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IndyCar fires up engines for 1st practice session of the year

Drivers took to the track at The Thermal Club in California, a private race course built by millionaires who live trackside.

THERMAL, Calif. — The IndyCar season is underway as drivers hit the track for testing Thursday in California.

With the Santa Rosa Mountains as a backdrop, the engines fired up at The Thermal Club, a private race course built by millionaires who live trackside. IndyCar decided to give it a try this year for spring testing.

"Oh my god. What a beautiful place. No question about it. People talking about spring training. This is our spring training, right?" said Helio Castroneves. "It's great to be back in the race car after driving a different type of car, like prototype, it's great to just readjust. Different track, never ran here. I don't think anybody did, but some people sneak in some simulators, I guarantee that. But in the end of the day, that's what we're looking for, just to get acclimated."

The 17-turn course is 2.9 miles long and offers the drivers plenty of challenges to shake off the rust from the offseason.

"To be back here and to see all the cars on the grid, it's an awesome feeling. I mean, everyone here, the weather's beautiful, the mountains are cool. The track is interesting for sure. It's a nice track, so it's just good to be back in and get the rust off," said Conor Daly.

Sunshine, palm trees and race cars screaming around is not a bad way to start a new year.

"I think it's really cool. I think it's a very impressive facility, first of all. I think the track was fun. It was good to drive, quite technical," said defending Indy 500 champion Marcus Ericsson. "It has a good mix of some twisty bits and some really high-speed bits there in the end, so... so far, really good."

The drivers will have to wait. The first race of the season is March 5 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 28.

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