Indy 500: Rookie driver, resurgent team, and a 'once in a lifetime' experience

Tom Blomqvist previewed his first ever Indy 500 attempt, which is also his first career IndyCar oval race – and his first trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Tom Blomqvist, Meyer Shank Racing, Indy 500, IndyCar
Tom Blomqvist, Meyer Shank Racing, Indy 500, IndyCar / IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

After making select starts in place of the injured Simon Pagenaud last season, Tom Blomqvist took on a new career challenge in 2024, signing with Meyer Shank Racing to drive the No. 66 Honda full-time.

Meyer Shank Racing have been one of the more pleasant storylines of the 2024 season thus far following a season which saw them score only a single top 10 finish.

Felix Rosenqvist, who has four top 10 finishes in four starts this season and finds himself sitting in fifth place in the championship standings, is another newcomer, having spent the last three seasons with Arrow McLaren. He was Honda's top qualifier for the upcoming Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, locking his No. 60 Honda into the outside of row three in ninth.

Blomqvist is slowly but surely getting up to speed in his new role with the resurgent organization. Having made a name for himself in several other forms of high-level motorsport, including the IMSA SportsCar Championship, where he is a series champion and a two-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner with Meyer Shank Racing, he is embracing the challenge of competing at the highest level of American open-wheel racing in what is arguably the most competitive racing series in the world.

When it comes to the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, everything is new for the 30-year-old British driver, who qualified on the inside of the ninth row in 25th place.

Blomqvist has followed the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" for decades, but the first Indy 500 attends will also be the first Indy 500 he attempts.

"I haven't!" he told Beyond the Flag when asked if he had ever been to the race before. "So I thought I'd just swing on by and do the race instead! I have [watched] since I was like seven years old. I watched Helio [Castroneves] climb the fence in 2001 and 2002, so yes, I've watched this race for a long, long time."

Now Blomqvist drives for the team co-owned by the four-time winner Helio Castroneves, who is joining the team in a third car for the upcoming 108th running of the 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval as he makes his third attempt at the "Drive for Five".

Castroneves has made more than three times as many Indy 500 starts as Blomqvist has IndyCar starts, so the rookie has been taking it all in from from one of the greatest to ever do it.

"I think for me, what's been really good is he's approached it differently to how I expected he would, because he's got so much experience," Blomqvist explained. "He knows – he's done it this way so many times, and so on and so forth. But he's still gone about it in a way that’s almost like myself, like being a rookie.

"I think that gave me a lot of confidence that it's okay to start with more downforce on the car or whatever to get comfortable, just small things like that, which I didn't really expect him to do.

"Things like that give you a lot of confidence, and the approach to the week, it's a long week, you've got time, you don't need to go out there and try to be a hero straight away, you've got time to build up on it, and I think that's what's helped me most is having that approach – take time, be patient, get comfortable, get confident, and that's where you start to extract more performance from yourself."

Blomqvist has savored his first-time Indy 500 experience.

"It's everything I expected and more," he admitted. "It's just pretty cool, honestly. I have to say it's a once in a lifetime opportunity – hopefully it's not just a once in lifetime thing – but yeah, I've been really enjoying it. It's spread out. I think there's something nice about that, obviously the whole anticipation just obviously continues to build at the same time."

Unlike in past seasons, the Indy 500 is the first oval race on this year's schedule. As a result, Blomqvist's Indy 500 debut is also set to mark his IndyCar oval debut.

"Honestly, just one step at a time," he said of his approach to his first race with strictly left turns. "It sounds boring and cliche, but it really is true. I did a lot of just as much as I could in terms of looking at years gone by and races gone by, kind of seeing how this whole thing works, how the racing is, but until you actually get out there and do it yourself, you don't really know. It's harder. You don't really know.

"The best thing for me was just getting out there and getting going. We missed a bit of running because of the rain the other week, so I didn't love that, but I've had some good running now, and my car seems to be working okay, and I'm so much more comfortable than I was when I rolled out the first day in traffic, last Wednesday.

"I feel like we've done everything we can in the time we had, so yeah I feel okay going into the race. There are still going to be so many different scenarios that I haven't come across yet; I haven’t experienced them. I need to kind of learn on the fly, but I'm expecting that. So yeah, it's going to be a fun day."

Compared to where he started, from the first time he entered turn one at full speed, Blomqvist is feeling much more confident.

"Now I feel so much more comfortable when I go out and do that stuff," he stated. "But I remember the very first time, which was when I came and did my rookie orientation, that was like, 'whoa', this is – even going out of the pits – I remember coming into the track for the first time, just that feeling, it was almost intimidating. That's the best word for it.

"I felt intimidated by the place, and now it's very, very different, but it's still – what a place! Every time you go out, you have to give this track the respect it deserves, and my very experienced teammate, Mr. Castroneves, tells me that almost every day. It's something else, man. I'm very lucky to have experienced that."

Even for a driver with the career accolades that he has racked up in other forms of motorsport, an Indy 500 win would be the greatest achievement, bar none.

"I think this would top everything – in my opinion – by far," he said. "This is the type of race that changes your life forever, really, so I couldn't imagine what that would feel like. Stranger things have happened, right? And rookies have won this race before. But in no way am I going into this race expecting that to happen. I'd be happy with a top 15, you know what I mean? It's going to be something else."

Castroneves himself won it as a rookie in 2001. Perhaps his rookie teammate can do the same, eight years after Alexander Rossi became the newest rookie winner back in 2016.

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NBC is set to provide live coverage of the 108th running of the Indy 500 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET this Sunday, May 26. The green flag is scheduled to fly shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET, weather permitting. Start a free trial of FuboTV now if you have not already had the chance to do so!