Rosenqvist, Palou Capture Poles for Thermal Heat Races

Felix Rosenqvist and Alex Palou each battled gusty winds and changing track conditions Saturday to claim poles for the two heat races Sunday setting the field for The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge.

Rosenqvist and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Palou will be at the head of the field for their respective 10-lap heat races Sunday on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile desert circuit near Palm Springs, California. The top six finishers in each of those heats will compete in the Sprint for the Purse, a two-segment, 20-lap feature race that awards $500,000 to the winner.

SEE: Heat 1 Qualifying Results | Heat 2 Qualifying Results

Live coverage of the two heat races and non-points Sprint for the Purse starts at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

“It’s an angry pack behind in the mirror,” Rosenqvist of starting from the front in the heat. “I think it’s about the start and getting away, but, man, everyone’s going to go for it. That’s the beauty and the curse of this format. Everyone is just going to give it all, and that’s what we did now and ended up first.”

Rosenqvist continued his strong performance from the season opener earlier this month in St. Petersburg by taking the top spot for the first 10-lap heat with a best lap of 1 minute, 38.5831 seconds in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda despite problems with his push-to-pass mechanism during testing earlier today. The Swede qualified second and finished seventh in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding in the first points-paying event of the season and his first with Meyer Shank Racing.

“We tried to stay calm after the morning; we had kind of a messy session,” Rosenqvist said. “I just tried to forget that session, take a deep breath and do it all again.

“It’s so tricky out there, man. The wind is changing every lap. There’s dust on the track. I was first out (in qualifying), so I was worried there was going to be poor grip. But I could focus on my tire warmup like we did yesterday, and I felt a bit more confident when I went for the lap. I guess all we had to do is put it together, and the speed is there. Awesome.”

Scott McLaughlin will join Rosenqvist on the front row for the first heat race after his best lap of 1:38.6068 in the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet. Rinus VeeKay will be on the inside of Row 2 in the first heat after his qualifying lap of 1:38.6283 in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

Christian Lundgaard, quickest overall in two days of testing here Friday and today, qualified fourth for the first heat at 1:38.6394 in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Each qualifying group – determined by a blind draw Thursday night at this private automotive club – had just eight minutes on track. The first group was clean other than a few drivers putting a Firestone Firehawk tire wide and kicking sand and dirt on the track. The second group faced more pressure when Marcus Ericsson spun off track and backed into the tire barrier in Turn 9 in the No. 28 Delaware Life Honda fielded by Andretti Global, spawning a red flag and freezing the clock with just one minute, 19 seconds left.

That forced the other 12 drivers in Group Two to decide whether they wanted to stand pat on their existing times or go for broke on one final trip around the circuit when the session resumed.

Two-time series champion Palou decided to take a chance in his No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda as the wind picked up and swirled sand and dust around the circuit. Palou, who led both test sessions Friday, produced the top lap of qualifying with his Group 2-topping run of 1:38.5675 despite having only 14 seconds of push-to-pass left for that lap.

“Looking forward to tomorrow,” Palou said. “After all that confusion with the red flag and everything, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to put a lap together. But happy with that.

“We were using everything (push-to-pass) on that lap before it went red, so happy with that pace. The car is good.”

Palou will start on the pole for the 20-lap Sprint for the Purse – divided into two-lap segments – if he wins his heat race because he produced the quickest lap of the two qualifying segments.

It will be an all-Chip Ganassi Racing front row for the second heat race as Marcus Armstrong qualified second at 1:38.7575 in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Graham Rahal, who struggled for pace here Friday and today in testing, found grip at just the right time to qualify third at 1:38.9723 in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Rookie Linus Lundqvist completed a strong second qualifying group for CGR and will start fourth after his best lap of 1:39.0685 in the No. 8 American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

NTT IndyCar Series PR