Rossi: Reflections on a momentous year of racing

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So that’s my 2015 season! Done and dusted but with a great tail wind. What a year it has been!

I finished the year second in the GP2 Series and had the privilege and opportunity to work with Racing Engineering, who’ve been an absolute blast to work with all year.

2015 also brought another important milestone and box ticked in my career; the first US Formula 1 driver to compete in the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas, and the first American to take part in an F1 race since 2007.

GP2 was an incredible experience this year, but I’ll also look back on 2015 in years to come and reflect on a very strong five-race F1 debut. This will rank equally alongside the GP2 races we won and the podiums we scored. Ending the year with those two achievements and boxes ticked would not have been possible without a group of people working tirelessly to make such a great year happen, so my sincere thanks to them.

As I write this, we are in the process of finalizing my 2016 plans and getting closer to a very exciting conclusion. Obviously the push is F1 and I know the job done this year is paying dividends towards that, so stay tuned on that front.

The final GP2 race weekend in Abu Dhabi was interesting, to say the least! Practice went well, as we were quick straight away and getting through the test run plan, ending the session fourth. Qualifying was not as good as we’d planned, ending the session seventh – we struggled with traffic, timing and track position and were up to fourth on the first set, then we boxed for the second set of super-softs but did not improve and had to settle for a fourth row start.

It’s one of the subtleties of racing at this level that’s hard to explain to fans. You and your engineers time it and plan it, ahead of time and during session down to the last nuance, looking for gaps and taking all the other cars’ movements into account, but then you find yourself having to lift or brake early due to a car on cool-down at the exact the point on the track when you want to be at the limit.

This can be very costly and, depending on the situation, could be hundredths or tenths of seconds, but nevertheless at this level of motorsport it is usually the difference between being up front on the grid and mid-table. Every driver has dealt with this, and none of us will ever get used to it. It’s one of the most frustrating things in motorsport, but if you can’t cope with it you don’t belong there.

In GP2, starting seventh isn’t the end of the world. You can fight for the podium and win from there. Of course you always need a good car, good start and good team strategy and for things to fall your way, like the safety cars, timing of pit stops and saving enough tires for when you need it. All these factors are what make up a winning race combination, which is why GP2 is so competitive.

For the feature race our plans went fairly well and I was quick in each phase of the race. We’d started on options, and when a virtual safety car was called for contact between Artem Markelov and Daniel de Jong we boxed for a set of primes, but unfortunately I was held in the box for six extra seconds due to pit lane traffic and the team did not want an unsafe release violation, which can cost you a drive through penalty. We finally came out of the pit stop in 18th, so we had a bit of work to do.

The period of the race when you’re making up time after your pit stop on fresh rubber is the one I most enjoy. This is an opportunity to turn in big laps and make up a lot time and places, in the gap when other cars also have to stop. Usually the car feels great, everything’s working as it should and it’s almost like the race slows down around you. It’s a great zone to be in, and this especially true at Yas Marina which has a little of everything!

It looked like we’d be in with a shot of the podium, but in the end I had to settle for fourth. That place confirmed second position in the 2015 championship and this was a very good result for me and the team. I’ve said many times what an honor it was to race Stoffel Vandoorne this year – he’s a good friend and worthy  hampion, and I’m sure we’ll be fighting again on track very soon.

With the sprint race still to come on Sunday, we kept the celebrations on hold but in the end the sprint was a bit anti-climatic. I had started fifth and was off the line well and up to fourth when the red flag immediately came out for a six car incident behind. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the safety crew could not fix the crash barriers in time before the F1 event, so the GP2 race was called off.

So that was it, the end of 2015 season and time to celebrate and enjoy sharing some very good times with the whole Racing Engineering family and at the GP2 Awards Gala that followed Sunday evening at Yas Marina Circuit.

So that’s it for now! It is time to recharge and have a couple of meals that Carlos, my trainer, would not approve of. I’ll definitely be getting some skiing in and a few weeks without travel, but then immediately 2016 will start. The accomplishments of 2015 are now in the history books and I’m only looking forward.

Wherever you watch motor racing and however big a fan you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed the insights into my life as an F1 and GP2 race driver. I’m very excited about next year, and hope you’ll be part of the journey when it starts all over again.

Thank you for your support. Have a safe and joyful holiday season!

God Bless,

Alexander.

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).