Rosenqvist, Palou Get Poles in Their Heat Races at a Windy, Dusty Thermal

a race car on a track
Rosenqvist, Palou Get Poles at Indycar ThermalChris Jones

Crazy desert weather dominated qualifying for the Indycar NTT $1 Million Challenge in California, as Felix Rosenqvist and Alex Palou each topped their respective qualifying sessions for Sunday’s two heat races.

There’s a lot going on out here in the desert.

For instance, it’s called the $1 Million Challenge even though the winner will only get a half million bucks. Hey, it’s better marketing. The Challenge is being held at a very nice club racing track called The Thermal Club about 30 miles east of Palm Springs. Indycar held a test session here a year ago last February, and everything went so well that they’re back again this year and decided to tack on a race after testing.


The track is so small and tight, and the surface so abrasive to tires, that officials decided to split everything up into two heat races Sunday morning. The top six finishers of those two heat races qualify for the main event after that. Saturday was qualifying for the heat races, and that’s what Palou and Rosenqvist each won.

It wasn’t easy.

a person wearing a helmet and goggles
Alex Palou is #1, for today...Honda

With a rainstorm pelting the greater Southern California area a hundred miles to the west, that meant lots of wind blasting into the Palm Springs area. With wind in the desert, you get sand picked up. With sand comes something out of an old Hollywood Bible movie – think the Ten Commandments, Exodus, or Lawrence of Arabia.

“We were getting blasted by what appeared to be a giant haboob in the golf cart,” said commentator and former racer Townsend Bell, referring to the desert wind named for the Arabic word for “blasting” or “drifting.”

“It’s so wind-dependent,” said Graham Rahal of the track conditions. Rahal qualified third in the second group. “Wind on the side of the car is terrible, but then getting the power down in all the hairpins is awful.”

“It’s so tricky out there, man,” said Rosenqvist. “The wind is changing, there’s dust on the track.”

“One thing about this track, with basically a sandstorm that just came through, every outing the car felt different,” said Rinus Veekay, who qualified third in the first session. “We just kind of nailed it.”

a man in a race car
Felix Rosenqvist wins pole.东风 Honda

So then what’s the key to winning this event?

“Stay on the track,” he said. “You only gotta lead one lap that’s the last one.”

Sunday’s action starts at 9:30 am PST with Heat Race 1, followed by Heat Race 2 at 10:00 am. The main event gets underway at 10:55 am PST.

“I’m putting a bumper on my car,” said Palou.

Should be fun!

Heat Race 1

1. (60) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Honda, 01:38.5831 (111.999)
2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:38.6068 (111.972)
3. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:38.6283 (111.948)
4. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Dallara-Honda, 01:38.6394 (111.935)
5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:38.7926 (111.761)
6. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:38.8056 (111.747)
7. (77) Romain Grosjean, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:38.8774 (111.666)
8. (78) Agustin Canapino, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:39.5994 (110.856)
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:39.7074 (110.736)
10. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:39.7400 (110.700)
11. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 01:39.8331 (110.597)
12. (18) Nolan Siegel, Dallara-Honda, 01:40.1218 (110.278)
13. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Dallara-Honda, 01:40.1268 (110.272)
14. (41) Sting Ray Robb, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:41.5352 (108.743)

Heat Race 2
1. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 01:38.5675 (112.017)
2. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Dallara-Honda, 01:38.7575 (111.801)
3. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:38.9723 (111.558)
4. (8) Linus Lundqvist, Dallara-Honda, 01:39.0685 (111.450)
5. (66) Tom Blomqvist, Dallara-Honda, 01:39.0820 (111.435)
6. (30) Pietro Fittipaldi, Dallara-Honda, 01:39.1117 (111.402)
7. (7) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:39.1140 (111.399)
8. (6) Callum Ilott, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:39.2575 (111.238)
9. (5) Pato O'Ward, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:39.4293 (111.046)
10. (4) Kyffin Simpson, Dallara-Honda, 01:39.9502 (110.467)
11. (20) Christian Rasmussen, Dallara-Chevrolet, 01:40.2820 (110.102)
12. (51) Colin Braun, Dallara-Honda, 01:40.7843 (109.553)
13. (28) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, no time (no speed)