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Palou takes dominant IndyCar win in Thermal Million Dollar Challenge

Palou, the reigning and two-time IndyCar Series champion, controlled the field in the non-points exhibition, the first in IndyCar since 2008, to claim victory by  5.7929s over Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin at the 3.067-mile, 17-turn road course.

Palou started on pole in his respective heat and in the final, holding the top spot during the event’s entirety.

Meyer Shank Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist, who won the opening heat, finished third.

Andretti Global’s Colton Herta made furious charge from ninth in the second half of the 20-lap final, storming from ninth to finish fourth. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Armstrong finished fifth.

Second 10 Laps

Palou led McLaughlin to the green flag, with Rosenqvist and Armstrong in tow.

The action on the opening lap came early with Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino making contact while battling side-by-side in Turn 1, with Rossi coming out ahead.

Contact was the theme for Rossi, who charged up to sixth by rookie Linus Lundqvist (Chip Ganassi Racing) and then put pressure on Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in fifth.

Rossi and Newgarden went side-by-side on the third lap in Turn 1 and then made contact in Turn 2, which cost both spots to Herta and Lundqvist. Moments later, Rossi was finally able to get by Newgarden.

Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet (Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images)

Rossi attempted a lunge on Lundqvist in Turn 16 the following lap, but overshot and lost the spot. In the end, Rossi was not able to regain the spot and finished seventh.

First 10 Laps

Palou started on pole and got a sizable jump on, while McLaughlin squeezed up to second after starting fourth.

Herta and Lundgaard were forced to start from the rear of the grid for taking emergency service following the opening heat.

With that situation in play, Herta opted to drop off the pace and down to 12th (last) in a massive effort to conserve his tires, which have been susceptible to high degradation all weekend throughout testing.

After the opening three laps – with Palou still leading ahead of McLaughlin, Rosenqvist, Armstrong and Newgarden – Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) reported over the radio that his throttle was sticking.

Rahal attempted to continue on as the entire field began to spread out as everyone attempted to conserve their respective tires. Additionally, though, Pietro Fittipaldi (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) was left fading down to last in the last few laps behind Herta after learning his crew did not supply him with enough fuel to finish the segment on pace.

Colton Herta, Andretti Global w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda (Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images)

While the top five remain unchanged, with Palou going on to hit the halftime break with a 1.705s margin over McLaughlin, there was trouble for Rahal as the throttle issues persisted and he came to pit lane with two laps remaining and retired.

When the opening half of the final came to an end, IndyCar officials disqualified Fittipaldi after his team failed to obey the rules of properly filling up his car ahead of the final.

Lundgaard was left starting the second half from the rear of the field after once again taking emergency service during the break.

Heat 1

Rosenqvist led the field to green, but chaos followed quickly after he made it through Turn 1.

The mid-pack became stacked up when as Herta dove under and touched wheels lightly with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who ended up rear-ending Romain Grosjean (Juncos Hollinger Racing).

The contact sent Grosjean into a spin into the apex of the opening corner, where he slammed into the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet of Rinus VeeKay and the left side of Lundgaard. Team Penske’s Will Power dodged the melee by taking to the runoff area, but dropped to the back of the field as a result.

The contact was enough to retire Grosjean early from the event, while Dixon was handed a drive-through penalty.

Lundgaard was able to continue on and maintain position in a transfer spot – four – top six.

The race resumed with Rosenqvist making a clean getaway over McLaughlin, but the 10-lap heat was switched to the 20-minute time limit as a result of the caution.

Herta was able to jump to the sixth position, ahead Dale Coyne Racing rookie Nolan Siegel.

Despite being able to apply pressure near the end on Herta, Siegel bobbled into Turn 1 and lost ground, crossing the finish line seventh and the first driver to not advance.

Meanwhile, Rosenqvist was able to hold the lead through the end over McLaughlin, ahead of Newgarden, Lundgaard, Canapino and Herta.

In addition to Siegel, Power and Dixon were among those not to make the final.

Heat 2

It was a cleaner and more straightforward contest in the second heat, with Palou taking advantage of his pole start to gap team-mate Armstrong.

The biggest battle came for the transfer spot, with Meyer Shank Racing’s Tom Blomqvist going against all three drivers of Arrow Mclaren.

Although Blomqvist was able to make an admirable fight, fending off the likes of Callum Ilott, his aggressive defending on Rossi did not work, though, as he was pushed wide and eventually lost the sixth – and seventh – to Rossi and then Pato O’Ward.

O’Ward attempted to close, but it wasn’t enough as Rossi held on to transfer.

Palou built up a gap of 3.8s after six of 10 laps, and nearly 13s over Rahal in third.

When the dust settled, those to advance to the final were Palou, Armstrong, Lundqvist, Fittipaldi and Rossi.

O’Ward, Ilott and Blomqvist were among those notable on the outside looking in.

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