Start, IndyCar Thermal Challenge, 2024

Palou dominates IndyCar’s Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge


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Alex Palou won IndyCar’s Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge in emphatic fashion, leading Scott McLaughlin home by six seconds in the 20-lap final.

Palou kept his lead at the start but Scott McLaughlin made a strong start from fourth, picking off Marcus Armstrong and sweeping around the outside of Felix Rosenqvist to take second place.

While Rosenqvist and Armstrong gave chase, Graham Rahal fell back two places to seventh, allowing Josef Newgarden into fifth ahead of Linus Lundqvist.

The structure of the final prompted some unusual strategies. Drivers started the race knowing there would be a half-time break for refuelling and a restart but, crucially, tyre changes would be forbidden.

Andretti therefore told Colton Herta, who started on the back row, to manage his pace from the start. He let the field pull away by up to eight seconds per lap. Soon others followed suit – RLL gave Pietro Fittipaldi an extremely tight target for fuel consumption and before the race was over he slowed down so much he even fell behind Herta.

Eventually the front-runners began to follow suit and Palou slowed his pace by around five seconds by the time the chequered flag fell. This, of course, allowed those at the back to go even slower.

By the time Palou took the chequered flag at the end of the first half, Herta was 82 seconds in arrears and Fittipaldi another 17 behind. However RLL’s refuelling strategy for Fittipaldi, whether accidentally or otherwise, landed them in trouble with the stewards, who disqualified him for not being fully fuelled at the start.

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With Rahal pulling off to retire at the end of the first part, having complained of a stuck throttle, just 10 cars assembled for the final sprint to the finish. Once they had been been refuelled the race resumed for its second half with Palou still leading McLaughlin, Rosenqvist, Armstrong, Newgarden and Lundqvist at the single-file rolling restart.

Further back, Alexander Rossi was immediately on the attack, picking ogf Linus Lundqvist to run behind Josef Newgarden. But Rossi got too tough with his Penske rival as he attacked on the outside of turn five, triggering contact which sent the two wide.

That opened the door for Lundqvist to reclaim his place along with Herta, who had already begun to move up from his 10th place restart position. taking full advantage of his fresher tyres he dived to the inside of Lundqvist for fifth place on lap 12.

From there he found it harder to make gains, and five laps passed before he tackled Lundqvist, claiming fourth at turn five. By then he was over 10 seconds behind Palou, who had again unleashed his unanswerable pace to pull five seconds clear of McLaughlin. Rosenqvist took third place ahead of Herta, whose tyre-nursing approach to the first half left him a second off the podium at the finish.

Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge result

110Alex PalouGanassiHonda
23Scott McLaughlinPenskeChevrolet
360Felix RosenqvistMeyer ShankHonda
426Colton HertaAndretti/Curb-AgajanianHonda
511Marcus ArmstrongGanassiHonda
68Linus LundqvistGanassiHonda
77Alexander RossiMcLarenChevrolet
82Josef NewgardenPenskeChevrolet
945Christian LundgaardRLLHonda
1078Agustin CanapinoJuncos HollingerChevrolet

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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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11 comments on “Palou dominates IndyCar’s Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge”

  1. I watched it. It wasn’t for me.

    On to the next one…

    1. Yeah, from what I understand of the format from watching the highlights this seems a bit pointless.

      And judging by the lack of spectators, it seems American fans thought little of it as well.

      1. CD (@clipperdael)
        25th March 2024, 9:38

        Well the track isn’t so much a regular track as it is a private funride on the premises of a millionaires’ club. The place isn’t made for public access so that rules out more than a few thousand spectators. And everything is super expensive, of course. They said during the broadcast the cheapest tickets went for $500.

      2. It was literally pointless, in the sense no points were awarded :)

  2. A good day’s racing for Spain, on two wheels and four.
    I hope the half-time break never makes it to F1…

  3. Strange race, especially with the tactics Herta was allowed to employ!

    It is a shame that overtaking looked so hard for an event like that. If you’re going to have a bit of a manufactured gimmick like this, you’d be better off having it on a track where overtaking was easier.

  4. Do I dare to call it a “Sprint”.

    Where results, absent strategies and variables, are pretty much determined by performance. This lacking the anticipated dramatic racing.

    I watched (first time) the F2 race. What a difference (from Indy or F1). They can follow! They can pass!

  5. That was a bust unfortunately. They had free reign to make something fun, but they neutered themselves with all the rules.

    Offer money for each half. Offer a significant amount of push to pass. Most of all, they should have let them have fresh tires each half, which would have encouraged racing and not conservation.

    There’s a path to success with this event…they failed this time.

  6. I liked it. Thermal is quite the place, but next time I’d skip the halftime and run the full length to avoid the tire conservation in the first half. As he continues to show, Palou is incredibly good.

  7. I take a certain vicious pleasure in how the drivers made a total mockery of the enforced halftime break.

  8. CD (@clipperdael)
    25th March 2024, 9:19

    The two heat races were alright I thought but the weird halftime break in the final wasn’t the best decision. It all felt a tad silly towards the end. Still, with the exception of the grande finale the event could be something to build upon – but only as a non-championship race or a somewhat more exciting alternative to a (non-televised) testing weekend.

Comments are closed.