What happened in IndyCar’s radical $1million non-points race


Alex Palou destroyed the opposition and cantered to victory in IndyCar’s first Thermal $1Million Challenge event and won $500,000 for his trouble.

The grid was split in half to create two heats – each had a qualifying session to decide the order – and the heat races took place just before Sunday’s final event which awarded the big payout at the ultra-exclusive Thermal Club venue.

The Final was 20 laps with a mandated break at 10 laps, where teams could add fuel and make wing angle changes ahead of the 10-lap shootout to the end.

It was done in this way partly to avoid people having to save fuel if it had been a non-stop 20 lap race, but the decision not to allow tyre changes at the break – only pressure alterations – created a different problem for the spectacle.

Five cars dropped to the back of the field – most notably Colton Herta, who immediately dropped back and was just over 1m12s behind at the break – and saved their tyres.

Herta said it “sucked” being on that strategy in the car, “and for the people watching”. But it was “feast or famine, and I was hungry”.

As the halftime break reset the field, those drivers gambled that saving tyres would be beneficial in the final 10-lap segment. Herta was already at the back of the field after the heat races, and he needed front wing and sidepod repairs before the Final too.

Palou was on pole courtesy of his win in the second heat (more on that below) and led the first 10 laps of the Final comfortably before the break. At that point, all eyes turned to those who had saved tyres and if they could rise up the field.

Herta moved from 11th to sixth in the first two laps, first as Alexander Rossi and Agustin Canapino clashed at Turn 1 on the restart at Turn 1, then Rossi and Josef Newgarden crashed into each other at Turn 2, and then passed Linus Lundqvist for fifth.

But by the time Herta had cleared those drivers he was over seven seconds behind Palou, and Palou just cleared off even from his closest rival Scott McLaughlin, to win the race.

Reigning IndyCar champion Palou – who is being sued by the McLaren team which claims he reneged on a deal to join it – gave Chip Ganassi a win in a good day for the team that had three cars in the 12-car final. New father Palou said he would use the money to buy diapers and celebrated on track with doughnuts.

“He didn’t even break a sweat”, added eponymous team owner Ganassi.

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

Scott McLaughlin said he would buy his crew a beer after taking $350,000 for his trouble while Rosenqvist – who was on pole and won the first heat as part of a brilliant start to life at Meyer Shank – rounded out the podium for $250,000.

The final big winners were Herta and Ganassi’s Marcus Armstrong, earning $100,000 and $50,000 respectively.

Herta passed Armstrong in the closing laps and narrowly missed out on chasing down Rosenqvist – who struggled on older tyres at times during the weekend – for the podium.

Armstrong had been in the news this week as he has taken on Lewis Hamilton’s ex-trainer Angela Cullen to help with his preparation.

Rossi and Newgarden were seventh and eighth respectively after their early fight, ahead of Christian Lundgaard – who dropped to the back of the Final after needing repairs from his heat race – and Canapino.

Lundgaard aside, Rahal Letterman Lanigan was the only team to get all its cars into the final but it was a tricky race for the team.

Graham Rahal stopped before half-way with a stuck throttle, and Pietro Fittipaldi also didn’t make it past halfway after being disqualified because the team failed to fill his car with fuel as per the rules of the race.

What happened in the heat races?

Heat 1

Romain Grosjean was immediately smashed out of the race in some uncharacteristic aggressive racing by Scott Dixon, who squeezed the attacking Colton Herta on the outside and then clipped Grosjean in the braking zone for Turn 1.

The out-of-control Grosjean went up the inside of the track and took out Rinus VeeKay who had started third, too. Grosjean was absolutely furious.

“I haven’t seen the footage but I got hit really badly at the back, and then the car spun,” Grosjean said.

“Who is going to pay for the damage? We come here with no points on the line, we do nothing wrong and the car is completely smashed.

“It’s not what I signed in IndyCar for.”

Dixon said he was surprised by how early the drivers ahead had braked and also reckoned Grosjean had moved to the right before the contact, but apologised to everyone caught up in the incident.

Will Power started sixth but went to the back of the field after taking avoidable action from Grosjean’s crashed car so he was also a victim of the incident.

Rosenqvist won the race comfortably from pole, worrying most about saving his tyres for any potential late caution.

McLaughlin and Newgarden put two Penskes in the top three while Christian Lundgaard and Agustin Canapino rounded out the top five.

Canapino was rapid at this test last year and made up for Grosjean’s shunt by putting Juncos Hollinger in the race for the $1m.

Colton Herta was the last driver to go through – up from 11th on the grid – while undoubtedly one of the stars of the weekend, reigning Indy NXT rookie of the year Nolan Siegel was in his first IndyCar race and went from 12th to 7th, narrowly missing out on the big race despite only a day in this car this year.

Heat 1 result

Through to the Final race
1 Felix Rosenqvist
2 Scott McLaughlin
3 Josef Newgarden
4 Christian Lundgaard
5 Agustin Canapino
6 Colton Herta

Out of the event
7 Nolan Siegel
8 Santino Ferrucci

9 Will Power
10 Kyle Kirkwood
11 Sting Ray Robb
12 Scott Dixon
13 Rinus VeeKay
14 Romain Grosjean

Heat 2

Polesitter Alex Palou put five seconds on his Ganassi team-mate Marcus Armstrong and 15 seconds on the rest of the field in just 10 laps in a phenomenal performance.

The top five ended up as they qualified with Armstrong heading Graham Rahal, Linus Lundqvist – the only rookie making the final – and Pietro Fittipaldi line-astern. Fittipaldi made sure Rahal Letterman Lanigan was the only team to have all of its cars (three) in the final.

Callum Ilott – stepping in for a second race at Arrow McLaren for the injured David Malukas – initially was Tom Blomqvist’s closest challenger for sixth, but after a couple of laps Alexander Rossi came to the fore and passed Blomqvist and Ilott to secure the final spot.

O’Ward repeated Rossi’s passing feat on Blomqvist and Ilott but couldn’t usurp his McLaren team-mate Rossi.

It meant the big names missing out on the final included Dixon, Grosjean, Will Power and Marcus Ericsson.

Heat 2 result

Through to the final
1 Alex Palou
2 Marcus Armstrong
3 Graham Rahal
4 Linus Lundqvist
5 Pietro Fittipaldi
6 Alexander Rossi

Out of the event
7 Pato O’Ward
8 Tom Blomqvist
9 Callum Ilott
10 Christian Rasmussen
11 Kyffin Simpson
12 Marcus Ericsson
13 Colin Braun



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