How IndyCar will police its $1 Million Challenge

Will IndyCar’s race control team, led by race director Kyle Novak, let the 12 drivers who transfer into Sunday’s $1 Million Challenge smash their way towards The Thermal Club’s victory lane, or will Novak and his stewards Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk be ready to enforce strict guidelines to prevent the cash-grab from getting out of hand?

“I have a boring answer, but there’s no intention to call it any differently than we have in the past,” Novak told RACER. “Which some might scratch their head and say, ‘Well, how have you called it in the past?’ But everything’s going to be called using the basic fundamentals we have always used before.”

Novak came to IndyCar after years spent in IMSA’s race control where the fendered prototypes and GT cars made routine contact during WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events. In presiding over Indy cars with exposed tires, Novak’s always conscious of the risks of wheel-to-wheel entanglements and drivers getting airborne if aggressive behavior is permitted.


Despite the sizable payouts of up to $500,000 for the winner of Sunday’s non-points race, Novak expects his drivers to err on the side of safety while gunning for cash prizes.

“I think anytime you uncork open-wheel cars, anytime you take the gloves off with an open-wheel car, you introduce elements that you don’t have with fenders. And we’re certainly cognizant of that,” he said.

“Now, if I get in the drivers meeting on Thursday, and we have complete mutiny that comes up, we’re open to ideas, but certainly the plan going into Thermal is just to keep it the same.”

As long as his drivers play within the framework he outlines before every event, Novak – who graduated from Ohio Northern University with a law degree and was a practicing lawyer – doesn’t like getting into the Xs and Os in telling IndyCar drivers how to perform their jobs in the cockpit.

“They do that themselves,” he said. “It’s not my role as a race director, who’s never driven an Indy car, to tell them how to conduct themselves, other than these are the parameters IndyCar laid out, and explain those parameters to the best of my ability. I’ve never been in the business of trying to tell them what to do out there, other than how it relates to the rule structure.

“I’m more of a technician. I’m an attorney, we’re organized, and we’re gonna set up a great infrastructure and a safe infrastructure for you guys to race, but I’ve never tried to give them a whole lot of advice other than if the needle needs to change a little bit on whether it be starts, restart, avoidable contact or blocking. So that won’t be a part of the conversation unless they want to make it.”

With last year’s lap times at The Thermal Club falling in the 1m38s to 1m40s range, the $1 Million Challenge’s bisected race format with 10 laps followed by a 10-minute halftime and a 10-lap finale should go by in a flash.

Barring cautions or red flags, each 10-lap segment should last between 16-18 minutes which, in theory, won’t give Novak and the race control team a lot of time to review incidents and assess penalties. Although they won’t have the luxury of a standard 1h50m race to do deep dives into any incidents, Novak isn’t concerned about the compressed officiating windows they’ll have to manage.

“The benefit here is not having pit stops,” he explained. “Many of the biggest calls that we have to make involve pit stops, and the nice part is we won’t have them in this format; the only people that are going to be in pit lane are the people that have problems. We’re pretty expedited to begin with in how we do things; it just comes down to priority and what’s going to have the most immediate impact on whether it’s the finishing order that affects the big dollars; those will obviously be prioritized.

“But as far as working through the fundamentals of every review, it shouldn’t change much because most of those get a review that rarely lasts even five minutes. That would be a pretty long review time, even in a standard IndyCar race.”

Story originally appeared on Racer