of Texas not being able to host a race this year due to scheduling issues, and also a struggle to get airtime due to the Summer Olympics in France.

      1. RandomMallard
        19th March 2024, 16:56

        Yeah my understanding with Texas is that NASCAR has moved their TMS race to April (previously September), but hadn’t fully decided on the date at the time the Indycar calendar was announced (and NASCAR is far more valuable for TMS, so takes priority). Additionally, the Olympics meant that they couldn’t move the Texas race to the summer as the Games would take priority on NBC over Indycar. I do hope they return to TMS next year though!

  7. Isn’t this just a gimmick so indycar can make some money from testing?

    1. It looks like it, and it’s the best idea ever. They are literally making sth out of nothing.

  8. If they were going to do something like this it should have been an end of season event rather than something done after the first race of the season. Would even have made more sense been a pre-season event. Just doesn’t really make any sense been in the spot it is.

    Special one off events at the end of the season that handed out big cash prizes or something used to be reasonably common and this would have made more sense in that spot rather than in this weird spot after the first round of the championship.

  9. Why all the unnecessary complexity? Just have a regular race.

  10. I think this will be fun for fans and drivers, especially with there being no points to worry about. It is certainly more interesting than reading about the testing times the next day in Race Fans! It’s a little strange having a wanna-be club member randomly share in “their driver’s” winnings. I guess it’s what ultra-rich people do for fun. I wonder if they all paid into the prize pool and this is a day of gambling for them…

  11. This really should be how the Sprint races work out, F1 has already perverted the points system to the point where the record books don’t matter. And the number of races in a season where someone can crawl almost one quarter way up the history books in the wins department.

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