Written by Archie O’Reilly
Budding IndyCar driver Tom Blomqvist is sitting at home as he speaks to the DIVEBOMB IndyCar Podcast - a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the racing season. But things are soon set to get busy once more for the British driver, and one thing is evidently weighing on his mind more than anything…
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Five days on from the conversation, Blomqvist would be getting his first taste of the iconic oval at IMS as he gears up for his rookie year in IndyCar in 2024. “I’ve got my first experience around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday next week,” Blomqvist tells the team to kick things off. “I’m super excited for that.”
Making the transition to driving on ovals when making the step up to IndyCar can be daunting. But fresh off a test at Texas Motor Speedway in September, Blomqvist is clearly relishing the journey to becoming a full-time IndyCar driver with Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) next year, so much that also closes the interview with another mention of the test.
He isn’t short on experience with the team that he is making the move with. Straight after testing in Indianapolis, which he predicts to be a “pretty wild” experience, the 29-year-old is destined for Atlanta, where he will compete in the final race of the IMSA Sportscar Championship as his second season with MSR in the series comes to a close.
Blomqvist’s racing career to date has been one of versatility and ventures into a whole host of series. “I feel like I’ve raced in almost every series you possibly can race,” he says. “I couldn’t have done much more really. I feel like I’ve done everything. I’ve won GT races, sports car races, competed in Formula E, in DTM.”
It was a career that started in single-seaters, with the big dream of eventually reaching Formula One - like for so many young racing drivers. Before trying his hand at other disciplines, he even ousted Max Verstappen in the 2014 FIA Formula Three European Championship, finishing second behind Esteban Ocon.
This, of course, elicits a beaming smile. “None of the F1 drivers can say they've beaten him in a season,” Blomqvist says, one day before Verstappen would go on to seal his third successive championship. That is the sort of form Blomqvist will hope to find as he returns to single-seater racing in 2024.
Despite 2014 being a successful campaign in the scheme of things, Blomqvist “veered off” onto a different path the following year. He signed a maiden professional contract with BMW, which saw him race sports cars in DTM for three years. He finished a high of sixth in the championship in 2016, winning a single race in his debut year the season prior.
Still very young at the time, this experience laid the foundations for Blomqvist’s career as it has panned out to date. It was a gamble to move away from single-seaters at the start of 2015 at only 21 years old, but it was a decision that sums up Blomqvist’s mentality - content to take risks.
“I had the opportunity to continue in single seaters, to maybe go into World Series and potentially F2 - GP2 at the time,” he recalls. “But I had this great opportunity to join BMW as a professional young driver and I took that. I took that chance.”
The chance that Blomqvist took also involved “a little bit of a foray into GT racing” on top of DTM, competing in esteemed events such as the 24 Hours of Spa and 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. This evolved into opportunities with BMW’s GT sports car team in the World Endurance Championship (WEC), and initial exploits Stateside in the GTLM class in IMSA.
All the while, Blomqvist did return to open wheel racing in some capacity, running a part-schedule in Formula E in 2018, and one two-race weekend in 2019 amid a near-complete IMSA schedule.
A full season in Formula E in a “messy” COVID-impacted year in 2020 didn’t pan out as Blomqvist may have wanted with a struggling NIO 333 outfit, but his ventures following this season arguably really kickstarted the route to IndyCar. After a second-place LMP2 championship finish with JOTA in the WEC in 2021, a test with MSR was on the cards.
This saw Blomqvist return to IMSA in 2022 - this time in its premier category. It ultimately panned out to be a “great, absolutely fantastic year” as he won the championship on top of success in the iconic 24 Hours of Daytona. The Daytona success would be repeated in 2023, although a tyre infraction saw the team docked 200 points in the championship.
Regardless of “a mixed season” in 2023, Blomqvist ends his stint in IMSA with his reputation brimming. “It has been a privilege, and obviously it has kickstarted my learnings and everything getting ready for next year with the IndyCar season,” he says. “So it’s been pretty cool.”
Adapting to IndyCar is not going to be an easy task, but the template of moving from a different discipline has been successfully set by the likes of Scott McLaughlin, and even Agustin Canapino. Blomqvist has tasted similar success elsewhere, plus he does boast some single-seater experience.
“I can drive most things okay,” he says. “But I’ve definitely found my feet back in these high downforce, more nimble race cars that I grew up doing, like Formula Three and so on. So it kind of feels like my career has really taken a step, taken a good leap the last 12 months. I couldn’t be more excited for what lays ahead.”
Part of Blomqvist’s excitement stems from continuing to work with MSR, where he feels “at home”, following such success across their two years in IMSA. Continuing the relationship will be massively valuable during the transition to IndyCar.
“This team is so unique,” he says. “There’s such a shared passion from the ownership all the way through, down through the mechanics to the drivers. And what Mike [Shank], his wife, Mary Beth, and Jim Meyer bring to this team is such… they make their drivers feel like they’re a part of the team, like they’re part of the family. It’s an open book.”
There is a sense of trust and admiration that goes both ways. Blomqvist acknowledges the gamble, but there is a real, and justifiable, sense that an IndyCar drive feels, in part, like a reward to the Brit.
“Everyone there has obviously seen what I did and truly believe that I played a huge part in the sports car success we had last year, and they almost feel like they should reward me,” Blomqvist says. “I think a little bit of this IndyCar drive is their faith and belief in me, and also kind of rewarding me, in a way, for what I’ve done together with them, what we’ve achieved together.
“They put a lot of faith in me, a lot of trust in me. They believe that I can deliver them results, also in IndyCar. And I’m motivated to prove them right, that they did make a good decision taking a punt on me. Because they could have easily tried to hire another driver or stuck with the same guys they had or take a proven IndyCar driver.
“But they were willing to take a risk on me. That’s testament to their approach and their mentality and how they are as people, giving me that chance to prove to them or prove to everyone. There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us, especially me, trying to put myself in a position where I want to be.
“I’ve got relatively used to being at the front of the field and, most of my career, fighting at the front - that's kind of what I expect. I’m going to come into one of the most competitive, if not, maybe, arguably the most competitive series currently in the world. It’s going to be a challenge and there’s going to be bad days. It has been a humbling experience so far, for sure, but one that I’m so, so motivated to make work.”
Blomqvist will be aided by the fact he had a slight venture into IndyCar this year, competing in three races amid the absence of Simon Pagenaud with concussion following his crash in Mid-Ohio practice at the start of July. He gained his first experience in Toronto before competing in the final two races of the campaign at Portland and Laguna Seca.
“It was definitely an eye opener,” Blomqvist says as he describes his first few races, which started with a creditable 20th-place in a wet-dry qualifying session in Toronto, before he was caught up in a first lap incident in the race. “If I’m totally honest, it was a bigger challenge than I expected. Jumping in like that… the first one in Toronto was a nightmare.
“Having not driven the car, only having one shot in the car this time last year, jumping in straight on a weekend when everyone else has been driving all year long, at a track I had no idea about, I didn’t really know the car that well. Yeah, that was wild. I was making small baby steps and I was so gutted that I didn't get a chance to get those race laps under my belt.
“And then Portland, as well, it still wasn’t really clicking a bit. But Portland for me, I just wanted to get through it, do the distance in the race, which I did, which was super, super useful. And then coming to Laguna, I felt a lot more relaxed and a lot more calm and just a lot more at ease with the car and everything.
“I think my performance there was definitely a lot, lot stronger. The race was actually going alright up until the point where I ended up in one of those ridiculous restart pileups, which I was obviously disappointed about because I think we had the chance to get a decent result that day with all the chaos going on.”
Regardless of the outcomes in his three races so far - classified an unfortunate 25th, 24th and 26th - Blomqvist will benefit from getting such run-outs in the car ahead of making his full-season debut in 2024. They can almost be retrospectively treated as having been glorified test runs that will help to get him up to speed for next year.
“It was so useful for me to get those miles under my belt,” he says. “I’m so much more comfortable. In the back of your mind, you know what to expect, you know all these little things that a racing driver goes through in terms of the race: the preparation, the warm up lap, the restarts - all the small things that the fans watching don’t realise, all these small things that you become accustomed to.
“There’s less thought process that's going on when you’re behind the car because it’s not all new. You know what’s about to happen, you know how to handle these situations, you know how some of the guys race.
“I know a bit about the car, I’ve done a race distance, I know the practice sequences, the run plans through the practice, how quick it comes, the qualifying format. It’s all well and good going and doing testing, testing, testing, testing. But getting these full race weekends under my belt definitely helps a lot.
“I’m a lot more relaxed about a general race weekend in IndyCar. The first one coming up in March is going to be a bit easier, having done some now, than it would have been if I was going in completely fresh.”
Blomqvist does still expect bumps in the road through his rookie year, especially after a hiatus from cars similar to what he will have to become accustomed to in IndyCar. He admits: “I still need to get those miles up in the car, get familiar with the car, get comfortable in the car. I’m still not where I want to be.
“In terms of my feeling with a sports car, I feel like I can jump in that thing, I’m on it straight away. I get in the IndyCar, you have to think a little bit more, it’s not completely natural just yet and that’s going to take time. So I need to work with everyone on my team to get the most out of myself and make that progress. I’m really excited about that.”
It may be a challenge for Blomqvist to make this step, but this is the sort of opportunity and process that he relishes. “The cars, the teams, the drivers - it’s so close, it’s such a high level,” he says, glowingly, about a series he has followed for a long time. “All elements of racing, from the strategic element to the racecraft. Everything.
“The races are intense. And I think, for me, I’ve got so much to learn, there’s a few tracks I need to learn. The main thing is just me getting to grips with the race car, understanding how to maximise performance of my package and then work with my engineers to get that thing working for me in the way I want.”
From ovals to the physical challenge, it will be a test for a driver that has certainly been around the block. But Blomqvist is “super pumped” - and he is definitely not just saying that for the sake of it. “I love a new challenge,” he says. “And that’s exactly what it’s going to be.”