Race Weekend Central

Alex Palou Maintains Control, Wins at Thermal Club

Alex Palou etched his name next to another bullet point in NTT IndyCar Series history by winning Sunday’s (March 24) $1 Million Challenge at the Thermal Club. Palou won the pole for his heat race, won his heat race and controlled the main event from flag to flag en route to a $500,000 pay day for his No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing team.

Scott McLaughlin finished second ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, who controlled his heat race from pole position just as Palou had earlier in the day.

“The car was amazing,” Palou said after the race. “The No. 10 crew and all the Chip Ganassi Racing guys did an amazing job. So yeah, super proud. All the weekend has been amazing. I was a bit surprised how the competitors treated the first 10 laps, saving tires. I was like ‘alright, that’s our game – I like it!’ So yeah, super proud of the No. 10 car and everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing.”

Palou and Rosenqvist dominated their respective heat races, where most of the action was back in the pack. Overtaking proved difficult for the entire field on the fast, flowing circuit. As such, the driver who drew the most attention was fourth-place finisher Colton Herta.

Herta was the leading driver among a faction of the field who opted to conserve their tires during the first half of the 20-lap main event and then fight for position after halftime, where they would optimally have a marked tire advantage. Herta used that advantage to claw his way to fourth place, but was less than enthused by how the event played out.

See also
The Thermal Club Is 'Made for TV'

Further back in the pack, the day looked to be one to relish in for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The team placed all three of their drivers – Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard and Pietro Fittipaldi – in the main event, an accomplishment for a team that has struggled with pace and consistency as of late.

However, Rahal was forced to pit before the 10-lap mark due to throttle issues that rendered his No. 15 Honda less-than-safe to drive. He finished 12th, the last of the cars to contest the main event.

More surprisingly, Fittipaldi was disqualified during halftime for not having sufficient fuel in his car to make the full 20-lap distance at the start of the race. Lundgaard, in the third RLL car, finished ninth in the main event.

Heat 1

The heart-in-mouth moment of the day came before the first corner of the first lap of the first heat race, when Romain Grosjean was sent spinning down the frontstretch by contact from Scott Dixon. Grosjean’s No. 77 Juncos Hollinger car slid into the path of traffic as the field piled into turn 1, and collected Rinus VeeKay in the process.

Heat 2

Arrow McLaren was the talk of the second heat race, where the team’s three drivers fought each other intensely for the final transfer spot into the main event. At the end of the shootout, Alexander Rossi took sixth place and earned himself a spot in the finale, but not without having to endure sustained pressure from Pato O’Ward and, to a lesser extent, Callum Ilott.

2024 $1 Million Challenge Results

The next round of the 2024 IndyCar season will be the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Coverage will be provided by NBC starting at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 21.

About the author

Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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gbvette

I love Indycar racing, but that had to be about the worse, most boring Indycar race I’ve ever seen. Thermal may be a good layout for it’s members to do lapping days in their Ferrari’s and Bugatti’s, but it doesn’t seem well suited for side by side racing by real race cars.

I like the idea of an Indycar exhibition race (I attended a few Marlboro Challenges, including the last one at Nazareth), but I think they need to find a better venue for it.

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