IndyCar Thermal $1 Million Challenge live updates: Alex Palou leads every lap to win big payday

Alex Palou cruised to victory in the IndyCar $1 Million Challenge, leading all 30 laps that he raced Sunday at The Thermal Club in Southern California.

The two-time series champion earned a $500,000 payday by winning by more than 5 seconds over Scott McLaughlin on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course east of Palm Springs, California.

Palou led all 10 laps of the second heat race to take the pole position for the Sprint for the Purse main event. The Chip Ganassi Racing star then led start to finish in the 20-lap finale.

Felix Rosenqvist, who won the first heat, finished third, followed by Colton Herta and Marcus Armstrong.

Updates from earlier in the exhibition event below:

Alex Palou leads at halftime; Fittipaldi disqualified

Two-time IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou dominated the first half of the $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club, leading the first 10 of 20 laps from the pole position.

Scott McLaughlin was 1.8 seconds behind in second when the race was stopped at halfway, followed by Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Armstrong and Josef Newgarden.

There was a gap of about 7 seconds between the top four, and Newgarden was more than 17 seconds behind in fifth.

Linus Lundqvist, Christian Lundgaard, Alexander Rossi, Agustin Canapino and Colton Herta were the rest of the drivers on the lead lap of the 12-car main event, which will pay $500,000 to the winner.

Pietro Fittipaldi finished the first segment in ninth, but IndyCar disqualified his car from the second half for failing to follow race instructions. NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey said IndyCar ruled that the team improperly fueled the car of Fittipaldi, who saved fuel throughout the first 10 laps.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal went a lap down after pitting for throttle problems near the end of the first segment. He was unable to restart the race in his No. 15 Dallara-Honda.

“Just a stuck throttle,” Rahal told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Felt it on Lap 3. It progressively got to the point I had to clutch it every single brake zone to not go sailing off. It’s just too dangerous.”

Lundgaard, the third RLL driver, restarted the final segment from last after emergency repairs to his car.

During the break, cars can be serviced for fuel, adjustments to the front and rear wing angles and wickers, adjustments to tire pressure and driver assistance.

The final 10-lap segment will be live on NBC and streamed on Peacock.

Alex Palou wins Heat 2 as lineup is set

Alex Palou won an uneventful second heat as Chip Ganassi Racing took three of the four remaining spots in the main event of the IndyCar $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club.

Palou, the two-time series champion, led start to finish from the pole position, and CGR teammate Marcus Armstrong took second.

Graham Rahal was third, followed by Ganassi rookie Linus Lundqvist, Pietro Fittipaldi and Alexander Rossi, who had the 10-lap race’s most memorable battle with Tom Blomqvist.

Rossi squeezed around the rookie on the fourth lap for the final transfer spot to the Sprint for the Purse, which will offer $500,000 to the winner from $1.756 million in prize money.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the 12-car starting grid

While Rossi eked into the final, Arrow McLaren teammates Pato O’Ward and Callum Ilott were unable to advance.

Kyffin Simpson, Christian Rasmussen, Colin Braun and Marcus Ericsson also failed to advance.

Palou will start on the pole of the Sprint for the Purse alongside Heat 1 winner Felix Rosenqvist. Armstrong and Scott McLaughlin will make up the second row.

The main event is being broadcast on NBC and streamed on Peacock.

Rosenqvist wins Heat 1; Grosjean, VeeKay crash

Felix Rosenqvist won the opening heat of the $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club, where Romain Grosjean and Rinus VeeKay were among the big losers.

Grosjean and VeeKay crashed in the first turn on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course, ending their chances at a big payday before the all-star exhibition hardly began.

The incident started when Grosjean’s No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet was rear-ended by six-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda. The Juncos Hollinger Racing driver then ran into VeeKay’s No. 21 Dallara-Chevry, leaving both cars with heavy damage.

Grosjean, who also grew agitated with an AMR safety worker while leaving the scene, had yet to see the replay when interviewed by NBC Sports’ Marty Snider.

“I got hit under braking,” Grosjean said. “I haven’t seen the footage, but I got hit really badly in the back, and then the car spun. Who’s going to pay for the damage? We come here with nothing on the line, we do nothing wrong, and the car’s completely smashed. Yeah. What are you going to do? It’s not what we signed up for.”

An IndyCar spokesman confirmed that Grosjean’s actions with the safety worker would be reviewed for a possible penalty.

Dixon was contrite about the contact with Grosjean.

“There was a lot going on, that’s for sure,” Dixon told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Initially, Herta and i got into it. Grsojan went to the left, and I thought he was going all the way to the left, which was going to open up the middle. And all of a sudden, he started to fade back to the right.

“Everybody stopped so early, a lot earlier than I thought we were going to, especially with the massive headwind. Obviously, I don’t want to collect anybody, and I apologize to anyone collected in that incident. It was all going on in a short period of time, and sometimes that happens, unfortunately.”

Roseqnvist won the 10-lap heat from the pole position, advancing to the main event with Scott McLaughlin, Josef Newgarden, Christian Lundgaard, Agustin Canapino and Colton Herta.

Failing to reach the 12-car main event were Nolan Siegel, Santino Ferrucci, Will Power, Kyle Kirkwood, Sting Ray Robb, Dixon, VeeKay and Grosjean.

“It’s an awesome start,” Rosenqvist told Snider. “Man,it felt like a long race. Super pleased with my team, Meyer Shank Racing. This is a great start for us.”

A second heat race will determine the other six slots in the main event.

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