IndyCar drivers and owners were mixed at the success of the Million Dollar Challenge

THERMAL, Calif. – After the final flag fell to cap off Alex Palou's dominant weekend in The Thermal Club's Million Dollar Challenge, IndyCar drivers and team owners remained mixed about the legality and success of the lengthy test and a weekend that distributed little of it. Great checks but no points paid.

As expected, opinion was largely split between those who made the big paydays — $500,000 for Palo and CGR, $350,000 for runner-up Scott McLaughlin and Team Penske and $250,000 for Felix Rosenqvist and Meyerschank Racing — and those who saddled with hefty repair bills and zero points for their troubles. .

Dozens of paddock members spoke with IndyStar after the race on the track, the format and the first non-points IndyCar race since 2008, ranging from calling it a largely successful experiment, to something drivers and teams might consider boycotting if it's brought back in 2025.

“For us, it didn't go well. “I wasn't going to do the race portion, but the testing was helpful,” driver owner Ed Carpenter told IndyStar. “We'll see what the verdict is from actual (TV) viewers on whether it was impactful or no.

“Ideally, if it's going to be a race, it should be a real race. Points, all the cars, full distance, otherwise it looks a bit strange.

But these aren't casual gimmicks — Formula 1 speedruns, the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge, a NASCAR All-Star race, and a revamped Clash race, to name a few — exactly what many sports games find helps attract new viewers. And revitalize some, at times, boring competition?

“Then I think, at the very least, there should be more money available for those who make it to the final round,” Carpenter continued. “And maybe a bigger pot altogether. Look at (sixth place Linus Lundqvist and CGR); they got the same bonus as us, and we had an accident on the first lap of qualifying.”

How he did it: Ganassi's Alex Palou wins $500,000 in Million Dollar IndyCar Challenge

An exhibition that began with the massacre

The $23,000 payday pair of No. 20 ECR and 21 Chevys will likely take home just a good bite of the crash bill related to the Rinus VeeKay machine being pushed by a pile of Romain Grosjean skidding seconds after the green flag in Heat 1 – marking the biggest moment.” “Amazing” in 38 laps on Sunday morning. Perhaps also surprisingly, six-time series champion Scott Dixon was the instigator, having misjudged how Grosjean would play on a jam-packed entry into Turn 1 while the entire 14-car heat field was at their disposal.

Although the theory of there being no overtaking on the club's 3,067-mile permanent road course was refuted throughout the day, Grosjean was not at all surprised that the first of the day's 646 turns led to chaos. However, it only fueled his frustrations because the race's broadcast on NBC's television window had no points at stake.

“Who will pay for the damage?” he asked emphatically. “We did nothing wrong, and we are absolutely devastated.

“We came here with no points on the line and we did nothing wrong, and the car was completely destroyed. I don't know, but this is not what I signed up for.”

In numbers: Here's how much the top finishers will receive from the IndyCar Million Dollar Challenge

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“Not eventful and not exciting.”

With VeeKay and Grosjean's days over in the blink of an eye, and Dixon finished after a penalty for avoidable contact, the highlights of the rest of the IndyCar exhibition included nice highlight moments centered around the three Arrow McLaren teammates dueling for a one-point lead into the second round, and Alexander Rossi hitting the wheels with Josef Newgarden in the main event, launching Colton Herta from the back half of the grid over the final ten laps with the strategic – but legal – play of the system in conserving his tires by running the first half of the final fast enough so as not to get caught.

Herta was 12 seconds slower than the leader on lap 1 of 10 before the main event's halftime pit stop, a strategy that has been whispered about for days. But it fit perfectly within the rules, which called for a 10-lap first half where teams could refuel but not change tires, and then a 10-lap sprint to the finish. With no fuel issues, tire life will be a prized possession, with no difference between rolling in 12 minutesy Or stay ahead of the leaders, the call for better-placed Hertha to take pole position was clear.

Whether it was made for entertainment television – as the entire back half of the 12 main event cars followed suit – was a different story entirely. The term “Snooze fest,” first used by Andretti driver Marcus Ericsson, among those who spoke with IndyStar after the race, proved popular.

“It wasn't very eventful. “It wasn't exciting,” Pato O'Ward told IndyStar as he sat between his teammates and Arrow McLaren sporting director Tony Kanaan, as the group marveled at the questionable success of the event. “Can you imagine the first turn? With 27 cars? That would have been great, but the start of the first round was the most eventful part of all.

Alexander Rossi, the team's only driver to qualify for the final, described the first half of the event as nothing more than “show laps”.

“You have to allow for pit stops (in the final). That's the only way to change it. “Otherwise, if we do it again, it will be exactly the same thing, and there's no point,” Rossi continued, pointing to the last 10 laps of the finish as a source of light, low-slung running. Risks during his duel with Josef Newgarden – “It's funny when people hurt themselves in order to hurt you” – and being a witness to Herta's throw of the dice that left him 4y After starting 12y. “It was an anti-climax from our perspective.

“Honestly, I would love for it to be a real event, because I think this track is so great. The tire grade is there, and if you add the alternative to that, plus the pit stops, and then the strategy on top, it would be one of our classic tire grade races. I would just like to see an event Really here, because I think it's a beautiful place, a wonderful place and it looks good on TV.

“I don't think we're showing (back).”

However, for some, the lack of meaningful passes was the least of their frustrations.

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After the race, Christian Lundgaard and Rahal Letterman of Lanigan Racing were angry at what they saw as a lack of consistency in race control's view of what teams could change or fix without being disqualified. While running on the outside of VeeKay while rolling through Turn 1 on Lap 1 of Heat 1, the left side of Lundgaard's No. 45 Honda took a heavy hit from VeeKay's No. 21 Chevy, Lundgaard was able to run and hold on to the top -6 points for the lead. When he pulled back into the parking lane, his crew noticed a large gash on his left side. Realizing that it would likely result in a trip to the back of the finish field because the repair would likely not be a true emergency, RLL officials were puzzled when they were told that swapping the body work was overkill.

Do that, and their day will be over. Instead, they grabbed a roll of BearBond repair tape — which is basically duct tape on steroids — applied the largest bandage possible and accepted a three-point drop from 8y To 11y.

So imagine their surprise when they learned that Andretti Global had been allowed to replace Colton Herta's entire front wing after the No. 26 Honda's first-lap first-lap contact with Dixon led to the ensuing pileup. Race control ruled that Herta had to start the finish from the back – which he actually had to start.

To make matters worse, RLL during intermission mainly asked to cut frayed pieces of tape from Lundgaard's car that were flapping in the wind. This was considered an emergency service by race management, which resulted in him losing a few points before the final race resumed.

Bobby Rahal was angry after the race, telling IndyStar: “I don't know who makes these decisions, but they're stupid.”

“If we were voluntarily invited to come back here next year, I don’t think we would attend,” Lundgaard added.

Wait, you mean your entire team?

“Yes. The way it's gone, what do we gain, when we're supposed to be racing, and we have a bunch of damage, and we can't even fix it?

From inside: Why IndyCar needs to succeed with the Million Dollar Challenge

Weighing the benefits of an imperfect event

As he reluctantly sat on the sidelines this weekend, no longer having a full-time ride and instead serving as one of IndyCar's social media influencers over the weekend, Conor Daly may have had a more expansive view. Although Dreyer and Reinbold's only current Indy 500 driver is largely unafraid to share his views on the series' shortcomings from time to time, Daly's stance stood throughout the weekend — even despite the long stretches of inaction that dominated Ballou's escape Winning – it boils down to this:

“At least we're racing.”

Faced with the unexpected loss of the annual visit to Texas Motor Speedway in the spring, which created a six-week gap between Race 1 (St. Pete) and Race 2 (Long Beach), IndyCar took the network television window from NBC and capitalized on it. With the list of viable venues, frustratingly at 1, Penske Entertainment executives answered The Thermal Club's call for a return trip that, as of this weekend, was still being shaped into its final product.

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What happened, if nothing else according to Daly, should have quenched the fan base's thirst for the calendar to start rolling in earnest.

“I don't know what our fans are looking for. No matter the race, you're going to look at the strategy you can use to win as a team. We're not preparing to finish 4y“Things have gone as they have, but for me as a race fan, I'm fine, because I know we've got the second half,” said Daly in response to complaints about the first half of the main event which proved to be a glorious warm-up.

“Nobody's ever going to be completely happy, and some people are going to be angry about everything, but you've got a free race to watch on Sunday, and if you're going to sit there and say: 'I don't want to.' Watch it, well, that means you're not a racing fan.

Ballou joked Saturday night, after he received his heat race pole, that he would be strapped to a bumper to help him hold his own against his hardcore peers. He admitted, like the rest of the podium, that IndyCar's Million Dollar Challenge needs some tweaks to get into its best shape. For one thing, he – like others – expressed displeasure at holding a non-points event outside of the holiday season. He added that the system at its simplest — 10-lap heat races with a half-field, followed by a 20-lap main event with a rest in between — left a lot to be desired, and in some way hampered the IndyCar spectacle. He is enthusiastically proud.

Admittedly, the podium trio were reflecting on the weekend with their glasses half-full, post-podium finishes, and they largely agreed that the weekend-long IndyCar experience had a foundation that Penske Entertainment officials could hone and shape into An event that best combines the looseness of an exhibition with the high-energy excitement of a traditional IndyCar weekend.

“I think it's all down to the support we've had from the club,” McLaughlin said. “I think (members) Thermal have put their backs behind IndyCar for this and created a great event. The opportunity is there for all the teams to come here and make money, but also to put on a show and even do a two-day test, you've got to give props to Thermal.”

“This was a good opportunity to try completely different things.”

And if that's possible — while acknowledging the immediate oddity of the venue being unable to host more than a few thousand guests — perhaps IndyCar can step further out of its comfort zone and take full advantage of what Rosenqvist described as “the most challenging track we've ever been on.” After a while” and run a full regular season event.

“This was an experience, wasn't it? I think we proved today that we can race here like any other track. “I think the actual points round will be really cool.

“IndyCar has been very open with this event, and they asked us to keep an open mind. I thought it was great – a lot of fun to be out there and do something different than we do every weekend.”

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