Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Thermal Club Challenge: IndyCar’s failed experiment

IndyCar’s 1 Million Dollar Challenge at the Thermal Club was an underwhelming and questionably executed exhibition event that should have Penske Entertainment Scratching its head.

Heat Races

Race day started with a little bit of chaos. Coming into turn 1 during the first heat race, Scott Dixon collided with Romain Grosjean. This caused a chain reaction where an out-of-control Grosjean collected Rinus Veekay.

After the caution, there was very little on-track action besides Will Power and Colton Herta making up a couple of positions. As for Heat 2, there was even less action other than Alexander Rossi pushing and shoving his teammates to get into the top six.

There is a primary outlying reason that stopped these heat races from being entertaining. That was the Firestone primary compound tires that were allocated for the event.

It simply didn’t work in racing conditions at Thermal Club and the drivers could barely push without shredding them.

Thermal, CA – during the 2024 INDYCAR $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club. (Photo by Joe Skibinski | IMS Photo)


The race and how it was organized, completely negated any good qualities the track had, specifically with the rules in the final. The mandatory red flag halfway through the 20-lap made no sense. Rather than just a caution to bunch up the field and possibly get new tires, everybody just sat in the pits.

They only allowed one set of tires for the final, even when testing showed how bad the tire degradation was. This meant that for the entire first half of the final, nobody was pushing and therefore there was little to no overtaking.

Colton Herta took the tire-saving strategy to another level and deliberately drove seconds slower. On a positive note, this meant that he provided some entertainment with his overtaking endeavors. He would ultimately run out of time and tire life and only managed fourth place.

Thermal, CA – during the 2024 INDYCAR $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club. (Photo by Joe Skibinski | IMS Photo)


Good for testing, not for racing

The Thermal Club circuit works reasonably well as a testing track. The four open test sessions over the weekend’s beginning proved entertaining and educational. When it comes to racing, IndyCar prevented any good showing with poor planning and formatting of the heat races and the final.

Considering that there were no championship points on the line, the entire point of the event was for all the drivers to push as hard as possible to win the race. Since IndyCar didn’t give the drivers the tires, fuel, and laps to do that, all three events were underwhelming.

Look in the mirror IndyCar

Thermal, CA – during the 2024 INDYCAR $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club. (Photo by Joe Skibinski | IMS Photo)

One of the things that makes IndyCar so great is its accessibility. Its fair and affordable ticket prices for the majority of its calendar are one of its best qualities.

The 1 Million Dollar Challenge at the Thermal Club directly went against that for two key reasons. The first is the Thermal Club itself. It is a private racetrack where only members are allowed in. Secondly, the very limited tickets were sold at two to three times the price of a normal IndyCar race.

The underwhelming racing product combined with the limited fan access meant there were little to no positives to come out of this weekend. I support IndyCar’s experimenting, but this one didn’t work at all.



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