AJ Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci and Sting Ray Robb are excited about this weekend’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES non-points race at The Thermal Club for the $1 million Challenge.

Taking part in a pre-event Q&A the drivers were asked.

Q: What are you looking forward to in The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge?

SF: “It’s just exciting to be in Palm Springs and at that track in particular. Besides the driving part of it that I’m sure everybody’s excited for, I look forward to seeing all the cars that are at the facility. There are cars there that you just don’t see every day. You have everything from rare Ferraris, McLarens and Porsches to Aston Martin race cars! You see a lot of limited production vehicles from manufacturers that you don’t ever see on the road. That’s what I like about it. It’s cool.”

Q: What do you think of the format that’s been laid out with qualifying, heat races and a feature?

SF: “It’s definitely unique. It’s similar to a dirt track racing type event with heats leading up to a feature. I think it’s a smart way for a nonpoint race to be structured — keeping less cars in the field to avoid tearing up equipment. So, I think it’s quite smart.”

Q: How would you describe Thermal Club racetrack and does it compare to any that you’ve run in the past?

SF: “I think Thermal’s a pretty cool place. I’d say probably it compares most to Hungaroring in Europe.

It’s got slight elevation changes, so does that track [Hungaroring] which makes it quite fun. A lot of high-speed chicanes, which is quite nice, a lot of long, fast, high-speed corners. Actually, the more I think about it, it’s probably more comparable to Hungaroring than it is any other track.”

Q: Where are the passing zones?

SF: “You have one after each hairpin. There are two hairpins and you can pass out of them down the straights.”

Q: What did you think of The Thermal Club when you first saw it and do you have any aspirations to live there?

SF: “I think it’s really cool. I like the design concept. I like how other tracks around the country are trying to do something similar. But no, I would not want to live in California.”

Q: If there were one in Texas, would you want to live there?

SF: “Probably, I don’t know if I’d be able to pull that off with Renay [his wife], but I’d like to.”

Q: You’ve gained some momentum from your finish at St. Pete. How important is that to your confidence going into Thermal?

 SF: “Well, I think it’s good that we got off on the right foot at St. Pete. It was a very different race this year than it was last year. A lot less carnage but more difficult to pass. So I think all of those things considered, it’s good to have that momentum starting the year, we just have to continue with it and continue fighting.”

Q: What did you learn at St. Pete that will help you for the rest of the year?

SF: “Good preparation is going to be important. We came off the trailer about perfect, we need to basically continue that moving forward.”

Q: Why was tire degradation at St. Pete rather low and how did that affect the race?

SF: “Tire deg at St. Pete was low because Firestone has adapted a new compound in anticipation of the hybrid engine to account for the heavier car [which now the teams aren’t running until sometime after the Indy 500]. So the tires are a little stiffer all around. I think what affected the race at St. Pete was the fuel strategy. The race was 100 laps long. And I think it’s a race where if they increase the laps we have a better chance to avoid those fuel strategy scenarios because when everybody’s saving fuel nobody’s really pushing and it’s not as much fun.”

Q: How does that change your race strategy going forward?

SF: “St. Pete was a little bit more of a rare occurrence. I think tire deg is very necessary especially on the soft compound so I don’t know if Firestone will adjust, they have in the past, and they’ve done a good job. So, it’s hard to say if it’s going to have an effect everywhere else but I’m just hoping that they keep the alternate compound quite a bit softer than the primary compound, because having deg [degradation] on that tire is very important to race strategy.

Q: What are your thoughts on The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge?

SRR: “First off, I love when we hit the tracks on the west coast – it’s a bit closer to Idaho! The heat race format utilized at Thermal will offer tighter racing and it could provide opportunity for drivers to be more aggressive. I’m excited to be racing for Foyt and Chevy in this $1M challenge!”

Q: Have you ever competed in an event with this type of format? If yes, please give details (where, when, which types of cars/karts, and how you finished.

SRR: “Yes, I have competed in this type of format many times during my karting career. A specific example is the 2015 Rotax Nationals at South Carolina while running in the Jr. Max category. Rather than a “draw” to select our starting position, all 27 drivers ran a “qualifying” run to determine our starting position for each of the following three heat races. Unfortunately, during that qualification run, I had a mechanical failure on my kart which meant I would be starting dead last in the 27th position for all three of those heat races.

“The finishing position in each heat race determined how many points I earned for positioning in the Pre-Final race (as an example, if you finished the heat race in 7th you received 7 points, if you finished in 12th, you received 12 points, so on and so forth). The finisher with the lowest number of points would start in the pole position and the driver with second lowest points total started in second, etc. Fortunately, we avoided any further mechanical failures or crashes and finished strong in each heat race with a low enough points total to put me in 6th position to start the pre-final (nice progression from 27th to 6th). I then finished 3rd in the pre-final and ended up taking 2nd in the Championship race. It was an exciting three days of racing!

“This format allows the drivers and team to work on consistent progression instead of allowing just one run (in which many things have to go right and many can go wrong) to dictate their starting position. My approach will be similar at Thermal in that I’ll be working with the team to make consistent progress during practice sessions and thus providing the optimum positioning for each race.”

Q: With this event being a non-points event, does that free you up to be more aggressive and take more chances than you normally would?

SRR: “As to taking chances and being more aggressive, there’s a couple of thought directions. Of course, as a young driver, it would be amazing to win $500,000, so there’s definitely some great motivation there. However, my responsibility as a driver is to navigate as aggressively as possible while keeping the car intact – it’s a fine line no doubt. So, I’ll be pushing the limits and looking for the opportunity to move forward the entire weekend.”

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