Alex Palou

Reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou led the first session Friday of the Open Test at The Thermal Club, as 27 drivers started to come to grips with the unique racetrack where they will compete for a $500,000 first prize Sunday in a non-points special event.

Palou was quickest with a lap of 1 minute, 39.5149 seconds in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile circuit at the private automotive club near Palm Springs, California. The field of 27 drivers will be narrowed to 12 through two heat races Sunday, leading to a 20-lap Sprint for the Purse – split into two 10-lap segments later that day.

SEE: Morning Test Results

Live coverage of the heat races and the Sprint for the Purse starts at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Christian Lundgaard was second this morning under sunny skies at 1:39.6974 in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Marcus Armstrong put two CGR cars in the top three with his time of 1:39.7313 in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi was the quickest Chevrolet-powered driver, fourth overall at 1:39.7556 in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren entry. His teammate Pato O’Ward rounded out the top five at 1:39.9124 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

Linus Lundqvist was the quickest of the six rookies on track, sixth overall at 1:39.9197 in the No. 8 American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Testing will resume from 5-8 p.m. ET today, with more testing from noon-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. Saturday. Qualifying, divided into two groups at a draw Thursday night, starts at 8 p.m. ET Saturday. Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network will cover all track action live Saturday.

All 27 drivers are trying to manage tire wear on the undulating circuit at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, especially as teams won’t be allowed to change tires between the two 10-lap segments of the Sprint for the Purse without INDYCAR approval for emergency service.

“With the high tire (degradation), it should make for some good racing on Sunday,” Andretti Global driver Marcus Ericsson said. “We will see, especially on the 20-lap race when we have one set of tires. That’s going to be tough to keep your car underneath you, so I think that will create some good racing.”