St. Petersburg weekend, Friday notes

Photo: IndyCar

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Here’s more notes and nuggets from the ground at the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, for Friday practice and qualifying (and one GTS race).


Today marked the debut of additional safety enhancements taken at the race, with walk-thru magnetometers, wanding, enhanced vehicle inspection and increased Public Safety presence for the event.

Per a memo distributed to competitors, the event organizers note this is no different than any other major sporting event in the U.S.

Veteran security man Charles Burns, formerly INDYCAR’s head of security and most recently the head of safety for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, is on site this weekend.

The safety enhancements were part of the story but so too was a solid Friday crowd – even if it didn’t appear as such in the grandstands – on the grounds. Gorgeous weather and a packed day of track activity, which ran from just after 7:30 a.m. through to 5 p.m., helped bring the people to the track.


  • The Andretti Autosport quartet of drivers didn’t have a ton to note in their media availability, although Marco Andretti did say the characteristics of his No. 27 Snapple Honda are better on the street course this year. “The characteristics of the car, the behavior, it’s better this year. Is it a ton more grip? Not really. But I think it’s a little bit more straightforward package this year.” Rossi was in team kit, while the other three were in their firesuits.
  • By contrast, both of Graham Rahal and Spencer Pigot were loquacious in their media availability (1,700-plus words on the transcript for the two RLL drivers; 1,500-plus for the four Andretti drivers). Rahal discussed Honda’s improvements, his own championship hopes, the pressure he feels to succeed and Pigot’s enhancement for the team. Rahal fought major understeer issues in the first session but the team made a big stab at it, and ended fourth both in the second session and combined for the day.
  • Honda’s media availability brought a number of nuggets, primarily related to when various updates will come in over the course of the year. HPD’s Art St. Cyr noted that the company is prepared to supply “at least” 17 cars for the Indianapolis 500, same as what his colleague Steve Eriksen told me at Daytona, and is prepared to do more if the right opportunity presents itself.
  • Very good to see both Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth end fifth and eighth. On the first day with the A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ team’s engineering strength adjusted and bolstered, with Raul Prados on Sato’s car and Dan Hobbs on Hawksworth’s, the Foyt team was a welcome surprise with two cars in the top 10.
  • Dixon aside, it wasn’t the best of Fridays for St. Petersburg at what has not been Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ best track. Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball were 15th, 18th, and 19th.
  • In a typically tight field, just 0.9167 of a second covered first to 20th.


  • Two intense Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires sessions occurred, with Belardi Auto Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist leading both sessions. That being said, very little covered the 16-car field. Results are linked here.
  • Watch for fuel to be an issue this weekend; Carlin’s Neil Alberico was apparently suffering from fuel pickup problems and had a fraught day at the office.
  • There was also a practice sweep in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires ranks, with Team Pelfrey’s Aaron Telitz on top in both sessions.
  • Jordan Lloyd of Pabst Racing snatched the pole for the opening round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the final lap, ahead of Parker Thompson in a repaired Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing car and Pabst teammates Yufeng Luo and Garth Rickards.


  • Big day for EFFORT Racing. First, courtesy of a bang-up, incredible repair job from the team with assistance from Porsche and Alex Job Racing – based in nearby, Taveres, Fla. – the team’s No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3 R arrived back in the paddock earlier than anticipated.
  • It was the second bit of good news on the day for EFFORT, as Californian Michael Lewis scored his first career pole in the No. 41 Porsche. Here’s your starting grid, with Long set to start at the back after his car came back.
  • Jack Roush Jr. also scored a career first today, the series veteran capturing his first win in the series in PWC GTS class in his No. 60 Ford Mustang Boss 302. Said Roush Jr. afterwards, after beating Brett Sandberg and Nate Stacy, “Street courses are treacherous. I have the advantage of being not that smart.”


IndyCar brought back visor cam. It is awesome. Here is Ryan Hunter-Reay at speed in his No. 28 DHL Honda:

Decals are being handed out this weekend to honor the wife and life of HPD PR ace and veteran T.E. McHale. Such an example is modeled by James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Autographs from Mazda Road to Indy stars of the future, here today.

More to come tomorrow.

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


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).