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Race Report: The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge

 THERMAL, Calif. (March 24, 2024)--The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge ended early for AJ Foyt Racing with neither car advancing into the lucrative 20-lap Sprint for the Purse today at the private motorsports club on the outskirts of Palm Springs, California.


The 27-car field was split into two groups for qualifying yesterday. Both Santino Ferrucci and Sting Ray Robb were in the first group. They qualified 10th and 14th which determined their grid spots in today's first 10-lap qualifying heat race. However, Scott Dixon triggered a first lap multi-car crash which saw both drivers take evasive action. Robb moved to 11th and Ferrucci maintained his 10th place spot after nearly stopping to avoid a spinning Romain Grosjean who was tagged by Dixon. Dixon was assessed a drive-through penalty.


The caution laps that ensued did not count but the race became a timed race and ended after 20 minutes. Ferrucci gained two spots to finish eighth in the No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet. Robb finished 11th in the No. 41 Chevrolet.

Despite not advancing to the 12-car finale, the drivers agreed that the two-day Open Test session that preceded the weekend activities yielded benefits for the team beyond today's event as the cars were more competitive in the heat race compared to the first test session on Friday.

Ferrucci and his race engineer James Schnabel were happy with the information gleaned this weekend.

“It was a solid two-day test for us at AJ Foyt Racing," said Ferrucci. "We learned a lot. We kind of came in on the backfoot from our Barber test [last Monday]. Got the car sorted, and in qualifying, we kind of missed it a little bit. I kind of missed it a little bit. When we started the heat race, honestly, we were super competitive. We should have transferred. Just got caught out on that Lap 1 incident. Hats off to the boys. Solid three days of work. Looking forward to heading to the hybrid test next week with Chevrolet.”


Robb echoed Ferrucci's comments stating that the team learned a lot about their permanent road course setups.

“The start was crazy!" said Robb whose heads-up driving saw him avoid the carnage. "For a non-points race, I did not expect that. I was thankful for the free spots even though it’s a sad day for anyone involved in that. The team did a good job this week. It was a long week for a race that I think was inconsequential to our championship run. We learned a lot and we’ve got some work ahead of us. I’m excited that our team got to be with us here this week, and that we kind of got to have a quiet race weekend, which was fun. I’m excited for the next one.”


Alex Palou swept the $1 Million Challenge from his pole position and claimed the $500,000 top prize although no points were earned in this exhibition event. Second through fifth were Scott McLaughlin ($350,000), Felix Rosenqvist ($250,000), Colton Herta ($100,000) and Marcus Armstrong ($50,000).


The next race for the NTT INDYCAR Series is the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 21st. Another Open Test is scheduled at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500 on April 10-11.


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