Trevor Carlin’s powerhouse organization will add a U.S. program in 2015, with a new entry into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.
Racing director Carlin noted this will be the realization of the team’s U.S. long-term ambitions.
“We’re extremely excited to be taking the Carlin team to the U.S. and embarking on this new challenge into the Indy Lights series,” he said in a release. “We’ve had one eye on the U.S. for some time now and the time is right to widen our focus. We’re seeing more and more drivers look across the Atlantic from categories such as Formula 3 and GP2 Series to careers in Indy Lights and IndyCar and it makes sense as a European team to offer that route to our customers.
“While we remain completely focused on our race programs in Europe, it is also important to take on new challenges and projects that maintain our momentum as a company of people,” he added. “By offering new opportunities we are able to offer strong team members new goals and challenges internally and retain them within Carlin. By no means do we underestimate the challenge ahead but we believe we have a great team of people to help us be competitive in Indy Lights. We see this as an important new chapter for Carlin and the entire team are excited for the future.”
The team’s operations will be based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and feature both U.K. and U.S. personnel.
A MAJOR GET FOR INDYCAR/INDY LIGHTS
To put Carlin’s place in the European junior formula ladder into proper American stick-and-ball perspective, a comparable example would be Alabama football. Nick Saban’s team contends for national championships every year, and has produced a gluttony of current National Football League stars.
Or to put Carlin’s place in perspective on the American racing scale, it’s the competitive European equivalent of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Indy Lights program – which has won a half dozen championships and promoted more than that number of drivers into IndyCar over the last decade.
The Farnham, Surrey-based team has previously worked with drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Riccardo and Nico Rosberg, as well as 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Will Power, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Takuma Sato, Mikhail Aleshin, Graham Rahal and Carlos Huertas in the junior stages of their careers.
That level of talent already has come through Carlin’s doors. The driver or drivers who get the next opportunity will be welcomed into a world-class, championship-winning operation and vault to instant title contender status.
More notable even than the talent who have already driven for Carlin is the fact Carlin himself sees the value in North American racing, and the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. Because if there’s one thing that IndyCar and Indy Lights racing has lacked in the last decade or so, it’s new blood in terms of teams.
There has not been a new full-season IndyCar team since Ed Carpenter launched his eponymous Ed Carpenter Racing in 2012. The previous two new teams before that were two other drivers branching out into team ownership, in Bryan Herta (2010) and Sarah Fisher (2008). Because it makes sense to have economies of scale, Fisher’s and Carpenter’s teams have now merged.
The lack of new blood in Indy Lights has been even greater. Until this new year with the new Dallara IL15 chassis, Schmidt Peterson, Andretti Autosport, Belardi Auto Racing and Team Moore Racing were the only four teams even keeping the series afloat on a full-time basis. New teams? About as rare as rain in a desert.
That Carlin sees the European junior open-wheel formula in transition, and with the American ladder so much more clearly defined – and, on the whole, cheaper – is nothing but a positive for IndyCar, Indy Lights and the Mazda Road to Indy on the whole.
This is one of the biggest pieces of news for IndyCar this offseason, and should be treated as such. Meanwhile Carlin’s team deserves massive thanks, and a warm welcome to these shores.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.
“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.
The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).
He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.
“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”
There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).
He was even better this year at Daytona.
He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.
A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).
“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”
Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.
“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.
“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).
“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”
Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.
The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”
Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.
And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.
“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.
“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.
“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”
A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.
It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.
“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”
Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.
“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.
“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”
Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.
“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.
This is what it’s all about. Not just a team but a 𝙁𝘼𝙈𝙄𝙇𝙔
“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”
Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.
A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.
With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel
“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.
“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”