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IndyCar Thermal Club Million Dollar Disaster

Eyebrows were raised when IndyCar announced to hold a Million Dollar challenge at Thermal Club. Despite most IndyCar fans going into the event with an open mind, the fears were justified. The “All-Star” experiment was a big misfire.

The IndyCar Thermal Club Million Dollar Challenge is the latest chapter in PR misfires the leading American Open-Wheel series has encountered. From the lack of appropriate marketing and a troubled introduction of a new hybrid engine. The Thermal Club All-Star race was a self-inflicted injury that should have been avoided. It made the entire series look bad.

The Thermal Club

The track proved its worth during the four test sessions. A circuit with long straights and some nice flowing corners is excellent for testing. The teams gathered a lot of useful data for the rest of the road course season. Unfortunately, that’s the only positive thing IndyCar can take from this weekend. Hosting an event in a gated community with little to no fans in attendance won’t get the series into the spotlight like they think. Instead of making it feel like an “All-Star” weekend. The Million Dollar Challenge seemed more like an exclusive theme party for the local community. Some backyard entertainment while the drivers were made to look stupid on international TV.

The Race Format

Why anyone thought this format was a good idea is beyond comprehension. If you want to make an IndyCar All-Star race with multiple heats fine, but then give the Drivers the means to actually race. Especially the grand final was a problem. Limiting the drivers to just one set of tires for 20 laps, while plenty already struggled with 10 laps was a recipe for disaster. Instead of watching the best IndyCar drivers fighting it out for big cash, we saw 12 drivers take it easy to save tires. The NBC Crew speculated all weekend long that teams would use this tactic, and it actually happened. Not to mention the awful halftime break after 10 laps. Which got called too late as well.

Did no one at IndyCar see this coming? There is no blame on the drivers, they played within the rule set this format gave them. When teams see an exploit, they will take it. Colton Herta was a prime example. The Andretti Driver was 9 seconds a lap slower than race leader Alex Palou, who also didn’t push the tires to the limit. Why wasn’t there an extra set of tires for the final 10 laps? Give the drivers a fresh set of boots so they can push all race long.  It’s not rocket science.

The Broadcast

While the broadcast is normally one of the highlights of an IndyCar weekend, this time it sent the wrong message. Nearly every 10 minutes they had to mention how great and how welcoming Thermal Club is. Fully aware that it’s a highly exclusive club that almost no one will get access to. It’s normal to do it once or twice, but the excessive expression of gratitude became comical. Certainly when the crew got a tour of a garage full of multi-million dollar supercars. Everything about the event screamed wealth and success, which is ironic since IndyCar lately has screamed anything but wealth and success. Even at the event dubbed the “Million Dollar Challenge” the winner “only” got $500.000.

In the end current IndyCar problems can be summed up by one tweet from Marshall Pruett.

2024 has not been great yet for IndyCar fans. Perhaps the series bring back a positive feeling in a few weeks time when IndyCar visits the legendary streets of Long Beach.


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