One thing is certain following another successful test of the new Verizon IndyCar Series universal aero kit: Any misconception of drivers not earning their keep in the cockpit will be put to rest in 2018.
The new aero kit – developed by chassis supplier Dallara and set to be used by all competitors next season following three years of manufacturer aero kit competition between Chevrolet and Honda – was put through the paces in the road course/street course/short oval configuration for the first time today at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia, who debuted the new-look car in a superspeedway configuration test July 25 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, were again behind the wheel of their respective Chevrolet- and Honda-powered machines today on the 2.258-mile permanent road course.
“It feels pretty good; it’s very different than the current aero kit,” said Montoya, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 1999 Indy car champion. “The (new) car is a little more forgiving, but the level of downforce is a lot lighter so you slide around a lot more. That, I think, is good.
“I think you’re going to be able to see the (driver’s) hands moving a lot more on the steering wheel and I think you’re going to see the cars get out of shape a lot easier,” added Montoya, who has raced for Team Penske during all three seasons of aero kit competition starting in 2015. “The chances of mistakes are higher, so I think it’s going to bring better racing.”
Servia, a veteran of 202 Indy car starts since 2000, agreed. With the downforce level of the 2018 car about one-third less than the current car, it makes driver input a greater part of the equation for car control. Fans in the stands and watching on TV will notice how much more effort is required inside the cockpit.
“It’s harder to see the driver work when you have a lot of downforce (on the current car),” said Servia, the 2005 Champ Car World Series runner-up who made three Verizon IndyCar Series starts this season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “When you have a little less (downforce) and the cars move around, at least the fans can see that we’re doing something. Good or bad, we are doing something. I think it’s going to be more fun for the fans and for us.”
The test day agenda consisted of short individual runs by each driver to check that all working parts were in order and to confirm proper cooling of internal areas. Then it was on to full-stint runs.
The day was capped off by the first run of the two cars together, with Montoya leading Servia for five laps and then the two swapping positions. With more downforce generated from underneath the new car than from wings and additional aero pieces on top, it creates less turbulence for trailing cars, which should lead to more passing opportunities.
Each driver turned more than 100 laps and both were pleased with their ability to run behind the other.
“It was great, honestly,” Servia said. “I’m not just saying it because it’s what we wanted. It really was a lot better than this year’s car.
“Even at Detroit, where the speeds are a lot less, which was my last race I did (in June), you couldn’t get close to anyone even in the slow corners because there was so much downforce,” he added. “Here, of course there was downforce, but it stays very balanced. This year’s car, the rear gets loose. And the new car, you lose a little bit of front, but not much. I was surprised. I think it’s honestly very positive.
“Apparently, science works.”
Today’s test was the second of four scheduled and run by INDYCAR. Upcoming tests are slated for Iowa Speedway (Aug. 10) and Sebring International Raceway (Sept. 26). For the second straight week, Bill Pappas, INDYCAR vice president of competition/race engineering, was pleased with the test outcome.
“We went through our test list and checked off the boxes we wanted to,” Pappas said. “Both drivers felt the car was different but comfortable. We went through tires for Firestone and got the reads on those, and Firestone is happy with that.
“And we ran the cars together at the end, which I think was the most important thing, and both drivers commented that the car was very stable behind the car in front of them. We’re very pleased with the results.”
The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season continues with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 20 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). It is the 14th of 17 races in a hotly-contested season that sees the top four drivers in the championship – led by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden – separated by just 17 points.
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).
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.”