Ryan Hunter-Reay ‘all smiles’ and no regrets in leaving Andretti; optimistic about future

Ryan Hunter-Reay future
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LONG BEACH, California — As a 12-season NTT IndyCar Series run at Andretti Autosport comes to an end, Ryan Hunter-Reay is upbeat about the future of his career.

A few hours after his replacement at Andretti formally was introduced, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indy 500 vowed that he “absolutely” would be in a race car again.

“I’m all smiles, absolutely, racing at one of my favorite racetracks in IndyCar,” Hunter-Reay said Friday after turning the fifth-fastest lap in the opening practice for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. “You can either go through it with a big smile on your face or you can just be mad and kick the can all the time. That’s how I’ve always been, enjoy it, go forward with a positive attitude, that’s what I’m doing for sure.

ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Details for watching Sunday’s race

FRIDAY PRACTICE REPORT: Palou third; O’Ward 16th

“I’ll be 41 in December. I still feel like I’ve got race wins in me. Yeah, just the right opportunity and the right situation, and we’ll see where that leads.”

For the first time since the 2010 season, the path will lead away from Andretti Autosport and the No. 28 Dallara-Honda (which will be driven by Romain Grosjean next year).

Though the news became official Sept. 14, Hunter-Reay said Friday that he and car owner Michael Andretti had agreed last November that the 2021 season would be his last with the team.

During the news conference with Grosjean, Andretti also noted the move had been planned in the offseason while praising Hunter-Reay’s commitment to the team.

Hunter-Reay said he had wanted to change Andretti’s mind with his performance this season (“If you hit a stride, things can be reworked”), but that hope faded over the course of 15 races with no podiums (and a best finish of fourth at Nashville).

“It’s been coming for a while,” Hunter-Reay said. “Going into this year we knew this was our last year together. I’ve been with this team for 12 years, have been with the same engineer longer than I’ve been married, and I’ve got three kids, so go figure that one out. Definitely been here a long time.

“In sports, in business, anything like that, everything evolves. It always does. Change is inevitable, and it’s a good thing usually. I think it’s definitely a good time to shake things up. I wish Andretti Autosport, Romain and (sponsor) DHL the best. I’m looking forward to that next chapter and the challenges that lie ahead.”

After winning twice in Champ Car, Hunter-Reay moved to IndyCar in 2007 and raced for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing before joining Andretti. He scored 15 of his 16 victories in IndyCar with the team.

Hunter-Reay’s career straddled “The Split,” which broke IndyCar racing into two separate series from 1996-2008 and left drivers and teams scrambling for sponsorship and stability.

Ryan Hunter-Reay leaves Andretti with the series on an upward trajectory, and he noted the future while sitting on a stage Friday alongside young stars Colton Herta, Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden.

“Obviously we had a great run,” Hunter-Reay said. “We checked all the major boxes off. Certainly some got away at times.

“It’s definitely great to see where IndyCar is headed with this group up onstage, what they have coming over the years to come, all the interest in IndyCar.

“I was coming up in karting, and right when I sat in my first car, ‘The Split’ happened. Man, that was a long recovery back. I’ve been in the trenches the whole way. To see it where it is now is absolutely fantastic. To compete up at the front for a race win here this weekend is really what I’m here for. It’s the only thing that matters.”

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native said he took the most pride in “having to claw my way through” in becoming an IndyCar stalwart. Despite missing the 2006 season, he returned and kept making the most of his limited auditions.

“I raced for like 12 different teams, something crazy,” he said. “Driven for all of them, Andretti, Rahal, Foyt, you name it I’ve been there. It’s been tough. That’s what’s really made me. ‘Hey, here is a two-race opportunity, go make do with it what you may.’ I had to be fast, keep care of the car, bring the results home.

“It made me the driver I was throughout the championship fights, throughout all those wins and stuff like that. Absolutely, I wouldn’t want to do it another way.”

The 2021 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will be the 239th start of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s IndyCar career and his last at Andretti Autosport (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Fittingly, one of those moments happened at Long Beach, where he won April 18, 2010 in only his fourth start with Andretti.

“It was make-or-break time, for sure,” Hunter-Reay said. “We came out at (the season opener in Brazil) and finished second. At this race we won. It was huge. I didn’t know at the time, but our sponsor was IZOD. They were on for three races. It’s L.A. Everybody was here. They had Mark Wahlberg out, the whole thing. It was fun. We won.

“Yeah, we got the call that week that we’re going to a full season. Haven’t looked back since. Won the team’s only championship in 16 years. Now we’re sitting here talking about that next chapter. It’s definitely some great, great memories.”

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).