Hinchcliffe makes most of ‘mulligan’ in Indy 500 qualifications

1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – When INDYCAR President Jay Frye added a “Last Row Shootout” to Indianapolis 500 qualifications, it was designed to give teams and drivers that had bad luck on Saturday an extra chance to make good.

In golf, it’s called, a “Mulligan.”

At the Indianapolis 500, it should have been named the “Hinchcliffe Rule.”

Last year, Hinchcliffe picked the wrong day to have a bad day in Indy 500 qualifications. He was bumped out of the field by Conor Daly but remained confident he could easily get back into the race with another qualification attempt. But when he went out, his car suffered a bad vibration that brought him back to the pits.

The issue was corrected, Hinchcliffe got back in the tech line, but the qualification time ended before he got a chance to make another attempt as Pippa Mann was still on track when the gun sounded to end qualifications.

The most popular driver in the NTT IndyCar Series was left out of the starting lineup and he vowed that would never happen again.

But it did.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

During his first qualification attempt on Saturday, Hinchcliffe’s car slammed into the Turn 2 wall on the second lap of his four-lap attempt. The Arrow Honda was damaged, and the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew quickly prepared the backup.

Hinchcliffe made a few attempts late in the day but could not get the car up to speed to make the top 30. That put him in a group of six drivers vying for the final three positions in the 33-car starting lineup in Sunday’s “Last Row Shootout.”

Rain delayed the schedule 12:15 p.m. Shootout to 4:30 p.m. Hinchcliffe was the first of the six drivers to make an attempt and his four-lap average was 227.543 miles per hour.

He had to wait to see if three of the five remaining drivers could top that speed. The only driver out of that group that went faster was Sage Karam, who qualified at 227.740 mph over four laps.

When Kyle Kaiser was the last of the six drivers to make an attempt, he bumped Fernando Alonso from the field and Hinchcliffe had made the race.

He will start 32ndin Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

INDYCAR Photo“I just want to say congrats to the other guys that made it in and comprised the last row,” Hinchcliffe said. “And just my heart goes out to the ones that didn’t make it, to Max (Chilton), Pato (O’Ward) and Fernando (Alonso). We all know how much goes into this race and how much this means to everybody, and I’ve been on the other side of this a year ago, so I know how much it sucks. I hate that we have to send guys home today.

“When I got out of the Med Center, I told everybody there’s no way we’re getting back on track yesterday. It just shows what I know. Everybody on Arrow Schmidt Peterson rolled up their sleeves and went to work, and we had the backup car out on track two and a half hours later, which is just incredible.

“It’s a road course car, it wasn’t really built for speedways, it didn’t have all the trick bits on it. But being able to get out there with enough time left to do three runs gave us a lot of information, a lot of data that we could kind of look at overnight and spend long nights working on the car trying to make sure we had the speed today, and man, it’s a nerve-racking feeling knowing that you only have one shot to get it done at this point, and with the weather moving in and being first, that was the same thing that happened to us last year, which was certainly not lost on anybody in the garage.

“Ultimately everybody at Arrow Schmidt Peterson, we took some parts off Marcus Ericsson’s car, everybody from Honda that pitched in to get us in there, man, it’s crazy. It’s way more dramatic.

“I’m getting too old for this stuff. I need a week off now, but we’ve got to be back in the cars tomorrow.”

Hinchcliffe’s situation is perfect proof at why Frye’s idea to give teams and drivers that had trouble on Saturday, one last chance to make the 33-car starting lineup, was a great idea.

“I liked it (the format) before, but I really like it now,” Hinchcliffe said. “What happened to us was weird. In a lot of ways what happened to us last year was part of the reason that rule was created and what happened to us this year is exactly the kind of situation that benefits from it.

“We got a car back on track yesterday, and had it been the old rules, we would have had three more chances and we just would not have got in. We’d be sitting here 365 days later in the same seat we were a year prior, which would have been just devastating.

“For me I think it’s great. It does add a little bit of drama. I think as long as we have enough cars to make it a cool session, which today we did, and — I mean, it was close.

“Good job, man, that was crazy. I was nervous. But yeah, no, I think it’s a cool thing. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it, and it kind of made today a little extra special for everybody.”

After getting a “Mulligan” after Saturday’s crash, Hinchcliffe delivered on Sunday by hitting it, “straight down the fairway.”

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

0 Comments

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).