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Palou takes dominant IndyCar win in Thermal Million Dollar Challenge

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Alex Palou put in a relatively uncontested drive to win IndyCar's $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club.

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Reigning and two-time IndyCar Series champion Palou controlled the non-points exhibition event, the first in IndyCar since 2008, to claim victory by 5.7929s over Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin at the 3.067-mile, 17-turn road course.

Palou started on pole in his respective heat and in the final, holding the top spot during the event’s entirety.

Meyer Shank Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist, who won the opening heat, finished third.

Andretti Global’s Colton Herta charged from ninth in the second half of the 20-lap final to finish fourth, ahead of Ganassi's Marcus Armstrong.

Second 10 Laps

Palou led McLaughlin to the green flag in the decisive segment of the final, with Rosenqvist and Armstrong in tow.

The action on the opening lap came early, with Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino making contact while battling side-by-side in Turn 1. Rossi emerged ahead.

Contact was the theme for Rossi, who stormed up to sixth by passing rookie Linus Lundqvist (Chip Ganassi Racing) and then put pressure on Penske’s Josef Newgarden in fifth.

Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Rossi and Newgarden went side-by-side on the third lap in Turn 1 then made contact in Turn 2, which cost both spots to Herta and Lundqvist. Moments later, Rossi was finally able to get by Newgarden.

Rossi attempted a lunge on Lundqvist in Turn 16 the following lap, but overshot and lost the spot. In the end, Rossi was not able to regain the position and finished seventh.

First 10 Laps

Palou started on pole for the final and got a sizeable jump on the field, while McLaughlin squeezed up to second after starting fourth.

Herta and Lundgaard were forced to start from the rear of the grid for taking emergency service following the opening heat.

In light of this development, Herta opted to drop off the pace and down to 12th (last) in an effort to conserve his tyres, which have been susceptible to high degradation all weekend throughout testing.

After the opening three laps – with Palou still leading ahead of McLaughlin, Rosenqvist, Armstrong and Newgarden – Graham Rahal reported over the radio that his throttle was sticking. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver attempted to continue as the field began to spread out in an attempt to conserve tyres, but he was forced to pit and retire with two laps remaining.

Rahal's team-mate Pietro Fittipaldi faded down to last in the closing laps, behind Herta, after learning his crew did not supply him with enough fuel to finish the segment on pace.

The top five remained unchanged prior to the half-time break, with Palou leading by 1.705s over McLaughlin, while IndyCar officials disqualified Fittipaldi after his team failed to obey the rules of properly filling up his car ahead of the final.

Lundgaard was left starting the second half from the rear of the field after once again taking emergency service during the break.

Pietro Fittipaldi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Pietro Fittipaldi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Heat 1

Rosenqvist led the field to green, but chaos followed quickly after he made it through Turn 1.

The mid-pack became stacked up when Herta dove under and touched wheels lightly with Ganassi's Scott Dixon, who ended up rear-ending Romain Grosjean (Juncos Hollinger Racing).

The contact sent Grosjean into a spin into the apex of the opening corner, where he slammed into the Ed Carpenter Racing machine of Rinus VeeKay and the left side of Lundgaard. Penske’s Will Power dodged the melee by taking to the runoff area, but dropped to the back of the field as a result.

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The contact was enough to retire Grosjean early from the event, while Dixon was handed a drive-through penalty.

Lundgaard was able to continue and maintain position in a transfer spot within the top six.

The race resumed with Rosenqvist making a clean getaway over McLaughlin, but the 10-lap heat was switched to the 20-minute time limit as a result of the caution.

Herta jumped into sixth position, ahead Dale Coyne Racing rookie Nolan Siegel.

Despite being able to apply pressure near the end on Herta, Siegel bobbled into Turn 1 and lost ground, crossing the finish line seventh as the first driver to not advance.

Meanwhile, Rosenqvist was able to hold the lead through the end over McLaughlin, ahead of Newgarden, Lundgaard, Canapino and Herta.

In addition to Siegel, Power and Dixon were among those not to make the final.

Romain Grosjean, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, crash

Romain Grosjean, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, crash

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Heat 2

It was a cleaner and more straightforward contest in the second heat, with Palou taking advantage of his pole start to gap team-mate Armstrong.

The biggest battle came for the transfer spot, with Meyer Shank Racing’s Tom Blomqvist going against all three drivers of Arrow McLaren.

Although Blomqvist was able to make an admirable fight, fending off the likes of Callum Ilott, his aggressive defending on Rossi did not work as he was pushed wide and eventually lost the crucial sixth – and seventh – position to Rossi and then Pato O’Ward.

O’Ward attempted to close on Rossi, but it wasn’t enough to progress as the American held on to transfer.

Palou built up a gap of 3.8s after six of 10 laps, and nearly 13s over Rahal in third.

When the dust settled, those to advance to the final were Palou, Armstrong, Lundqvist, Fittipaldi and Rossi.

O’Ward, Ilott and Blomqvist were among those notable on the outside looking in.

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