IndyCar formalizes young driver test outline for Sonoma later this month

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INDYCAR has now formalized and finalized the test for Indy Lights drivers at Sonoma Raceway later this month, on August 13.

It was rumored over the weekend and announced, partially, during both the live Mid-Ohio IndyCar race broadcast  and on RACER.com on Sunday.

It will mark the first time in an IndyCar for several drivers – Sean Rayhall, Ed Jones, Jack Harvey, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Spencer Pigot.

Meanwhile Ryan Phinny and Matthew Brabham will each have their second official outings for KVSH Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively.

Here’s the full release from INDYCAR:

Seven Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers, including the top three in the championship standings, will share a test day in Verizon IndyCar Series cars with Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Aug. 13 on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif.

Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers testing, with Indy Lights drivers testing in parentheses, are:

• Andretti Autosport – Marco Andretti (Matthew Brabham)
• Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – Scott Dixon (Sean Rayhall)
• KVSH Racing – Sebastien Bourdais (Ryan Phinny)
• Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – Graham Rahal (Ed Jones)
• Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – Ryan Briscoe (Jack Harvey)
• Team Penske – Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power (Spencer Pigot, Nelson Piquet Jr.)

According to Rule 6.2.3 of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook, teams are allocated two additional team test days in the testing year window for the purpose of testing a current Indy Lights driver. On-track time may be split with a team driver (one Indy Lights driver and one team driver), but a team driver may not use more than 50 percent of the available track time.

Brabham drove an Andretti Autosport Indy car July 1 at an Iowa Speedway test alongside Andretti, and other Indy Lights drivers periodically test in a Verizon IndyCar Series car. But this is the first large-scale in-season test day.

“This is exactly what we’ve wanted to have happen with the program,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, which operates Indy Lights under INDYCAR sanctioning. “We appreciate INDYCAR enabling this with its testing regulations and to encourage it. To see these drivers getting this opportunity is rewarding for them and exciting for us. It’s what the program is all about; we want to see them make it to the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Indy Lights is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy driver and team development ladder. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a $750,000 scholarship toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the Indianapolis 500, in 2016.

Harvey, who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, takes a six-point lead over Pigot (Juncos Racing) and an 18-point lead over Jones (Carlin) into the championship-deciding doubleheader race weekend Sept. 11-13 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

“The test could be valuable for next year,” said Harvey, the Englishman in his second season with SPM. “I could show (a Verizon IndyCar Series team) that they could trust me with their car, I can be fast and provide the proper feedback.”

Added Pigot, 21, of Orlando, Fla., who won the 2014 Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires championship: “It’s something that I’ve been working toward for quite a few years and climbing the Mazda Road to Indy has prepared me for it. I’m excited to get behind the wheel. Winning the Indy Lights championship is the No. 1 goal through the middle of September, and obviously the goal is to move up to IndyCar next year. This (test) could help my chances for next year.”

Sam Schmidt, who co-owns the team that operates a four-car Indy Lights program and a two-car Verizon IndyCar Series program, said the goals of the test day are to make the No. 5 Indy car driven by Briscoe competitive for the Aug. 30 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to keep it in the top 10 of entrant points and give Harvey “a taste” of driving the Honda-powered machine.

“We’re hoping he (Harvey) can win the championship, which would lead to the scholarship and moving up next year in some capacity,” said Schmidt, who has seven Indy Lights championships as a team owner. “It’s always good to start that process as early as possible.

“It’s one of the incentives that INDYCAR built into the program and hopefully it will expand with other IndyCar teams.”

The list of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers testing at the venue that will host the championship-deciding race includes six of the 10 drivers mathematically eligible for the title. The 85-lap, high-stakes race carries double points, with 100 awarded to the winner, 80 for second, 70 for third, etc., along with the regular four bonus points over three categories (Verizon P1 Award winner, leading a lap, leading the most laps).

Montoya holds a nine-point advantage over Rahal entering the penultimate race of the season Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway. Dixon, who won last August at Sonoma Raceway, is 34 points out of first place.

“INDYCAR is doing a good job to promote the ladder series, and the rules that allow IndyCar drivers a test day with an Indy Lights driver is an example,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team manager Ricardo Nault said. “We’ll be splitting the day with Ed Jones, not only per the rules, but to give him the opportunity to help us develop the car and give him some time driving.

“Being second in the championship, we want to put our best foot forward and give it our best chance. We’d be behind if we didn’t go there. We have to maximize every opportunity.”

An additional car at the test will be driven by Mikhail Aleshin, who will use the day as a refresher in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. It will be Aleshin’s first time behind the wheel of an Indy car since he sustained a concussion, chest injuries, fractured ribs and a broken shoulder in an August 2014 practice crash at Auto Club Speedway. SPM has named Aleshin as a third team entry for Sonoma along with Briscoe and James Jakes.

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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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).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

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.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

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.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“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.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

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.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

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.

“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.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

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.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).