Dixon Offers Speed Secrets for Fun, Challenging Thermal

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The Thermal Club

Fresh off the opening two-hour NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test session at The Thermal Club on Friday morning, Scott Dixon walked indycar.com through a lap around the 17-turn, 3.067-mile circuit located at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains near Palm Springs, California.

Dixon said the picturesque track, which will host The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge exhibition on Sunday, is unlike any on the 2024 points-paying schedule.

“It’s a high-degradation track, most similar to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca before the repave,” Dixon said when asked if The Thermal Club reminds him of any other INDYCAR SERIES circuits.

For those unaccustomed to racing terms, degradation is how quickly the Firestone Firehawk tires used exclusively in the series wear. The Thermal Club has the highest degree of tire grip loss than anywhere else the INDYCAR SERIES visits, Dixon said.

That’s a key reason why six-time series champion Dixon said the 12 drivers who will race Sunday afternoon in the two-segment, 20-lap Sprint for the Purse (12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network) will fiercely grip the steering wheel over the final 10-lap segment, hanging on to try to win $500,000.

There is a 10-minute halftime break after Lap 10 of the main event when cars can be refueled but can’t change tires. Only tire pressures and wing angles can be changed.

Dixon, a 56-time INDYCAR SERIES race winner, said these types of low-grip tracks aren’t as suitable for his driving style as the circuits with more traction. He thinks his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou is among the best at managing tire wear and the one the 26 other drivers here this weekend are chasing.

Eight of Palou’s nine career victories have come on natural terrain road courses. To catch Palou this weekend at Thermal, Dixon said there’s plenty of places where a driver can gain time on track.

The first area is Turns 5 and 6. Turn 5 is a right-hand corner that has a short straight leading to a long, sweeping left-hand Turn 6. A driver must get the Turn 6 entry correct to get back on the gas quicker. With the longest straightaway on the facility looming, carrying speed off the Turn 6 exit into a key braking zone in the left-hand Turn 7 can make or break a lap time.

Turn 7 is a left turn before a long, sweeping right Turn 8, followed by the long, sweeping left Turn 9. That area is another key part that Dixon said troubled him Friday morning, as he struggled to find front grip from his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

That turn complex leads to the final sequence where a driver can gain the most time, Turns 16 and 17. Both right-hand corners lead to the front stretch and are spots a driver wants to be at their best.

Thermal features a wide variety of corner lengths and radiuses. That combination leads to compromises. With nine right corners and eight left turns, it’s impossible to get everything correct.

Dixon said the best areas to give up time – if they must – are in the slower turns.

“It’s harder to overcome being slower in a first- or second-gear corner,” he said.