Robert Wickens will return to racing with Bryan Herta Autosport, starting at Daytona

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Nearly three and a half years after an IndyCar crash left him unable to walk, Robert Wickens will return to racing this month — joining the championship Hyundai team of Bryan Herta Autosport.

Wickens will team with fellow Canadian Mark Wilkins in the No. 33 Elantra N TCR full time in the 2022 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season, starting at Daytona International Speedway with a Jan. 28 race that will be streamed live on Peacock (along with the full season; replays also will be shown on the USA network).

For accelerating and braking without the use of foot pedals, Wickens will be driving a custom hand-control system designed by BHA technical director David Brown and development technician Jonathan Gormley.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens returns to a race car at Mid-Ohio

Wickens has major aspirations in joining a six-car team that has won three consecutive championships in the MPC, vowing to win the season opener despite having yet to drive the car yet.

“Aim big, right,” he said with a smile during a Zoom news conference Friday. “Let’s go for the win. It’s not every day you can jump straight in with a team that’s won multiple championships with a teammate that’s won a championship. I feel I couldn’t be in a better place. The goal is simple: to try to win the thing.

“I felt I was forced to leave in 2018 at almost the peak of my career. I felt great. Never felt fitter, never felt stronger. I felt like I was driving the best I’ve ever driven. I want to hit the ground running and continue where I left off. At least challenge for a victory and podium, if anything.”

Wickens won the pole position and led 69 laps in his NTT IndyCar Series debut nearly four years ago and also was the 2018 Indy 500 rookie of the year.

Wickens made a big leap last May in his journey back to a race car, turning 62 laps with Herta’s team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

It was his first exposure to hand controls mounted on the steering wheel that controlled the acceleration and braking of the No. 54 Veloster N TCR. Michael Johnson, a paralyzed driver who delivered Hyundai’s first podium with co-driver Stephen Simpson in a 2021 Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Daytona, helped guide Wickens through the use of hand controls.

Wickens also had watched Alex Zanardi race with hand controls in the DTM and sports cars series (including the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona). Zanardi was among the first to call after Wickens was paralyzed.

Wickens said Friday that he can stand with support but likely won’t walk again.

“I’m at the point where my recovery has more or less plateaued in terms of neural recovery,” he said. “I’m not regaining any more muscle function. Unfortunately, it’s looking like I’ll be in a chair for the remainder of my life as long as modern medicine and science stay what it is. But it’s a great life. I was able to regain a lot of function.”

For the past two seasons, Wickens has worked as a consultant and driver coach for Arrow McLaren SP, the team he drove for during his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series up until the Pocono crash.

Wickens said he will remain in the consultant role for Arrow McLaren SP during the 2022 season. Asked whether he wanted to race the Indy 500 again, Wickens said he is keeping his options open.

“The first thing for me is I want to race here in the Michelin Pilot Challenge with Hyundai in my Elantra N TCR car to just, for myself, prove I can do it again,” he said. “It’s almost like a proof of concept to understand the hand controls and compete again. I haven’t raced in three and a half years, really. Just for myself and everyone around me, I want to know I can do it again. Once we can tick that box, nothing is out of the question.

“I think it would be awesome to race the Indy 500. Also, I’m very interested in exploring new avenues. I’ve never really done any sports car driving. Racing at the highest levels of IMSA and the WeatherTech Series. Those LMDh cars just look insane. Formula E is something that’s very appealing to me as well. I’m interested in exploring other options of motorsport outside IndyCar.”

Wickens cast doubt on if he could race again in the NTT IndyCar Series because of regulations that could limit hand controls.

“Anything is possible with the right time, money and resources,” he said. “It’s a colossal ask, but I’m at a point in my life where if I never return to IndyCar, I’m very satisfied with that. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity I have here to get back behind the wheel and feel that hunger I’ve had for so many years watching from the sidelines.

“If things in the future arise, we’ll address them as they come. For the time being, I don’t see IndyCar as a feasible option in my return. The physicality to adapt my hand controls would require a lot of customization that I’m not sure the series would really sign off on. Braking, power steering. It would take like a one-off Indy car, which I don’t know if teams would agree to (allow).”

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).