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IndyCar head-scratcher: Blomqvist benched by Meyer Shank

by Jack Benyon
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Meyer Shank Racing has dropped its full-time driver Tom Blomqvist for the next two IndyCar races, with Helio Castroneves stepping in.

Blomqvist made his Indianapolis 500 debut last weekend but made a mistake at Turn 1 on the first lap, taking out Marcus Ericsson and Pietro Fittipaldi in the process.

Despite a lengthy press release being issued featuring quotes from team co-owner Mike Shank and Blomqvist, no reason for the dropping has been given, although it comes in the wake of a tough Brickyard event, and with Blomqvist 24th in the points compared to Felix Rosenqvist being in the top 10.

"It is fair to say that the last couple of days have been some of the hardest in my career,” said Blomqvist in the team’s announcement, which confirms he’ll miss Detroit this weekend and Road America the following week.

“Everyone who knows me knows how much I love being a part of the MSR family and together we have enjoyed some amazing successes and victories.

“I am looking forward to remaining part of the MSR family and contributing to the MSR vision as we chase down further successes in the future."

Tom Blomqvist, Meyer Shank, IndyCar

Shank added: “Making this decision was by far the hardest one we have had to make.

“Tom is 100% still a part of the MSR family and will remain a part of the team for the rest of the season.

“The decision was not made lightly and after much discussion with Tom, and with back-to-back races coming up, we have decided to have Helio drive in Detroit and at Road America.”

Castroneves was 20th in last weekend’s Indy 500. He gave up full-time racing after full IndyCar seasons in 2022-23, which came after he'd won the 500 in a partial schedule in 2021.

The Race Says

Indy 500 crash

It’s extremely unusual to see an IndyCar team dropping a driver after five races of a season - especially when that team has known said driver for years, seen first-hand what they are capable of in a sportscar and had three extra races to assess him last year while Blomqvist was stepping in for the injured Simon Pagenaud.

I have to wonder if this decision has been made partly with Blomqvist’s blessing - it does say "mutual" in the press release - as part of a plan to help him after a tough 500, because otherwise it makes little sense.

The 49-year-old Castroneves had a best road and street course result of 11th, at Nashville, last season, and finished 19th and 15th in the two races he’s now subbing in for. Blomqvist also has a top-15 to his name this season.

Tom Blomqvist in IndyCar so far

Toronto 2023
Started: 20th / Finished: 25th (DNF)

Portland 2023
Started: 27th / Finished: 24th

Laguna Seca 2023
Started: 21st / Finished: 26th (DNF)

St. Petersburg 2024
Started: 17th / Finished: 15th

Long Beach 2024
Started: 15th / Finished: 22nd

Barber 2024
Started: 12th / Finished: 19th

GP of Indianapolis 2024
Started: 26th / Finished: 23rd

Indy 500 2024
Started: 25th / Finished: 31st (DNF)

While Castroneves is a great champion and four-time Indy 500 winner, it’s been some time since he has been on the level of someone like Rosenqvist on road and street course. He's 10 years on from his last win on a road and street course - coincidentally also at Detroit.

So it’s not like he brings recent form from Road America, or years of knowledge of Detroit (the track changed last year) to the table. It's a stop-gap solution, but what's the end goal?

Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank, IndyCar

Road America is much closer to the kind of twisty, undulating road course Blomqvist grew up on in Europe while his best results/form so far have come on street circuits.

Surely two good opportunities to fight for a good result and shake off the disastrous 500 are a better option?

You don’t put your front left below the white line in Turn 1 at Indy, much less touch the grass. Especially at the start of the race on fresh tyres - even if there had been less track time and no oval race prior to this one, making it an extremely difficult 500 for newcomers.

While Blomqvist is proven to be a talented driver, it’s hard to see what having two races on the sideline is going to do other than rob him of the same amount of experience of his rookie rivals. Helio might be popular with sponsors but isn’t a long-term solution to finding Rosenqvist-level form.

Even though the press release stipulates Blomqvist is staying part of the team, and that this is just two races, it's hard to imagine how either comes back like nothing has happened from this.

Tom Blomqvist, Meyer Shank, IndyCar

I think it's fair to argue Blomqvist hasn't done enough yet to prove he warrants a long-term future in the series. But we're also only five races in to his first full season. Plus Shank signed him off the back of years of sportscar successes and three IndyCar races last season.

Even if his form on an oval is troubling, we don't have another one of those until July, five events from now. Assuming he's capable and in a healthy mindset, I'd have given him until then to turn it around.

For Shank, Helio does make sense for the next two races because of the difficulty in finding and signing another driver, and as a team co-owner Castroneves can step in and out ad hoc rather than a new driver having to be signed to a deal. That element does make sense.

I’ve always respected Mike Shank and Jim Meyer’s decision-making at MSR. They’ve always been pragmatic even when making enormous decisions.

I hope they prove me wrong on this one.

Change again at Coyne

Tristan Vautier, SPM, IndyCar

Another change of driver for Detroit will see 34-year-old Frenchman Tristan Vautier step into the #51 Dale Coyne Racing entry.

Vautier will remarkably become the fifth different driver for the entry in just six rounds, joining Colin Braun, Nolan Siegel, Luca Ghiotto (the only driver to do multiple rounds in the #51 so far) and Katherine Legge.

The 2012 Indy Lights champion, Vautier ran a full campaign with Schmidt Peterson Hamilton in 2013 (pictured above) and a half-season with Coyne in 2015, but hasn't raced in IndyCar since a one-off with Coyne seven years ago.

Detroit will also mark the return of Theo Pourchaire to the #6 Arrow McLaren cockpit, the Frenchman taking over the entry for the rest of the season after Callum Ilott ran the 500.

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