Rahal, Coyne express interest in talking to James Hinchcliffe

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen
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NTT IndyCar Series team owners Bobby Rahal and Dale Coyne both told NBCSports.com Tuesday morning they are interested in talking to popular driver James Hinchcliffe, who has been released by Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

However, both team owners admitted it will be very difficult to find the necessary sponsorship dollars to increase their respective teams to three-car operations this late in the offseason.

Although the NTT IndyCar Series season does not begin until the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15, 2020, this is the time of year that teams need to have next season’s plans in place. For a team expanding in car count, that means hiring additional crew members and ordering extra equipment.

Both take a significant amount of money.

Rahal phoned NBCSports.com from Italy early Tuesday morning to talk about his interest in Hinchcliffe, a popular driver from Oakville, Ontario, who used to be teammates with Rahal’s son, Graham, at Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing. Rahal is one of the owners of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, featuring Graham Rahal and 101st Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato of Tokyo.

“I think it’s a shame for James, especially at this late stage, because a lot of teams are set for next year,” Rahal told NBCSports.com. “While we would love to have James at some level, we don’t have the money at this point.

“We’ll work on seeing what is possible if we can, but the odds are not favoring that right now. I’m in Italy, and when we get back tomorrow, we’re going to start to work on this. Again, I think the odds are not in his favor, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try.”

Rahal has known Hinchcliffe since he started racing go-karts as a kid against Graham Rahal. He would like to help him revive his career.

In order to do that, however, it takes money.

“Ultimately, the funding has to be there,” Rahal said. “I like James and I want to help him, but we are at the beginning stages of that. The odds are really against him because it’s so late. The odds are not good, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t want to help him in some way.

“This really puts James in a bad spot because who is out there. He doesn’t have any sponsorship money, so that doesn’t help. We haven’t spoken with James, but I plan on speaking with him when I return from Italy at the end of the week.

“Our third deal may still be out there, but nobody has made any commitments. It could be next week, or it could be in a few months.

“Right now, we just don’t know.”

Hinchcliffe was Honda’s commercial spokesman for both Honda Canada and American Honda. The well-liked driver has a great personality and was the runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2016, just one year after he was nearly killed in an Indianapolis 500 practice crash on May 18, 2015.

Closer to home, another Honda team that could possibly expand if it can find additional sponsorship is Dale Coyne Racing.

The two-car team features four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais teamed with famed engineer Craig Hampson in the No. 18 Honda in the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan entry. The No. 19 Honda is expected to be filled with talented 21-year-old Santino Ferrucci of Connecticut, though Coyne told NBCSports.com that deal has not been completed.

“It’s interesting timing, we’ll see,” Coyne told NBCSports.com. “I’m still confident we will have Santino back.

“It’s pretty close. I expect to have it completed by the end of next week. We test next Tuesday at Sebring, so right after that we plan on getting Santino’s deal completed.”

Ferrucci’s engineer, Michael Cannon, left Dale Coyne Racing for Chip Ganassi Racing earlier this month, but Coyne said Olivier Boisson will move over to become the engineer for the No. 19 entry.

Coyne was asked if he had interest in talking to Hinchcliffe about a third entry on the team.

“Yes,” Coyne said. “Craig Hampson has a lot of time for James Hinchcliffe. He worked with him and likes him a lot. I like James, but I’ve never worked with him, and Craig has.

“We have not had any conversations with him yet, but I heard he is going to call us today. I need to have a conversation, see where he is at, what support and sponsorship he has now. I’m sure Honda is supporting him.

“Is it enough for us to make a three-car program work?”

Both Rahal and Coyne were shocked that Hinchcliffe is no longer part of Arrow McLaren Racing SP. That team is expected to announce 2018 Indy Lights champion Pato O’Ward and 2019 Indy Lights title winner Oliver Askew as its drivers later this week.

“Where else is Hinch going to go?” Coyne asked. “It’s us or Rahal. Chip Ganassi already increased to three cars when they hired Marcus Ericsson.”

Ericsson was Hinchcliffe’s teammate this past season at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports because it merged with McLaren. Ericsson was told at the time of the merger he would not be part of the team and had time to put a deal together with Chip Ganassi Racing.

NBCSports.com contacted Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull to gauge the team’s interest in increasing to a four-car operation to hire Hinchcliffe.

Hull declined comment because he doesn’t want to dissuade any other possibilities Hinchcliffe may have regarding a car in 2020.

“It’s disappointing to hear about the situation, but I’m sure because who he is, someone will sort it out for him,” Hull told NBCSports.com. “I wish him the best.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

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).