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NOTES & QUOTES: The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge

SANTINO FERRUCCI started out the season with an 11th place finish in the No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet on the streets of St. Petersburg. The finish ranks him 11th in the NTT INDYCAR Series standings. The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge at the prestigious motorsports resort located near Palm Springs, California is a non-points event. The unique format is comprised of the field being split into two qualifying sessions on Saturday; on Sunday, each group races in a 10-lap heat, out of which the top six from each heat advance to the 20-lap All Star Challenge and a chance to vie for the $500,000 top prize. The All Star Challenge race will have a 10-minute break mid-race to allow teams to re-fuel and make adjustments on their cars but they won't be allowed to change out their Firestone tires. The no-holds-barred event promises exciting racing action and a behind-the-scenes look into the private luxury community of The Thermal Club.


Q: What are you looking forward to in The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge?

SF: "It's just exciting to be in Palm Springs and at that track in particular. Besides the driving part of it that I'm sure everybody's excited for, I look forward to seeing all the cars that are at the facility. There are cars there that you just don't see every day. You have everything from rare Ferraris, McLarens and Porsches to Aston Martin race cars! You see a lot of limited production vehicles from manufacturers that you don't ever see on the road. That's what I like about it. It's cool."


Q: What do you think of the format that's been laid out with qualifying, heat races and a feature? 

SF: "It's definitely unique. It's similar to a dirt track racing type event with heats leading up to a feature. I think it's a smart way for a nonpoint race to be structured -- keeping less cars in the field to avoid tearing up equipment. So, I think it's quite smart."


Q: How would you describe Thermal Club racetrack and does it compare to any that you've run in the past?

SF: "I think Thermal's a pretty cool place. I'd say probably it compares most to Hungaroring in Europe. It's got slight elevation changes, so does that track [Hungaroring] 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."


Q: Where are the passing zones?

SF: "You have one after each hairpin. There are two hairpins and you can pass out of them down the straights." 


Q: What did you think of The Thermal Club when you first saw it and do you have any aspirations to live there?

SF: "I think it's really cool. I like the design concept. I like how other tracks around the country are trying to do something similar. But no, I would not want to live in California."


Q: If there were one in Texas, would you want to live there?

SF: "Probably, I don't know if I'd be able to pull that off with Renay [his wife], but I'd like to."

Q: You've gained some momentum from your finish at St. Pete. How important is that to your confidence going into Thermal?

 SF: "Well, I think it's good that we got off on the right foot at St. Pete. It was a very different race this year than it was last year. A lot less carnage but more difficult to pass. So I think all of those things considered, it's good to have that momentum starting the year, we just have to continue with it and continue fighting."


Q: What did you learn at St. Pete that will help you for the rest of the year?

SF: "Good preparation is going to be important. We came off the trailer about perfect, we need to basically continue that moving forward."

Q: Why was tire degradation at St. Pete rather low and how did that affect the race?

SF: "Tire deg at St. Pete was low because Firestone has adapted a new compound in anticipation of the hybrid engine to account for the heavier car [which now the teams aren't running until sometime after the Indy 500]. So the tires are a little stiffer all around. I think what affected the race at St. Pete was the fuel strategy. The race was 100 laps long. And I think it's a race where if they increase the laps we have a better chance to avoid those fuel strategy scenarios because when everybody's saving fuel nobody's really pushing and it's not as much fun."


Q: How does that change your race strategy going forward?

SF: "St. Pete was a little bit more of a rare occurrence. I think tire deg is very necessary especially on the soft compound so I don't know if Firestone will adjust, they have in the past, and they've done a good job. So, it's hard to say if it's going to have an effect everywhere else but I'm just hoping that they keep the alternate compound quite a bit softer than the primary compound, because having deg [degradation] on that tire is very important to race strategy."


Ferrucci Fast Facts: Age 25...Born in Woodbury, CT...Lives in Dallas, Texas...Married Renay Moore in January, 2024...Began racing karts at age 5, moved to cars in 2013...Competed in Formula 2000, British Formula 3, GP3 finishing third at Spa Francorchamps as a rookie, was development driver for Haas F1 team for three years (2016-2018), moved to Formula 2 in 2018...made his INDYCAR debut in Detroit in 2018...moved to NTT INDYCAR Series fulltime in 2019 finishing 13th in standings for Dale Coyne and won Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing seventh...13th in standings again with fourth place finish in the 500...drove part-time in 2021-22 but maintained top-10 streak in Indy 500 with finishes of sixth (RLL Racing) and 10th (Dreyer Reinbold Racing)...Scored career-best finish to date with his 3rd place finish in the 2023 Indianapolis 500 to continue his string of consecutive top-10 finishes in the 500...Competed part-time in NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021-22.


STING RAY ROBB had a tough start to his season when a brake issue on his No. 41 Chevrolet ended his race after just 33 laps placing him 26th. However, the Idaho native is looking forward to a better experience this weekend in the beautiful motorsports community known as The Thermal Club.

Q: What are your thoughts on The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge? 

SRR: "First off, I love when we hit the tracks on the west coast - it's a bit closer to Idaho!  The heat race format utilized at Thermal will offer tighter racing and it could provide opportunity for drivers to be more aggressive. I'm excited to be racing for Foyt and Chevy in this $1M challenge!"   


Q: Have you ever competed in an event with this type of format? If yes, please give details (where, when, which types of cars/karts, and how you finished.

SRR: "Yes, I have competed in this type of format many times during my karting career.  A specific example is the 2015 Rotax Nationals at South Carolina while running in the Jr. Max category.  Rather than a "draw" to select our starting position, all 27 drivers ran a "qualifying" run to determine our starting position for each of the following three heat races.  Unfortunately, during that qualification run, I had a mechanical failure on my kart which meant I would be starting dead last in the 27th position for all three of those heat races.

 "The finishing position in each heat race determined how many points I earned for positioning in the Pre-Final race (as an example, if you finished the heat race in 7th you received 7 points, if you finished in 12th, you received 12 points, so on and so forth).  The finisher with the lowest number of points would start in the pole position and the driver with second lowest points total started in second, etc.  Fortunately, we avoided any further mechanical failures or crashes and finished strong in each heat race with a low enough points total to put me in 6th position to start the pre-final (nice progression from 27th to 6th).  I then finished 3rd in the pre-final and ended up taking 2nd in the Championship race.  It was an exciting three days of racing!  

 "This format allows the drivers and team to work on consistent progression instead of allowing just one run (in which many things have to go right and many can go wrong) to dictate their starting position.  My approach will be similar at Thermal in that I'll be working with the team to make consistent progress during practice sessions and thus providing the optimum positioning for each race."   


Q: With this event being a non-points event, does that free you up to be more aggressive and take more chances than you normally would?

SRR: "As to taking chances and being more aggressive, there's a couple of thought directions. Of course, as a young driver, it would be amazing to win $500,000, so there's definitely some great motivation there.  However, my responsibility as a driver is to navigate as aggressively as possible while keeping the car intact - it's a fine line no doubt.  So, I'll be pushing the limits and looking for the opportunity to move forward the entire weekend."


Sting Ray Fast Facts: Age 22...Grew up in Payette, ID...Lives in Indianapolis...Engaged to Molly Mitchell...Began racing karts at age 5 winning several national titles over the next 10 years. His transition to cars began at the Skip Barber Karts to Cars Shootout where he won the Bryan Herta Scholarship which put him on the Road to Indy and into the NTT INDYCAR Series at age 21. In his rookie season, he scored a career best finish of 12th in the season finale in Monterey, Calif. A devout Christian, Robb will be active as a spokesman for his sponsor this season. Off track, Robb enjoys mountain biking, skiing, hiking, hunting, fishing, rock-climbing, golf, tennis, pickleball and basketball.


The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge will be broadcast live on NBC Sunday, March 24, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. The program begins with two heat races which determine the starting grid for the 12-car All Star Challenge. Qualifying on Saturday (8 p.m. ET) and the four Open Test sessions will be streamed live on Peacock and IndyCar Live on Friday (noon-2 p.m. ET and 5-8 p.m. ET) and Saturday (noon-2 p.m. ET and 4-6 p.m. ET).


Radio Broadcast Information: The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge and Saturday's test sessions and qualifying will air live on network affiliates, SiriusXM INDYCAR Nation 218 and SiriusXM NBC Sports Audio 85, and the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA.


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