Tom Blomqvist’s eyes are wide open after the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ opening practice Friday for the Honda Indy Toronto.
The 29-year-old was called into his series debut as a substitute driver of Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for Simon Pagenaud, who is still not medically cleared following his heavy crash in practice July 1 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Blomqvist was fresh off a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the MSR’s program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship when he got the call to fill in under unique circumstances.
“Yeah, that was difficult, but as expected, I guess,” Blomqvist said. “To be honest, the biggest goal for me was just to survive this session, try and get as many laps as possible.”
And he did, logging a session-high 39 laps and ending up 26th in the 27-car field. Blomqvist’s best lap came on his 33rd circuit around the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street course at Exhibition Place at 1 minute, 3.7979 seconds (100.781 mph), 2.9904 seconds behind pacesetter Kyle Kirkwood.
The jump in the deep end proved considerable, even having tested the car last October at Sebring International Raceway.
“Yeah, lucky I've got a night's sleep to hopefully digest and come back better like I know what I'm doing tomorrow because it's difficult to jump in like this,” Blomqvist said. “I've only driven the car once; it was a while ago. I don't know the track, either, which obviously doesn't help. The biggest thing is just feeling the car and then knowing what you've got underneath you. At the moment, it still feels a little foreign, just the seat position, your steering – everything, all the small stuff.
“At the end of the day, it's a race car, and I need to try and figure it out. Let's see: Hopefully I come back tomorrow, and I'm in a bit better shape.”
There is also no greater visual example of the late notice for this ride for Blomqvist than the fact he borrowed a fire suit from his teammate this weekend, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Blomqvist also has INDYCAR SERIES veteran Conor Daly on his timing stand this weekend to help shorten the learning curve. Daly contested the last round for the team as a late substitute when it was revealed on race day morning at Mid-Ohio that Pagenaud was not medically cleared.
Although a deficit of three seconds is substantial in the ultra-competitive NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Blomqvist has some ideas on how to make up ground, which is “a little bit everywhere.”
On a personal level, Blomqvist is still adjusting to the situation.
“It's a hard situation to come into,” he said. “Obviously, I'm a competitor, so I want to do well. If I left the weekend and felt like I didn't really get what I expected for myself, obviously I'll be a little bit disappointed.
“Like today, I just wanted to get through it. It was even harder than I actually thought. I drove the car a while ago, but it's just hard to jump into that. Everything feels so foreign. You just feel a bit lost in the car, all the buttons, coming into the pits, like all the basics are just so foreign. But yeah, it's going to be really hard. I knew it was going to be hard, but that's the issue coming in is how hard it's going to be. Hopefully I figure it out.”
Return of the Mac
Scott McLaughlin might be in his third full-time season in North America’s premier open-wheel championship, but he has only one previous start on the streets of Toronto. In that race last year, the New Zealander delivered a solid weekend by starting sixth and finishing ninth.
That experience already has served some dividends as the driver of the No. 3 Gallagher Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet returned and ended up fifth in opening practice, laying down 25 laps with a best time of 1:00.9700 (105.455).
Sixth in the championship standings, McLaughlin’s victory at Barber Motorsports Park in April remains his only podium finish through nine rounds this year. While the aim is to start a hot streak similar to last summer when he ripped off two wins and five podiums over the last nine rounds, he expressed a conservative approach to build on last year’s experience.
“I think the more laps I can do, the better for me,” McLaughlin said. “We did as many laps as we could and qualified in the Firestone Fast Six last year; we were really strong. But I know with that experience under my belt, and how I know the race travels in that, I feel like we can go better again. It’s just going to be laps and making the most of what I know from last year and studying what I learned.”
Ward Hoping for Some Home Cooking in ‘The 6ix’
The trek north of the border is welcome for Gavin Ward.
Arrow McLaren Race Director Ward grew up in Toronto and has plenty of memories that also include a starting point to his pursuit in motorsports. The vibes started early as Arrow McLaren’s work area blasted Canadian singer-songwriter Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” ahead of Friday’s practice as preparations began on the team’s three Chevrolet-powered entries for drivers Pato O’Ward (No. 5), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6) and Alexander Rossi (No. 7).
While Ward holds this event close to his heart, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ only race in Canada also is cherished by several team members, including driver coach Robert Wickens and one of the team’s co-owners, Ric Peterson – both natives of Canada.
“I remember riding my bike over to this track when the thought of making a living in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was just a dream,” Ward said. “Now to be here ready to fight for the pole and the win is ‘pinch-me’ stuff.
“The Canadian winters serve up some bumpy roads that keep our damper experts busy, and the long blast down the Lake Shore (Boulevard) serves up some great racing. Let's go have some fun.”
Odds & Ends
- Josef Newgarden is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Friday night for the Toronto Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre. The game, which will see the Blue Jays take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at 7 p.m. ET, ignites the second half of the Major League Baseball season following the All-Star break.
- When Graham Rahal takes the green flag Sunday, he will earn the record for the most INDYCAR SERIES starts by a Honda-powered driver. The 85-lap race will be Rahal’s 252nd INDYCAR SERIES start with a Honda engine, breaking a tie with Tony Kanaan. Rahal made his first start as a Honda driver and won on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, in April 2008.
- Defending race winner Scott Dixon is set to make his 315th consecutive start, the second-longest streak in INDYCAR SERIES history. Kanaan holds the INDYCAR SERIES record with 318 consecutive starts.
- This weekend marks the first time since 2019 that Santino Ferrucci has competed in the Honda Indy Toronto, when he started 17th and finished 11th. The AJ Foyt Racing driver shared that the venue is one of the few for which he didn’t have access to a simulator, so he will rely on “old videos and notes.”
- Since 2012 when Chevrolet came into the INDYCAR SERIES, the manufacturer has led 599 laps on the streets of Toronto, where it also has three podium sweeps (Race 1 and 2 in 2014, 2015).
- Firestone’s guayule race tire makes its first appearance at the Honda Indy Toronto as the alternate tire. The sustainable guayule rubber is used in the construction of alternate tires for all street course events during the 2023 season. The alternate compound for this event is expected to exhibit similar wear and increased grip, with reduced temperature rise, compared to the alternate tire used in 2022.
- Andretti Autosport INDY NXT by Firestone driver Jamie Chadwick drove the Williams FW08C Formula One car Friday at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. Keke Rosberg drove the car to the 1982 World Championship. Other drivers taking vintage F1 machines up the legendary hill at Goodwood this weekend include F1 World Champions Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, and current Williams F1 drivers Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant.
- HMD Motorsports INDY NXT by Firestone driver Kyffin Simpson is racing sports cars this weekend in the European Le Mans Series at the Paul Ricard circuit in France. Chip Ganassi Racing development driver Simpson is competing in the LMP2 class with Algarve Pro Racing.