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Blomqvist notches significant gains on INDYCAR debut

Stepping into INDYCAR on short notice to substitute for the recovering Simon Pagenaud in Toronto, Tom Blomqvist impressed the entire championship with the rapid gains that he made in his INDYCAR SERIES debut - despite his race ending prematurely.

With just one single day of INDYCAR testing under his belt (October 2022) ahead of the weekend, Blomqvist made the most of the Toronto track time as he clocked in 63 laps before his first INDYCAR qualifying run on Saturday. And to add to his already growing lists of firsts, Blomqvist had the added challenge of a sudden downpour just minutes before he was set to take the track for his 10-minute qualifying session.

“The rain definitely spiced things up for my baptism of fire, let’s say,” said Blomqvist. “I survived, which is the most important thing. I am learning every step of the way. I think now I have about two hours and 10-minutes of driving in the car, so it’s always a steep learning curve for me.”

Bringing the No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda home in one piece after a tricky session, Blomqvist qualified 20th out of IndyCar’s 27 car field. Of the 27 drivers racing in Toronto, 15 of them qualified 18th or lower in their debut INDYCAR race, with eight of them starting 20th or lower.

The NBC broadcast team pointed out that multi-discipline standouts including Kevin Magnussen, Scott McLoughlin and Jimmie Johnson all started 21st in their respective debut IndyCar races.

Tasked with learning a new car and new race series on one of the most difficult circuits on the calendar, Blomqvist’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by MSR owner Mike Shank.

“I put him in the car as a test, I wanted to see how he adapted to something that was totally different,” said Shank. “I know he can be hard on himself – all drivers want to be up front – but we are happy with where he is at. He is progressing just like we wanted him to and making all the right strides to keep improving. We’ve definitely thrown a lot at him and it’s been like drinking from a fire hose for him, but he’s doing great, and just where we thought he would be.”

Blomqvist’s MSR teammate Helio Castroneves, who started on the seventh row in 13th before an early DNF, has been a valued resource for Blomqvist as he continues to learn the nuances of IndyCar.

“I have to say, INDYCAR is the most competitive series in the world that I have competed in, in a long time,” said Castroneves. “He’s [Tom] done an incredible job jumping in, not hitting the walls, giving feedback and most importantly getting the experience. Now, throwing in the rain during qualifying he has really shown his potential. I know the team doesn’t have expectations for him this weekend, they just want to see him improve and take in as much as he can, and I think he is doing just that. I’m really happy to see him get this experience and do what he’s doing."

Unfortunately for Tom, his race debut lasted but one turn as he was squeezed into the outside wall while three-wide through the tight first turn of the 1.786-mile street course. Blomqvist, who had qualified a promising 20th for his first INDYCAR start suffered race-ending damage in the opening-lap contact and was forced to retire.

“This is the last thing that I wanted to have happen today. I knew that was a treacherous corner through watching video of last year’s race. And I was on the outside and I knew that I didn’t want to be there but I didn’t really have much of a choice. Unfortunately then you are at the mercy of the people on your inside and unfortunately they couldn’t make it work. I’m pretty devastated because I’m not out there fighting for anything, I just wanted to get a race distance under my belt. I’m really sorry for the guys too, they’ve worked really hard to give me this opportunity.”

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