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Rosenqvist, Palou secure heat poles for $1 Million Challenge 

Written by Caitlyn Gordon

The NTT IndyCar Series’ first non-points race since 2008 takes place at the Thermal Club this weekend, with a purse of over $1.7 million to be split among the drivers. But, before the main event takes place, an interesting new format of qualifying was held on Saturday evening, with Felix Rosenqvist and Alex Palou securing pole for their respective heats.

How did qualifying work?

This weekend's qualifying format was a lot different to the usual championship session. 

Drivers were split into two groups on Thursday evening - Group One containing 14 drivers and Group Two the remaining 13 drivers.

A quick eight-minute shoot out session around the 3.067-mile circuit would create the grid for Sunday’s heat race. For the first time in IndyCar’s history, drivers were issued with 40 seconds of push-to-pass and to use throughout the session. 

As for the races on Sunday, the drivers finishing in the top six of each heat race will advance on to the ‘all star 12’, where the drivers will then compete in a 20-lap session for a first-place prize of $500,000. 

So how did qualifying at the Thermal Club unfold?

Group 1 (Rosenqvist, Grosjean, VeeKay, Dixon, Canapino, Ferrucci, Kirkwood, Herta, Power, McLaughlin, Siegel, Robb, Newgarden, VeeKay, Lundgaard)

There were 14 drivers that took to the circuit for the first competitive session of the weekend. The first to set a time was Scott Dixon, who put a 1:39.7074s lap on the board. With the standard for the drivers already set, the remainder of the grid got ready for their first set of flying laps. 

Scott McLaughlin snatched pole position with a minute left on the clock, but the Kiwi didn’t hold onto the position for long as the No.60 Meyer Shank Racing car of Felix Rosenqvist put in a time of 1:38.5831s, which shot the Swede to the top of the sheets.

Rinus VeeKay and Christian Lundgaard ended up in third and fourth. With the movement among the pack, Dixon dropped down the field and will start tomorrow’s heat race in ninth-place.

The remainder of the Team Penske cars, Josef Newgarden and Will Power, slotted into fifth and sixth respectively, with the pair of Juncos Hollinger Racing car, Romain Grosjean and Agustin Canapino, in seventh and eighth. Santino Ferrucci put his No.14 AJ Foyt Racing car into 10th-place with a 1:39.7400s lap.

It was a disastrous start to the weekend for Andretti Global, whose drivers struggled to put a solid lap onto the timing sheets. With the chequered flag out and waving, Colton Herta went onto his final flying lap after having to abandon his previous lap due to dirty air getting in his way and ruining his time. His final lap was messy and Herta wound up in 11th, with his teammate Kyle Kirkwood qualifying down in 13th.

Dale Coyne Racing debutant, Noah Siegel, will start the race in 12th after an impressive shot at qualifying. Sting Ray Robb rounds out the Group One qualifying results.

Group 2 (Palou, Lundqvist, Rahal, O’Ward, Ilott, Simpson, Ericsson, Armstrong, Blomqvist, Rossi, Rasmussen, Braun, Fittipaldi)

Group Two was next to hit the track, with Arrow McLaren putting in the early benchmark for the session through Pato O’Ward. He was then bumped down by his temporary teammate, Callum Ilott, who delivered a time two-tenths quicker. As the session went on, the pair dropped down the pecking order, with Alexander Rossi slotting his car into seventh-place late on, ahead of Ilott in eighth and O’Ward ninth. 

Andretti, hoping for a better session, saw trouble in paradise continue with just over a minute left on the clock. Marcus Ericsson hit a bump on his flying lap, causing his Andretti car to back into the tyres and bring out the session’s first and only red flag. The incident means Ericsson will be starting from the back of the pack, worsening the blow for Andretti.

Once the car was rescued, the three Chip Ganassi Racing cars flocked to the front of the field, with Alex Palou leading the three. Linus Lundqvist in third was bumped down by Graham Rahal with just seconds remaining. Marcus Armstrong held onto second-place. Ganassi rookie, Kyffin Simpson, qualified in 10th-place.

In fifth-place was Tom Blomqvist, followed by Rahal's teammate Pietro Fittipaldi, who crossed the line with a 1:39.1117s best lap. 

As the session came to a close, Christian Rasmussen and Colin Braun rounded out the back of the field, alongside Ericsson's wounded Andretti.


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