Motorsport News

The Thermal Club Is ‘Made for TV’

A view from Pit Road at The Thermal Club

THERMAL, Calif. – A totally unique private racetrack in the Coachella Valley. A big-money, all-star, no-points racing showdown. Unlimited, free soft-serve ice cream. The NTT IndyCar Series’ inaugural $1 Million Challenge will be a race like no other. 

But … maybe that’s a good thing.

The Thermal Club is not the only country-club style motorsports facility in the world – one opened last year outside Tokyo – but it is the first such venue to play host to wheel-to-wheel action from a major American racing series.

After hosting pre-season testing in 2023, the Southern California venue will be the stage of IndyCar’s first non-points exhibition since 1992’s Marlboro Challenge at Nazareth Speedway.

The 17-turn, 3.067-mile layout first used by IndyCar in 2023’s pre-season test combines two of Thermal’s three basic tracks (the “red” and “blue” layouts), with the two meeting in the distinctively awkward turns 16-17 complex, where the ideal racing line forces drivers over the curbs – and one massive bump that brings Sebring International Raceway to mind. The track is challenging, exacerbated by the Coachella Valley’s propensity for sudden temperature changes, gusty winds and dust storms, all of which affected the order on the timing sheets through Saturday’s (March 23) twin test sessions and modified two-group qualifying format. The racing surface itself isn’t the problem.

The problem is, it’s difficult to see it.

There are very few ground-level areas at Thermal with clear sightlines over the acres of steel guardrail, making it very difficult for fans to catch a glimpse of a speeding open-wheel racecar.

Formula 1 fans familiar with critiques of Hermann Tilke’s work may know that tracks designed to challenge drivers in single-car runs don’t always produce the most thrilling side-by-side action. The Thermal Club adds an interesting twist. It isn’t a regular racetrack, it’s designed from the ground up to provide a thrilling experience for its members, who pay dues for the privilege of driving it in any manner of high-end production cars or track-day specials. Every square inch of the facility is dedicated to helping people live out their Forza Horizon (or Test Drive: Unlimited, for the older generation) fantasy.

Thermal’s needs are unique, so of course track designers had other priorities than accommodating grandstands. Adapting the track to host an IndyCar series race that…

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