Thermal Club, 2023

IndyCar drivers unsure if “phenomenal” Thermal track will produce good racing


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IndyCar drivers praised the track they will race on for the first time this weekend but are unsure how easy it will be to overtake.

The Thermal Club in California will host the series’ first non-championship event for 16 years. The $1 Million Challenge will take the form of two qualifying sessions, two heats and a final.

The 17-turn, 4.935-kilometre course was recently upgraded to the FIA’s grade two standard. Drivers had the opportunity to test there last year, but while many of them enjoyed the challenge of its varied layout, some expressed the view overtaking will be difficult.

“It’s quite a fun race track,” said McLaren’s Callum Ilott, who will continue to substitute for David Malukas this weekend. “I’m not sure how it’s going to be on the racing side.

Alex Palou, Ganassi, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
The first portion of the lap features several slow corners
“But by the way the heat races and final race are set up, it’s more like sprint racing anyway, so qualifying is going to be quite important.”

RLL driver Graham Rahal raved about the track layout, calling it “phenomenal”, but says the quality of racing will depend on well the tyres last.

“It’s fast, and I mean fast!” he said. “The passing opportunities are going to be interesting because, to me, the opportunities will depend on how bad tyre degradation is, which I’m sure we will see.”

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Several drivers commented on the roughness of the track’s surface, which will increase the demands on the tyres. However tyre degradation was lower than expected in the first race of the season two weeks ago as Firestone have produced harder tyres this year.

Scott Dixon. Ganassi, Thermal Club test, 2023
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“It will be an all-out battle to the end to make sure that you get into the group that advances to the final event,” Rahal predicted.

The track is the second-longest on the IndyCar schedule and in testing last year a lap took only slightly less time than at the longest track, Road America. However, Thermal’s layout is more complex, with several slow corners early in the lap, then a succession of quick bends at the end.

Foyt driver Santino Ferrucci likened the winding layout to the Hungaroring. “It’s got slight elevation changes, so does that track which makes it quite fun.

“A lot of high-speed chicanes, which is quite nice, a lot of long, fast, high-speed corners. Actually, the more I think about it, it’s probably more comparable to Hungaroring than it is any other track.”

However Ferrucci expects the two slowest corners on the track will give IndyCar drivers the chance to overtake.

“You have one [passing opportunity] after each hairpin,” he said. “There are two hairpins and you can pass out of them down the straights.”

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Video: A lap of The Thermal Club


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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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One comment on “IndyCar drivers unsure if “phenomenal” Thermal track will produce good racing”

  1. Looks like a really fun track to drive! I’m amazed that F1 hasn’t copied the 360 degree rotating camera that IndyCar has used for many years. They get some terrific pictures from them.

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