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Alex Palou wins Thermal $1 million Challenge in rout

Alex Palou wins Thermal $1 million Challenge in rout

THERMAL, Calif. — A race meant for all-stars was fittingly won by Alex Palou.

The two-time and reigning IndyCar champion won the Thermal $1 Million Challenge on Sunday in a rout. Palou dominated the three-day weekend — he was among the fastest drivers in practice sessions and led every lap of anything that counted while winning his qualifying group, his heat race and all 20 laps of IndyCar’s first non-points race since 2008.

The race at the members-only Thermal Club was for 12 drivers who earned their way into the main event through a pair of heat races earlier Sunday. But Scott Dixon, Will Power, Pato O’Ward and some of IndyCar’s top names didn’t advance out of the heats and the “A Main” was a mix of competition levels.

Palou, who was one of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers to make the main event, was never challenged.

“He made it look like a Sunday drive out there,” Ganassi said. “He didn’t even break a sweat.”

Although the race was billed as a $1 million event, Palou’s payout was only $500,000 because the Thermal members shied away from participating in the event with a matching buy-in. Club members instead were randomly paired with teams for an embedded weekend experience with an IndyCar organization.

Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske finished second, Felix Rosenqvist of Meyer Shank Racing was third, Colton Herta of Andretti Global was fourth and Marcus Armstrong of Ganassi was fifth as the purse payout only went to the top five.

Palou, who is embroiled in a nearly $30 million breach of contract lawsuit with McLaren, said he’d use his winnings on his newborn daughter.

“I need to buy a lot of diapers and pajamas, so probably I will do that,” said the Spaniard, who insisted his time at the private club was work and not play this weekend.

“It’s never easy,” he said. “It’s always tough to try and manage the tires. Am I doing too much? Am I not doing enough?”

Herta said the event was “feast or famine” for the drivers, who could race hard for the top-five prize money or risk expensive crash damage to the team. Herta said his car “ate” on Sunday and that’s why he raced former teammate Alexander Rossi so hard, while McLaughlin was goaded into buying Team Penske beers when they informed him runner-up was worth $350,000 — a full $100,000 more than McLaughlin believed.

But it wasn’t all rosy.

Romain Grosjean was crashed into on the opening lap of the first heat race and fumed about the cost of the damage for his small team.

“I mean, who is going…

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