Motorsport: Tin tops spin Tom Blomqvist's wheels
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For the majority of aspiring drivers looking to build a career in motorsport, the drive to get into Formula One is losing its lustre. Having cut their teeth in karting, junior formula and then F3/GP3, they now realise F1 is the bastion of folk with large chequebooks rather than great dollops of talent.
The latest to join the ranks of saloon car and GT racing is Tom Blomqvist, who learned his trade by racing karts in New Zealand.
The 21-year-old had his best season in single seaters last year, finishing runner-up to Esteban Ocon in European F3 and beating Tor Rosso F1 driver Max Verstappen.
"I was given the opportunity at the end of last year to test for BMW in a DTM car. Having watched the championship I knew what it was all about and how extremely professional it all is," said Blomqvist, who was born in Britain but grew up in New Zealand.
"I couldn't say no to the chance of testing and because of my performance one thing led to another and I was asked if I'd like to take the last seat in the team.
"It was kind of a no-brainer to take the opportunity to earn a living out of racing - not a lot people can do that and it's a great privilege to be able to do so.
"It came to a point that if I was going to get into Formula One I would need some serious funding behind me. In my opinion, with all the paid drives coming along, it [F1] wasn't looking as attractive as it did five years ago when I started in single seaters."
Over the past few years an increasing number of drivers, in particular the younger ones, have made an early move to tin top racing. It used to be that drivers coming towards the end of their F1 or open-wheel career would make the jump into sports car racing.
However, with the state of Formula One at the moment and the prohibitive expense of even junior formula - GP3 can cost up to €1.5 million a season - many talented youngsters are looking elsewhere.
"There are lots of manufacturers [BMW, Audi, Mercedes] involved in the series and to be part of BMW is just fantastic. More and more young drivers are looking to race saloon, GT and Le Mans series. It's where, if you do well, you can have a long and successful career and earn a very good living.
"I'm in a really fortunate position being quite young to get this chance and I certainly wasn't turning it away. I didn't spend too much time thinking about moving from single seater to DTM, it was the right thing to do," he said.
Blomqvist was born in Cambridge, England, and is the son of former world rally champion Stig Blomqvist. He and mother Kim moved to New Zealand in 2000.
He was soon racing karts and between 2003 and 2008 won eight championship titles.
During that time he became friends with a bunch of talented young Kiwi karters, a number of whom are now racing professionally in Europe and abroad.
"There's Brendon [Hartley] and Earl [Bamber] racing for Porsche now and obviously Mitch [Evans GP2] is up here now as well as Richie [Stanaway] and Nick [Cassidy] is racing in Japan," he said.
"That's a fair amount of talent to come out of New Zealand and race at the top level. I was especially friends with Mitch and Nick while Earl and Brendon were a bit older when I was karting.
"It's awesome to go back home at Christmas to see my mum and catch up with friends and stuff and relax. I did all my karting in New Zealand and you could say that's where I learned my trade."
Blomqvist packed his bags and headed off to Europe in 2009 when he was 15 and raced Formula Renault 2.0 Sweden before moving across to Formula Renault UK in 2010. He became the youngest champion at 16 beating the previous record held by Lewis Hamilton, who was 18 when he won.
In 2012 he was selected as a junior driver for Porsche's Career Cup championship but decided to stick with single seaters and was soon picked up by the Red Bull Junior Team. Another couple of successful seasons in F3 again saw Blomqvist picked to test in tin tops again with BMW and this time he's grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
In the meantime, I've got testing coming up very soon and things are really starting to ramp up. I know it's going to be tough and I'm really looking forward to the challenge. The racing is gong to be the biggest difference - I've never rubbed doors before so it'll be exciting."
2015 DTM calendar
May 1-3 Hockenheimring, Germany
May 29-31Lausitzring, Germany
June 26-28Norisring, Germany
July 10-12Zandvoort, Netherlands
July 31-August 2Red Bull Ring, Austria
August 28-30Moscow Raceway, Russia
September 11-13Oschersleben, Germany
September 25-27Nürburgring, Germany
October 16-18Hockenheimring, Germany
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