until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


A zero-lap debut has strengthened a 2024 IndyCar claim

by Jack Benyon
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The team boss of Meyer Shank Racing is not in talks with ex-AlphaTauri Formula 1 drive Nyck de Vries – who tested its IndyCar in 2021 – to bring him to the team, but says Tom Blomqvist’s debut in Toronto last weekend was “job done” despite his lap-one exit.

Mike Shank started in grassroots racing and went from successful sportscar boss to Indianapolis 500-winning team-co-owner, a feat achieved in 2021, but a recent injury in a somersaulting crash for Simon Pagenaud at Mid-Ohio has meant three races without his top driver.

After Pagenaud’s crash in practice the team managed to get Conor Daly in for the Mid-Ohio race but, once it became clear last week that Pagenaud again wouldn’t be available, Shank called Blomqvist and redirected him from a trip home to Monaco via the UK and brought him to Toronto.

Picture it: you haven’t driven an IndyCar since you did for the first time for one day in October 2022. You don’t even have a set of overalls, let alone sim time or a chance to crunch the date with engineers. Toronto has been repaved so the final sector and other corners of the track require different approaches from what the videos tell you. Your competitors are in their 10th race of the season. It rains in qualifying. And, finally, you get taken out of the race at the first corner on the first lap.

Trial by fire is putting it likely for Blomqvist.

“The bottom line is, I really dropped Tom into the fire here,” Shank tells The Race following the Toronto weekend.

“This series is so difficult, I can’t even begin to describe to you how tough it is.

“Toronto’s a bumpy, nasty track, right? So dropping him in, and then, rain in qualifying, the circumstances were just horrendous for him. But, ultimately, he did what we asked him to do, and he got put out by someone else.

First Lap Incident With Ryan Hunter Reay Jack Harvey And Tom Blomqvist Honda Indy Toronto By Joe Skibinski Large Image Without Watermark M87038

“There’s nothing we can do about that.

“Truly, that’s my regret that he didn’t get those 85 laps, no matter where he would have finished, right? He just needed those laps. And that’s my regret.

“But he progressed every single session, leaps and leaps and leaps and never stopped. And that’s what we’re hoping for now. He’s got a taste of the physicality, the aggressiveness and the overall programme here.”

Shank has been tight-lipped on his team’s future and August is when things will become clear to the outside world.

Tom Blomqvist Indianapolis 500 Practice By Chris Owens Large Image Without Watermark M79788
The Race’s sources have indicated Blomqvist was told in May he had a seat in IndyCar with the team, but how he would fit alongside Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves needed to be worked out.

However, despite those sources’ suggestions, Shank has still been discussing the Toronto weekend as if it was a chance to evaluate Blomqvist ahead of tricky driver choices coming up.

Perhaps his highlight of the weekend was a lap 1.3 seconds off the session-best time in second practice – an excellent effort given who he was ahead of at the time – which was then disallowed because a yellow flag came out.

But Shank and his team noted it.“That was very good,” said Shank.

“That was what we need to see and have happen.

“We know he’s a superb driver, the weekend before he starred [in the IMSA SportsCar Championship; Blomqvist won at Mosport alongside Colin Braun in Shank’s #60 Acura ARX-06], but I think he got humbled a little bit, this thing is so tough and so aggressive.

“But it was good for him. And also, by the way, the physicality of it, Tom’s not a big guy, right? Like, what do we need to tune on his training, if he ever gets to do this again, how can he be better prepared? He gets to see all that.”

It’s tough to try to work out where Blomqvist would have been in the race. Shank adds that “in the warm-up session he figured out fuel conserve right away within five laps”, and said he was “surprised” with how well Blomqvist adapted to pitstops in IndyCar which are tricky, especially in a tight pitlane like Toronto’s.

Tom Blomqvist Honda Indy Toronto By Travis Hinkle Large Image Without Watermark M86650

It’s certain Blomqvist was taking a conservative approach and wanted to complete all of the laps over prioritising a certain finish. But Shank certainly had lofty expectations based on what he had seen.

“I think he was headed to where I wanted him to be, which was the top 12-15 result, I think he was fully capable of getting that last weekend,” he says.

“And that would have been on target also. So it was job done, as far as I’m concerned with Tom, and we’ll see where the future takes us.”

There’s still a lot to sort out in terms of the future. The most likely outcome appears to be Blomqvist slotting in alongside Pagenaud, with Castroneves either moving to a third car or sharing the second with Blomqvist and doing the ovals.

And while Shank has praised Pagenaud and Castroneves for their performances, teamwork and ability to impress sponsors, The Race heard Felix Rosenqvist being linked with the team at the weekend. With Pagenaud facing his contract coming to an end, it’s not out of the question he doesn’t get a new deal.

That would be harsh on Pagenaud, but IndyCar is a fickle beast sometimes.

One driver who would seem unlikely to take any vacancy is De Vries.

He’s already being coveted by multiple Formula E teams including Nissan and while he tested for Meyer Shank in 2021, at the time he was trying to evaluate if a career move to the States was something he wanted and he hasn’t been back to IndyCar since.

“I haven’t talked to him,” Shank says.

“Of course, I think he’s a huge talent. He was very, very good in our car when we tested him a couple years ago now, like really good.

“He’d be a guy that we would for sure consider but he’s got to want to do IndyCar racing in America, though.

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“And I don’t know if he does or not. I don’t know the answer to that, by the way.

“He’d absolutely be on our list if he wanted to do it.”

One thing De Vries and Blomqvist have in common is knowledge of energy management; Blomqvist has raced with hybrid systems in sportscars and De Vries’ is a Formula E title winner.

The Race put to Shank that Castroneves and Blomqvist were sportscar racers he’s brought back to IndyCar and asked if that was by design, through sportscars showing off some IndyCar-friendly attributes, or if it was a coincidence.

His answer pointed out that IndyCar’s switch to a hybrid formula next year is going to make those drivers with energy-management experience that bit more valuable.

Helio Castroneves Honda Indy Toronto By Travis Hinkle Large Image Without Watermark M86794

“It’s a little bit of a coincidence,” says Shank.

“But I can tell you the hybrid exercise we’re going through now in sportscars is going to be huge for people going forward in IndyCar.

“So any kind of electricity management that people have now, in sportscars, would do them very, very well over in IndyCar and that’s going to be a whole new world we’re coming to next year.

“The basic level of aggressiveness and pure speed, obviously, super important to have the speed to be competitive in IndyCar is one thing.

“But having the brain capacity to manage what’s going to be a more complicated car, even in IndyCar next year, is going to be really important.

Helio Castroneves Honda Indy Toronto By Travis Hinkle Large Image Without Watermark M86720

“So I’m looking for the brain capacity: can they handle more inputs from the car that they have to manage at a high level?”

Blomqvist is not back in the car this weekend at Iowa, partly because it was short notice to arrange an oval debut – Blomqvist has never contested such a race before – and also because Daly is cleared and ready to go, having been on pole at Iowa in 2020.

Pagenaud is expected to be back for the following race in Nashville all being well – with a conservative decision taken not to clear him to race at Iowa considering it’s an oval race weekend and a double-header one at that, which would have been quite the reacclimatisation.

However, these things can change quickly. If Blomqvist does get called up again before next season, he’s going to be better prepared and has already shown what he is capable of doing even in such a short weekend.

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