Chevrolet Indycar at the Thermal Club: Team Chevy Race Report

Proving tricky for Team Chevy, The Thermal Club near Palm Spring, Calif. provided quite the challenge for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ $1 Million Challenge exhibition, a non-points-paying All-Star event.

Representing Chevrolet in the 20-lap, two-segment feature race, Scott McLaughlin, driver of the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet, finished second and led the four Bowtie-branded drivers that also included Alexander Rossi, driver of the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet (seventh), McLaughlin’s teammate Josef Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (eighth), and Agustin Canapino, driver of the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet (10th).

Providing additional challenges for both qualifying Saturday and race day Sunday, the southern California desert dished up substantial wind and dust, forcing drivers to weather the event and showcase their race craft in adverse conditions.

“I better put some money up at the bar tonight,” McLaughlin joked. “Our XPEL Chevy. Just didn’t have quite enough for Alex (Palou). Congrats to him and his team. Once you get that clear air, it was good. I thought maybe that first restart would be okay, just to have a bit of a play around and see if we can get him, but ultimately just settled for my pace to make sure we come home in a good spot. I was pumped with my first restart. My first restart was a lot of fun. I got from fourth to second, and that really set up our race.”

In Heat 1 which started Sunday morning, McLaughlin helped lead the field to the green flag on the front row in second. With a chaotic first lap that saw an on-track incident involving Rinus VeeKay, driver of the No. 21 askROI Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, and Romain Grosjean, driver of the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, the race eventually restarted for 10 laps and drivers settled in. Transferring to the main event from Heat 1 and representing Chevrolet in the 12-lap shootout were McLaughlin, Newgarden, and Canapino.

In an action-packed second heat that saw drivers getting racy on the 3.067-mile, 4.82-kilometer country-club-like course, Rossi was the only driver to transfer after 10 laps to represent Chevrolet in the 20-lap All-Star feature race.

With a main event that featured two ten-lap segments with a break between, strategy in the unique event was critically in play, where teams could only refuel and make wicker and wing adjustments to their Indy cars, with no new tires or additional adjustments allowed.

With ten laps remaining after the mid-race break, McLaughlin maintained his second-place position and restarted the event near the front, with Newgarden following in fifth, Rossi in eighth, and Canapino in ninth. Before the first lap of the second segment was complete, Rossi and Newgarden gave the crowd a show with an impressive on-track battle, with Rossi moving Newgarden to try and advance.

After the 20-lap event, McLaughlin crossed the finish line to claim a podium finish in second for Chevrolet and Team Penske.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES next head to Long Beach, Calif. for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 19-21, 2024, the long-standing 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. Practice kicks off the weekend Friday, with a second practice and qualifying on Saturday. Sunday’s race airs live on USA Network at 3 p.m. ET. All practice and qualifying sessions will broadcast with Peacock, and on both INDYCAR Radio and SiriusXM Channel 160.


2nd Scott McLaughlin

7th Alexander Rossi

8th Josef Newgarden

10th Agustin Canapino


Josef Newgarden, No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet:

“Just really hard racing there with me and Alex (Rossi) and kind of a microcosm of the two strategies you saw today. We didn’t quite go into the heavy tire conservation mode that he and others did over the first 10 laps before the break. You could tell it benefited him greatly and while the Hitachi Chevy was good today, I was just trying to hold him off. It was a great weekend here at Thermal. They rolled out the red carpet once again, and I think you saw today that this track could put on an entertaining show with more laps, tire degradation and pit strategies.”

Will Power, No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet:

“I saw the 77 T-bone someone, and I kind of went to the outside and went to the back. It was very close, very close. I was, man, I actually I was wondering where I was because of how many people that got knocked out (in the Lap 1 incident). If it’s tenths, you could make four up. I made a couple of up and caught up to the group that Colton (Herta) was holding up, but once the tires deg, the track is slippery, there’s not many places that you can make a move. I made two moves through those esses hammering through the two fast corners, and then just throwing up the inside because it’s a pretty wide entry.”

Pato O’Ward, No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet:

“It was a challenging weekend for us. In terms of testing, we had a pretty phenomenal week. In terms of race format and results, I would call it the Bermuda Triangle of race tracks. That is what my engineer Kate Gundlach said, and I would have to agree. It’s a very temperature-sensitive track, very wind-sensitive, and we were on the wrong side of it in qualifying. That’s something that none of us could have predicted and is probably something that has never been seen before in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. We’ll learn from it, and we can apply it when we come back next year, but that’s it from us. I’m glad we’re heading to Long Beach; it’s a place that we know. All this work will be for something. I’m looking forward to getting back to our championship.”

Callum Ilott, No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet:

“The start today was strong and a bit scrappy, but then I was fighting with (Tom) Blomqvist quite hard. I had some contact with him, but we just didn’t have the pace from there. Pato (O’Ward) and Alexander (Rossi) got past me, and it was just a push to the end. Good job to Alexander (Rossi) to get into the All-Star Race; his team did a solid job.”

Alexander Rossi, No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet:

“That was pretty anti-climactic. It’s hard to pass around here. The car was good, and we were able to move up from 14th overall to start the day to P7 in the final race. Now we move on to Long Beach.”

Santino Ferrucci, No. 14 Chevrolet at AJ Foyt Racing:

“It was a solid two-day test for us at AJ Foyt Racing. We learned a lot. We kind of came in on the backfoot from our Barber test. Got the car sorted, and in qualifying, we kind of missed it a little bit. I kind of missed it a little bit. When we started the heat race, and honestly, we were super competitive. We should have transferred. Just got caught out on that Lap 1 incident. Hats off to the boys. Solid three days of work. Looking forward to heading to the hybrid test next week with Chevrolet.”

Sting Ray Robb, No. 41 Chevrolet at AJ Foyt Racing:

“The start was crazy. For a non-points race, I did not expect that. I was thankful for the free spots even though it’s a sad day for anyone involved in that. The team did a good job this week. It was a long week for a race that I think was consequential to our championship run. We learned a lot and we’ve got some work ahead of us. I’m excited our team got to be with us here this week, and kind of got to have a quiet race weekend, which was fun. I’m excited for the next one.”

Romain Grosjean, No. 77 Chevrolet at Juncos Hollinger Racing:

“I got hit on the braking. I haven’t seen the footage, but I got hit really, really badly in the back and then the car spun. It’s… It’s… Who’s going to pay for the damage? We come here with no points on the line, we do nothing wrong, and the car is completely smashed. What is that? It’s not what I signed in INDYCAR for.”

Agustin Canapino, No. 78 Chevrolet at Juncos Hollinger Racing:

“It was a good finish in P10. Really, really happy with the progress with this weekend. Honestly, we are improving a lot and we are still in the battle, the top-10. It was our first top-10 in INDYCAR. I am really happy, of course. Unfortunately, from the main race, our car has a big vibration for some reason. I’m not sure what happened there. But anyway, we finished in the battle in the top-10. Thanks to the whole team, and we’ll focus on Long Beach.”

SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN, NO. 3 XPEL TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET– Podium Press Conference Transcript from The Thermal Club:

THE MODERATOR: Wrapping up The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge here. We are joined by Scott McLaughlin for Team Penske. $350,000 richer. We were discussing how you were going to spend all that.

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Pay off my mortgage.

THE MODERATOR: Tell us about the day.

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Look, it all started I think with my heat race. I think I had a really good start. I was lucky not to get caught up with the kerfuffle with Grosjean, him going backwards. I could see it in my mirror. Me and Felix both went wide. Interesting to get his thoughts on it. I saw him. I’m sure he did. This is not going to be good. Obviously hit Rinus behind us. I got away with that.

Settled into a rhythm. Felt like we had a good speed in the heat race. In the final race, we were pretty conserving, looking after our tires at the start, being smart, knowing there’s guys that were going crazily slow, almost too slow I feel like, from a racing perspective. Anyway, looking after their tires.

Yeah, the start of race two, I tried to have a go at Alex, but ultimately he was just a little bit faster with that clean air. It was always going to be clean air was going to be king this weekend. I settled in, tried to maximize what I had. That was second today.

Proud. It was a solid week. Testing was great. I played a lot of golf. I’ve gone away 350 grand richer. A great week. I’m happy.

THE MODERATOR: Take us through the lap 11 restart.

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I had a really good run actually. I sort of felt that’s where Alex was going to go. Felix actually went at that same point the run before. I sort of preempted it, hoping he would go to the same spot. That’s exactly where I would go at the start of the restart as well.

Got a decent start but couldn’t get close enough to make a move. It is what it is. But I was proud of the day. Thought we maximized what he we could. We’re happy.

THE MODERATOR: What did you see in your rearview mirror in the first heat?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I was talking about I saw Grosjean smoking going backwards in my mirror. I felt like me and you both went wide. That could have been just me.

Q. This was a race, but also it was supposed to be for The Thermal Club people. You guys had members embedded with you. What do you think they got out of it?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I think from our standpoint, Team Penske, we had two lovely people. Gigi, she’s a ball of fun. She was on her stand the whole time. Her and her husband. It was an amazing week to have them there. They were there from when we started testing. They had headsets on. They could hear everything we were saying. Hopefully they’re not engineers because they have a lot of our secrets. Everything was open.

I guess it’s an idea of inner sanctum to INDYCAR racing, something I think was a really good idea and good to have people part of it. Thankfully we had two good people.

Q. Obviously applaud INDYCAR for trying something new. What would you think needs to be tweaked with maybe some of the format or the issues? The first half of the final was a follow the leader, conserve tires, wasn’t quite as entertaining as people were hoping.

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah, I think this is a good opportunity to try, like, completely different things. I think the qualifying was cool with the push to pass. I think that’s awesome from a standpoint of you have to nail the lap on that lap. I’m used to that from Supercars back in the day, shootouts. You had one lap and get it done. I think that’s a really good opportunity – good and bad – for you to mix up the grid. You just have to nail it. This field is so tight that if you miss it by a 10th or two, could find yourself at 15th if it was a proper shootout.

I think it’s definitely something we could think about for the Fast Six, qualifying format, not just here. I feel like we’ve done the same format for a long, long time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. But could we add something different to what we’ve done in the past to spice up the action.

Everyone is going to be on used for the most part in the Fast Six. Send them out, give them a little bit of push to pass, see what happens. I think that would be pretty cool.

Q. From the beginning when there was a media preview here in the fall of 2013, this track with lots of runoff, so on, was derided a little bit by the motorsports press as a gentleman’s track, subsequently as a paper clip track, not a real racetrack. We’re wondering what you have to say about that?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I think from when we were here last time to now, they’ve done a really good job with improvements, safety improvements, whatnot, to get it up to standard.

From the get-go, I think I’ll speak for myself, not for these guys, I generally have enjoyed the track. It’s a challenging technical track. It takes a lot to get the lap right. When you do, it’s very rewarding. Love the area like eight, nine long, sweeping corners. It’s a big commitment in these cars.

Yesterday you saw two people shunted there from pushing the limit too hard. You want that on the track. You want some technical spots.

It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s definitely not a gentleman’s track. I think people are jealous of not having a track in their own backyard, I guess.

Q. If we’re going to continue to have non-points exhibitions, should it rotate or this be the sole place we keep it?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I mean, I think it all comes down to the support that we get from the club and other tracks. I think Thermal have just put their backs behind INDYCAR for this and created an awesome event, the opportunity for all teams to come out here and earn money, which is an absolute bonus, but also to put on a show, have a test day for two days.

I think it’s just ultimately up to other people that want to be a part of it. But you got to give props to Thermal to do that. I don’t think you’ll see anything else unless people put up the investment that Thermal have done for us.

Q. There’s so many different things that made this event different: limited spectators, food trucks. What would you say your favorite thing was?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Having an ice cream after the race.

Q. Have you had it already?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Me, Alex, Felix, we all had one.

Q. Scott, that ice cream is not good for your diet.

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: That’s all right. It’s a cheat day.

Q. With clean air being king on this course, was it a little bit of a helpless feeling when you were seeing Alex just disappear into the distance?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Look, for me, echoing what Felix just said before, it was big picture. I mean, I knew that I’d have a chance. The first 10 laps was about trying to get some position, which I did, to get to the second, maybe set myself up for a pass after the restart. Alex is a pretty smart driver, as we know. I knew he’d be doing exactly what I was doing.

I just sort of tried to have a little crack on the first lap. Didn’t quite get it. Then it was settling in, making sure I pulled away from Felix. Ultimately I didn’t have enough pace for Alex either.

It is what it is. We’ll keep working. Alex has been fast all week and they deserve the win.