LONDON – Bradley Philpot may be unfamiliar to most followers of motor racing, but after an impressive showing at the Race of Champions in London, the Briton will be a name on the lips of many.
Philpot secured a place at the Race of Champions by winning the ‘ROC Factor’ competition that started off as something very small. Drivers were asked to submit a two-minute video showcasing their racing talents, with ten being selected for a public vote.
Fans from all over the world were invited to support their favorite drivers, with Philpot winning the most votes to secure a place in a shoot-out with second-place finisher Des Foley. The winner was originally set to get a place on the Race of Champions undercard.
Just days before the Race of Champions kicked off, the stakes were upped once again. Philpot and Foley were not just battling for a chance to be part of the event, but in fact to enter the Race of Champions event itself after Jorge Lorenzo was forced to withdraw through injury.
“Unbelievable. It’s completely out of the blue,” Philpot told MotorSportsTalk on Thursday. “Just something starting out very small as a Twitter competition which you’ve got hardly any chance to win.
“And suddenly we’re here, and this is actually happening. Crazy but I’m happy.”
Philpot went head-to-head with Foley on Thursday, winning both of their ties before being picked by the judges to step up and take part in the Race of Champions.
Even for a racer who has finished on the podium at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, the opportunity to share the track with the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Tom Kristensen, Mick Doohan and Jenson Button was an exciting one – but it did not overawe Philpot.
“The next focus switches to beating them,” Philpot said. “If I win [the vote], if I find out I’ve won, then it will be a relief. Then overnight I have to refocus on actually doing the job on the circuit.
“It would mean a lot [to beat them] and that would be the aim, so that’s what we’ll try and do.”
It is this racer’s mentality that Philpot tries to ingrain into other drivers when working as an instructor at the Bedford Autodrome in England, and one that he helped to form in NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton ahead of his single-seater adventure in the Florida Winter Series last winter when he raced up against the likes of Max Verstappen and Raffaele Marciello.
Philpot’s Saturday did not start in the best fashion, though.
Having your car towed is enough to ruin anyone’s day, but Philpot kept focused and relaxed ahead of his first Race of Champions heat against five-time MotoGP champion Mick Doohan.
Despite lacking the kind of CV that Doohan has – few can match the Australian in that regard – Philpot was sublime during both runs around the circuit inside the former Olympic Stadium, easing through 2-0. It was a considerable scalp to claim so early on.
The last 16 gave him a tie against Blancpain GT driver Alex Buncombe, but this was where Philpot’s fairytale weekend ended. Buncombe won both heats to go through 2-0, but would only be beaten in the semi-finals by nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen in a remarkable Race of Champions debut.
Philpot’s success did not stop there though. As well as taking part in the racing event, all of the drivers plus a selection of celebrities were invited to take part in a skills challenge on a course featuring a number of different tasks. Penalties were applied for hitting bollards or going the wrong way, with challenges including parallel parking, a slalom and donuts.
The challenge was won by World RX and ex-World Rally Championship racer Petter Solberg, while Buncombe finished second. It was Philpot who completed the top three, though.
To go from entering a competition on a whim to beating all of the Formula 1, single-seater and touring car drivers that entered the Race of Champions at a skills challenge is an astonishing achievement.
Quite what the future holds for Philpot remains unclear, but he’s hopeful that this can be a springboard for more racing with French manufacturer Peugeot in the future.
“I have a little connection with Peugeot. Peugeot UK aren’t doing anything racing in particular this year, but hopefully this kind of thing will help me convince them to do a little bit more going forward,” he said.
The Race of Champions is all about fun and camaraderie, making it the perfect environment for a racer such as Philpot to prove himself. He will have left the Olympic Stadium with his head held high, and rightly so – his past weekend has been a feel-good story unlike any other in motorsport.
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.”