Indy 500 test spins have drivers and officials hunting a reason for lack of pit lane grip


INDIANAPOLIS – An odd phenomenon developed with three spins during the opening day of Indy 500 testing that left NTT IndyCar Series drivers and officials puzzled while searching for a reason Wednesday.

Three experienced veterans, with six victories and a combined 546 laps led in the Indianapolis 500, were involved in separate crashes on the warmup lane, an access road that connects pit lane with the entry onto the track in Turn 2.

It all started at 12:30 p.m. ET when 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport spun after exiting pit road on his slow-speed installation lap. The incident drew some bewildered looks as many believed cold temperatures combined with early morning rain led Rossi to hit the throttle too hard for the conditions.

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The next four hours on the 2.5-mile oval were conducted mostly without incident. That all changed after the clock struck 5.

Four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who has led a whopping 325 laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, spun on the pit access road, slid across the grass strip that separates the road for the race track and slammed into the Turn 2 wall with his right front at 5:11 p.m.

“I didn’t do anything strange; I wasn’t even pushing, and the car just spun out,” Castroneves said. “It was a very odd situation unfortunately. It was very strange. The temperatures are a little cooler, but I’ve run in colder conditions than that.

“I wasn’t even pushing. I wasn’t even trying. The car felt good. My reaction was, ‘What happened?’ I wasn’t trying anything different. It’s just strange what happened.”

Though Castroneves won’t return for the second day of testing, he was optimistic Meyer Shank Racing could repair the car that won last year’s Indy 500.

Shortly after the track returned to green, 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power lost it on the access road and zipped up the track toward Turn 1, directly into the path of a long line of cars running in a pack.

Colton Herta tried to avoid Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, spun and headed toward the infield wall in the south short chute area of the track between Turns 1 and 2. Marcus Ericsson, who had to avoid Castroneves’s car a few minutes earlier, barely made it between Herta’s Honda and the infield wall in the third and final incident of the day.

That occurred at 5:32 p.m. ET, and the track never returned to green despite 30 minutes left of running time as series and track officials elected to investigate the problem after consultation with Firestone.

IndyCar race director Kyle Novak along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway director of track operations Jason Pennix surveyed the surface in the pit access area. They were soon joined by IndyCar president Jay Frye and technical director Kevin Blanch.

“The first thing I said all day was I thought the warmup lanes felt slick,” Ed Carpenter Racing driver Conor Daly said. “I didn’t know if I was just being a bit of a weirdo, but then I saw Alex spinning, so it made sense.”

According to IndyCar, track crews began the process of dragging tires on the track and pressure washing the warmup lane. It’s the same group that applied a Rapid Penetrating Emulsion (RPE) treatment on the track in 2018 to seal the surface. The pit warmup lane had that treatment applied over the offseason.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles told the Indy Star later Wednesday night that the application of the sealer last fall likely had caused a lack of grip. IndyCar officials still had been hopeful of an on-time start of 10 a.m. ET for Thursday’s session, which will be televised live on Peacock, but inclement weather had the test on hold Thursday morning.

The drivers remained completely stunned they had lost control of their racing machines. Power said “it’s my worst nightmare. It’s something you always think about as drivers because you’ve seen it.

“Man, it just lit up,” Power said. “I didn’t have much lateral (steering wheel) in it. I was full throttle in second gear, but it has a very tall second gear. I had already done a lap to get rear tire temp, or so I thought. It scared the absolute daylights out of me. The situation where you come up on the track, and there is a whole pack coming at those speeds.

“I feel terrible for Colton. He crashed because I spun. I had zero warning. Zero! Before going out again, I told the engineers, ‘Look at the video; we’ve got to understand what happened there.’ I don’t understand what happened.

“When I spun and I’m going up the track. I thought this was it. This is going to be bad. It grabbed the rear and it headed back in and then I saw Colton crash and I’m causing other people to have wrecks. Scary, scary.”

For the brief moments Power was in his spin, it brought back memories of the horrifying wreck in September 2021 in Germany in which Alex Zanardi lost his legs.

“You saw what happened to Alex Zanardi in 2001, and it’s something you are aware of and you’re cautious of during practice and I can’t believe it caught me out,” Power said.

It was a similar situation that happened to Scott Dixon on Lap 52 of the 101st Indianapolis 500 in 2017 when Jay Howard hit the Turn 1 wall, ricocheted across the track, and Dixon’s Honda slammed into the disabled car. That sent Dixon’s Honda sailing airborne in the worst crash in his career.

“I think any situation like that is not great,” Dixon said. “I think Will was extremely lucky there that the car didn’t roll back any further because it would have been massive.”

Marco Andretti, who is back in an Indy car for the first time since the 2021 Indianapolis 500, believes grinding the track combined with higher temperatures on Thursday should improve the situation.

“If they could grind the track, that would be perfect,” Andretti said. “I don’t know how long something like that takes, what a process that is. I would feel a lot better with that, for sure.

“That’s the scariest part of our business. They probably weren’t pushing until then, right? That’s why they didn’t feel it. I felt it on my first run because I get a lot of feel for that going out of the pits. I said, ‘This is going to claim somebody today. I didn’t know it would claim three or four.’ Hopefully they find a remedy.”

Daly believes it’s a similar situation to last month at Texas Motor Speedway, where an extra practice session was held to work in rubber on the upper lane for more grip.

“I think it’s also cold and it’s Day One,” Daly said. “Just tell everyone, ‘Hey, I think it’s more important for us to get on the track and just continue to keep doing laps.’ Every lap that people are leaving the pits, it’s probably going to get better.”

Power, one of the most experienced drivers in the field, just wanted answers on why he car snapped on him. He advocated a deeper look at the video and a track inspection.

“It was a bad situation,” the Team Penske driver said. “I want to know what I did wrong because I never want that to happen again. I wanted to see if it was something on the track because it felt like water. As soon as I finished spinning, I wondered if there was water there.

“It was such a shock to me. I’ve been out of that pit lane hundreds of times. I had been super careful because Rossi spun. I had been taking it easy on the aprons for that reason. It’s just testing, and you never want to risk going quick on the apron when other cars are at speed. It just surprised me. Normally, you’re ready for that stuff. You’ve had a whole career of this sort of thing, and you get a warning.”

Power understands where all the bumps are located on any given race course. That’s what racers do, and they know where to put their car and use those bumps to their advantage. He noticed something different, though, on Wednesday.

“One thing I have noticed there is more of a bump where you go over the road course,” Power said. “I’m wondering if it just got a spike of boost or something like that.

“It was a surprise to me. I said, ‘We’ve got to understand this. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. Or for anything to happen to anybody else or anybody to get hurt because of it.”

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’


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).