By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — IndyCar will hold an all-star race next year at the Thermal Club in Southern California, with $1 million guaranteed to the winner of the made-for-TV exhibition.
The $1 Million Challenge will be held on March 24 and air on NBC, with practice and qualifying the previous two days.
IndyCar at the start of this year tested at The Thermal Club outside Palm Springs to gauge interest from membership in eventually hosting a race. Most of the competitors were pleased with the facility, a 490-acre development that includes four asphalt racetracks located behind an 18-foot sound wall in an unincorporated town in the Coachella Valley.
John Rogers, owner of The Thermal Club, said the February test paved the way for the $1 Million Challenge.
“The teams, drivers and the entire paddock are true professionals, and we look forward to developing our relationship with them in the future," Rogers said. "This marquee racing challenge in March promises to be special for everyone including spectators, Thermal members and race fans tuning in at home.”
There will be limited tickets available for non-Thermal members to access the event on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile layout. Located at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, The Thermal Club boasts luxury homes, a motor sports village and gourmet restaurants and in 2017 was named facility of the year at the Professional Motorsports World Expo in Germany.
No points will be awarded and the event will have a format unlike anything else on the IndyCar schedule. There will be a draw party to begin the event that will embed members of The Thermal Club with a race team and driver.
There will be a qualifying session and two heat races in which the top six from each heat advance to the main event. The top five finishing teams will split their earnings with The Thermal Club members, including the $1 million prize awarded to the champion.
The event gives IndyCar a race during its traditionally long break between its season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida, in early March and the resumption of the series, typically a month later.
“It's going to be a made-for-TV event that I think should be very interesting and get people who normally wouldn't be watching us to watch us race at a different place,” said Mark Miles, Penske Entertainment Corp. President & CEO.
The $1 Million Challenge and the IndyCar season finale in Nashville are the only two events so far announced on the 2024 schedule. IndyCar is still finalizing a handful of dates — including the annual street race in downtown Toronto — and working with broadcast partner NBC Sports, which pauses racing coverage during the Olympics.
Laguna Seca hosted the IndyCar season finale Sunday for the third time since 2019. The series did not race in California in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the race was the penultimate event on the 2021 schedule.
Laguna Seca is expected to land a June spot on the 2024 IndyCar calendar.
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