A viewer’s guide to the IndyCar 2021 season opener: 5 things to watch starting at Barber

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It sounds like the start of an absurd joke, but its punch line is actually a jaw-dropping perspective on the red-hot status of the NTT IndyCar Series.

A seven-time NASCAR Cup champion, a Kiwi wunderkind from Supercars and a Frenchman of Formula One renown will begin their rookie seasons in IndyCar this weekend at a road course just east of an unlikely IndyCar bastion better known as Birmingham, Alabama.

With its 11th IndyCar race, Barber Motorsports Park will debut as a season opener for one of the most highly anticipated and scrutinized campaigns in series history – led by a remarkable freshman class whose accomplishments and experience dwarf many in the field for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC).

ENTRY LISTHere are the 24 drivers racing at Barber Motorsports Park

WEEKEND SCHEDULE: All the on-track activity for Barber

Jimmie Johnson, 45, virtually will be starting over after a Hall of Fame career in NASCAR. Scott McLaughlin, 27, already is considered one of the greatest in Australia’s biggest racing series. Romain Grosjean, who turns 35 Saturday, has F1 podium finishes at Spa, the Nurburgring and Circuit of the Americas.

But they all have been drawn to IndyCar, cementing its reputation for showcasing elite talent demanding versatility across a variety of demanding courses in cars with less competitive disparity than other major racing series.

For some longtime observers (such as IndyCar on NBC analyst Paul Tracy), there are echoes of the allure triggered by reigning F1 champion Nigel Mansell’s 1993 arrival in CART (the feisty Brit won the championship as a rookie and drew fans worldwide to the preeminent single-seater series in North America of that era).

“It’s just being able to have pretty much the same equipment as everybody on the grid and having the possibility of winning the race that is pulling people in,” six-time and defending series champion Scott Dixon said.

“Plus all the other things of the cool tracks we go to — the different disciplines, short ovals, superspeedways. There’s just so many appealing things about our series that I think you’re seeing a lot of people trying to make the switch. With the current formula, the equality between the small team and big team, there is no small team anymore the way the rules play. There’s not much that a big team can outspend anybody on. It’s just not that factor. So it really comes down to now the people that you get to work with in the process of what you do, and then sometimes a bit of luck.

In gunning for a seventh championship, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon (center) figures to face competition from Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden (right) and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“The competition, I’ve never seen it so strong. I think when you look at it from a driver standpoint to a team standpoint and the options that you have, it’s pretty packed, man.”

While this year’s rookies bring sterling resumes, it’ll be a shock if they immediately excel in a highly competitive IndyCar field of former winners and series champions.

McLaughlin has shown enough speed to have Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud already predicting a victory in 2021 (and a future title) for the new driver of the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet. Yet the learning curve will be much steeper for Grosjean and especially Johnson, whose No. 48 Dallara-Honda has improved in limited offseason testing but still is about a second off the pace of Dixon and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates.

Romain Grosjean made 179 Formula One starts from 2009-20 (the last five seasons at Haas F1), scoring 10 podiums (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Dixon, 40, will be gunning for a seventh title (that would put him amid a pantheon of racing legends such as Johnson, Petty, Earnhardt, Schumacher and Hamilton) in a stacked field of proven champions (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Pagenaud), established and rising stars (Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, Graham Rahal), a two-time Indy 500 winner (Takuma Sato) and a complement of young drivers on the verge of their first victory (Pato O’Ward, 2020 rookie of the year Rinus VeeKay, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson).

“You look at just how deep the field is, and it’s impressive,” Rahal said. “Maybe everybody wants to say the golden era of IndyCar was in the early (to) late ’90s. But I’ve got to be honest: From a talent pool perspective, the golden era is right now. We’re living the golden era. It’s never been better, and I’m not sure it will get better.

“For sure there’s going to be times that guys go out there and they’re going to perform great and we’re going to be like, Oh, yeah, they’re awesome, and then next weekend like us in Gateway, you may just completely suck, and it shouldn’t be a surprise because you cannot miss a step. The depth, every single driver in the series can win. That’s factual. That couldn’t have been said 20 years ago, let alone five years ago. … I think it’s just a very pure form of motorsports right now, and what I mean by that is (there are) no driver aids.”

Said James Hinchcliffe, who rejoins IndyCar as a full-timer with Andretti Autosport: “Every year for the last five years we’ve done interviews at the start of the season and said things like, ‘Man, this is the deepest talent pool we’ve ever had in IndyCar.’ And it’s started to sound like a line, but it’s true. We just keep adding talent the whole way through the field.

“When you look at the fact that those three guys in particular that all come from different disciplines, all have been successful in those disciplines, and whether it was the goal to come here always, IndyCar is where they wanted to be next. For whatever reason they left their old sport, this is where they wanted to be, and I think that speaks volumes for what we’re doing as a series, for the product we have on track, the quality of the racing. I think it’s the biggest endorsement we can get having guys like that come over here.”

New Zealand native Scott McLaughlin joins Team Penske after winning three Supercars championship with a Penske-affiliated team (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

With the addition of a street race in Nashville that has the makings of the series’ next marquee event and some major lineup reshuffling by drivers and teams, IndyCar will have many new looks in 2021.

But for the past 20 years, there remains a constant atop the standings: Dixon, who will open the season at two of the only tracks (Barber and St. Petersburg) that he has yet to conquer (despite a combined 10 runner-up finishes at those courses).

“We always say, ‘Oh, my God, it’s the most competitive year ever,’ ” said Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner and F1 veteran hungry for a first championship after a disappointing 2020. “It’s like, ‘Well, yeah, but so was last year, so was the year before.’ As long as Scott Dixon is here it’s going to be pretty hard to win at the end of the day. So it doesn’t matter if there’s one Scott Dixon or four Scott Dixons, you’ve got to beat Scott Dixon.

“I love the passion that Scotty has for this series. I’ve briefly spoken to Romain about it. He’s already loving it. They all are having the same kind of first impressions that I had in the fact that it’s a hell of a series, and we’re all very fortunate to be able to race here.”

Here are four more things to watch in our IndyCar Viewer’s Guide heading into Sunday’s season opener at Barber Motorsports Park:


–A seven-time champion and the teammate who wants to join him: In making the transition to a much lighter car with wildly foreign braking points and no power steering, Johnson — a married father of two who could have taken his millions and ridden into the sunset — faces the toughest challenge of possibly any newcomer in IndyCar history. But his irrepressible work ethic already has team owner Chip Ganassi believing that a victory is “certainly not impossible. He has the talent. He has the racecraft. I know he can do it.”

During offseason testing, Jimmie Johnson has leaned heavily on teammate Scott Dixon (left) and Ganassi driver coach and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti (right) (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

But realistically, just a top 10 in the first half of the season would be a major accomplishment for Johnson, who will race on 13 street and road courses (where he had only one of his 83 career Cup victories). He has some great sounding boards in four-time champion Dario Franchitti (a Ganassi driver coach) and Dixon, who says Johnson “definitely blows up your phone.

“There’s a lot of text messages going back and forth, and he’s not afraid to ask any question, which is good,” Dixon said. “He’s been a good friend for many years, but to be able to work with him in the same environment has been really cool. He’s a great person, as we all know, great family man, but definitely he’s one of the greatest of all time in that discipline and got some crazy ambition. To take on this task is pretty insane.

“The easiest way to put it is that he’s been doing one sport for 20, 25 years. He kind of basically has to start, try and unlearn all that stuff and then learn a totally new process.”

Though he’s been running IMSA races to adapt to the high-downforce setup, Johnson will be hampered by a lack of track time and experience with varying tire compounds, particularly on street courses such as St. Petersburg and Long Beach. Because IndyCar’s restrictive offseason testing policy allowed him only a half-dozen sessions in his new No. 48, Johnson went as far as running lower-level Formula 3 cars with teenagers to get a handle on the new driving style.

He recently said he is “60 percent” acclimated to IndyCar and predicts “the last 10 to 15 percent is going to be the hardest.

“I’ve made some great strides,” said Johnson, who seems rejuvenated by the buzz surrounding his switch to IndyCar and the ribbing it’s drawn from his NASCAR rivals. “I’m going in the right direction. I’m within a second of my treatments now, which has really been my goal out of the box. But that last little bit, that’s what the elite guys are so good at and chase their whole career. I don’t know if I’ll get to 100 percent with the amount of years that I have to give this a try, but there’s still so many things I haven’t even experienced yet. I’ve never been on a red tire. I’ve just recently had a chance to drive a street circuit tire and understand how much more grip it has versus a traditional road course tire.

“I feel like my best chance, though, is later in the year when we get to Laguna Seca. I’ve been able to test there twice. I will have a large part of a season under my belt, and I think that’s a track that I should be in there racing with the guys. Or I hope to be.”

It would be a tall order if he can keep pace by then with Dixon, who remains as formidable as ever entering his 21st season (and 20th at Ganassi). The 50-time winner in IndyCar has extra motivation after a 2020 title in which he opened with three victories but staggered a little (particularly in road course qualifying) toward the end in fending off Newgarden.

“Last year was tough to lead from start to finish,” he said. “To have the pressure all season long, even though we built up a big buffer at points, it dwindled away pretty quickly, hadn’t really been a part of something like that. So it was an intense year, man.”

It seemed only to raise Dixon’s stature among his peers.

“I admire him,” Newgarden said. “I look at him as a fierce competitor but look up to him in a way and emulate him to certain degree. He’s the person I want to beat. He’s one of the most talented to ever be in IndyCar.”

Said Hinchcliffe: “It’s sort of tough to really put into words and proper context what Scott has accomplished. It’s unreal. We’re going to look back on this in 20 years and be even more impressed. Scott Dixon is on the podium for all-time greats, no doubt about it.”

Scott Dixon won the first three races of the 2020 season on the way to his sixth IndyCar championship (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Rinus VeeKay finished a season-best third at the IMS road course last year (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

–As youthful rivalries develop, who will be the next first-time winner? Though McLaughlin could spoil the party, it seems likely IndyCar’s next first-timer in the victory circle will come from the select under-25 age demographic: VeeKay (who won his first pole position last October at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course), O’Ward (who finished fourth in points with four podiums), Palou (who moves to Ganassi after an impressive rookie campaign at Dale Coyne Racing).

And you could make the case that Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson, 30, will be in the mix for his first win as the F1 veteran enters his third season.

VeeKay, 20, broke a thumb in an Indy 500 testing crash last week, but the supremely confident Dutchman hardly seemed fazed — another indicator of a potential second-year breakthrough that could take Ed Carpenter Racing to new heights.

“I think we can be a front-runner regularly; like we can be one of the favorites every race,” VeeKay said. “Once you’re in that position, I think there will be an opportunity where you can go for that race win where everything goes your way. We just have to make sure we have the pace. I know we’ve got the strategies, and just me being the driver I am that got a podium in Indy. If I just keep doing what I’m doing and have the team keep putting in the work that they did in the off-season, I think we can really run at the front, and yeah, hopefully go for podiums.”

Pato O’Ward shows off a lighter side in preseason testing at Texas (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Palou also seems ready as the Spaniard boldly predicted he will win ahead of countrymen Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr. (both in new F1 rides).

“I’m in the best opportunity ever,” Palou, 24, said. “I’m with a great team, but I’m with a great group of guys, as well, which makes a difference. The pressure of winning, that’s racing, and you have to win to be able to race another year. That’s been always with me, and it doesn’t change this year.”

With new teammate Felix Rosenqvist (who outdueled him for a victory at Road America last year) at Arrow McLaren SP, O’Ward’s natural speed marks him as a can’t-miss in 2021.

“I feel like last year we left a lot of unfinished business,” O’Ward, 21, said. “We were close to winning four races, and we didn’t get it done. There were tough pills to swallow, and I felt like that left everyone in the team so hungry. I can see it from the off-season, just how much work has been put into the development of trying to make the cars go faster at the speedway and road courses.

“Me as a driver, I truly don’t think I’ve ever been fitter, more ready to try and win. I have lots of faith that we can make some great stuff happen this year.”

Alex Palou moves into the No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing this season (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

–Teams shuffle lineups and restructure personnel amidst tighter schedules: There are the typical annual driver dominoes, which are highlighted in moves by Palou, Rosenqvist and Hinchcliffe. Sebastien Bourdais also returns full time at AJ Foyt Racing, and Brazilian Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves (Meyer Shank Racing) and Tony Kanaan (racing the No. 48 on ovals for Johnson) are back for partial schedules.

But there were some major yet less noticeable moves made by many teams shoring up their personnel in the offseason. After a mostly miserable season for Andretti (aside from Indy 500 qualifying), the team rededicated itself to its simulation programs and processes for attacking qualifying during race weekends truncated by COVID-19 restrictions. It also took the opportunity for some reshuffling, including pairing Colton Herta (the team’s only winner in 2020) with his father, Bryan, as his strategist.

The reduction in practice time also had Team Penske focused on working more efficiently and arriving with a better plan of attack at the track.

Josef Newgarden finished second in the 2020 points standings, capping the season at St. Petersburg with his fourth victory (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Last year we struggled a little bit with the shortened sessions,” said Newgarden, who has two championships and a runner-up points finish in four seasons for Penske. “We were not always prepared. And not prepared in that we weren’t doing our job, we just didn’t forecast correctly what we needed some of the time showing up to these tracks. When you don’t do that, you don’t have a lot of time to figure it out. If you don’t have the time, you might not get there on race day.

“I think that is the new challenge with the pandemic: How do we work better in simulation; how do we show up more often with exactly what we need right away? We just know we don’t have the time to fix it across a race weekend. Pretty much how you roll off is going to dictate a lot of how your weekend goes. We’ve been working a tremendous amount figuring out how to be better right off the truck, so we don’t have to play catch-up like we did last year.”

The big teams will have strength in numbers, too, as Ganassi and Penske each expanded back to four cars (matching Andretti Autosport, which dropped a full-time car with Marco Andretti scaling back his schedule). Penske also might benefit from the closure of its IMSA team, reorganizing some talented engineers and team members to the IndyCar side (which seemed to work well for Ganassi after its GTLM cars were shuttered for 2020).


Simon Pagenaud is in the final year of a deal he signed after winning the 2019 Indy 500 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

–Big names in contract years: It could be a pivotal season for three past series champions. Pagenaud, Power and Hunter-Reay (whose one-year extension with Andretti was announced in January) are entering the final years of deals in coveted rides.

Team owner Roger Penske, who also has NASCAR star Brad Keselowski in a one-year deal, talked last month as if it’s a mere formality to re-sign former Indy 500 winners Pagenaud, 36, and Power, 40.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Penske said of all his impending free agents. “There’s no reason we wouldn’t renew for sure.  I guess it’s just a matter of us sitting down and putting it together, but with everybody not being able to move around you don’t do that over the phone and you don’t do it by Zoom, so we want to do that face-to-face with all of them.”

Will Power has driven for Team Penske since 2009 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Pagenaud politely demurred when asked about his status.

“At the moment, I don’t see why there would be a need to talk about it,” he said. “The season hasn’t even started. My personal opinion is just go out there and do the best you can, race hard and be in the moment. The contracts will take care of themselves when they do.”

Power, who told NBC Sports last year he never has been better and plans to race well into his 40s, confirmed his contract year last month but added it had no impact. “I so badly want to win,” he said. “Yep, same internal fire burning.”

There could be more pressure on Hunter-Reay, who turned 40 in December and is coming off his fourth winless season in five years. ”My whole career has been that way,” he said. “It’s been, Hey, here is your opportunity. Get in the car, we’ll let you know if you’re going to be in the car the next race. That’s how it always has been for me. That’s why I’ve always had that grab-it-by-the-neck mentality.

“Even when I had a three-year deal, if I had a bad weekend, it was the end of the year. I have to make sure I’m performing next weekend, otherwise somebody with a big smile is getting ready to jump into my seat. It’s just part of my mentality, part of my makeup. That’s how I’ve been operating for 20 years, man.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 IndyCar championship and counts the 2014 Indy 500 among his 18 victories (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

 

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).