Ilott excited to return to Long Beach as this is 1st time he’s raced at a track for a 2nd time, details here

Juncos Hollinger Racing (JHR) and rookie Callum Ilott are making their return to the streets of Long Beach, California this weekend for the third event of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. He’s had a solid start to the season and currently sits 16th in points ahead of drivers like Helio Castroneves, Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi.

This week though, well it’s different for Ilott and the team. See, this is the first time that he’s seen a track for a second time. JHR ended their initial three-race run with Ilott at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach during the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season finale. 

Ilott, 23, was destined to be heading towards and F1 seat. He was a Ferrari test driver last year and still is a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. That was a year after being 2nd in the 2020 F2 championship.

The thing is, with Ferrari having young drivers in Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz in their two entries, they had no room for Ilott. So, instead of not getting much seat time another year, they elected to look to the United States and INDYCAR to fill the void.

He’s back on a full-time basis this season and will get a second shot at Long Beach.

He came out swinging. Ilott, was in the top 10 in practice on Friday to show that his excitement is real and warranted.

“Yeah, I mean, this year I have a complete understanding of the track,” he said on Friday. “Obviously this is probably the race where I can get a real baseline for where we can be at, everything thrown in together.

“Also we’ve had a little bit of time to develop, a little bit of testing till now, so we got some good options in the FP1 which we were able to use and it shows.

“This is a track where we should be able to show a bit more what we can do. Yeah, the preparation is obviously massively different personally from the end of last year because it’s thrown together a little bit. Obviously it’s the last of the three races, I was more comfortable. We’ve almost turned things upside down from last year. It’s definitely a bit different in the feeling.

“The track, all the drifting that was here a week ago, it’s insanely grippy but also on a knife edge as well. It’s a different environment, that’s for sure.”

Ilott, driving the No. 77 JHR Chevrolet, has completed both prior races, including his first ever oval just two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway where he was able to lead five laps. JHR and Ilott look to carry this strong momentum into this weekend, where Ilott will get the chance to compete on a familiar circuit for the first time.  

“To go back to Long Beach, which is where we finished off our trio of races at the end of last year will be a good experience for me to see where we are,” Ilott said via a team release. “Obviously, we hope to have made a lot of development with the No. 77 JHR Chevrolet since then, so I am excited to see what we can achieve. I am looking forward to the sun and a great race in front of the fans.”

Team owner Ricardo Juncos likes what he sees out of his young driver.

“After two races we have seen a lot of potential in our growth as a team and with Callum. We have finished each race and we have been able to lead laps, which has been great for our momentum as we move forward. This weekend will be the first time Callum gets to compete at a track that he has experience at, so this will be a great test to see how far we have come since the end of the 2021 season.”

Don’t sleep on the fact of how relevant it is to see a track a second time. Marcus Ericsson was big on that fact in 2019 in telling me in Belle Isle that his runner-up in the second of two races that weekend was a direct result of seeing a track a second time. He said just wait until the following year when he sees them all a second time.

Well he vastly improved. Same for 2021 over 2020 when he saw it a third time. Now, he’s a legitimate championship contender sitting 5th in points after two races.

“I am really looking forward to being back in Long Beach after all the progress we have made during the off season and the past two events,” said Brad Hollinger, Co-Owner of Juncos Hollinger Racing. “This team has really come together in such a short time and the chemistry among everyone is incredible. Callum has done a great job, giving the team the feedback needed to move forward as we continue to build this program. We still have a lot of work to do, but I am confident we will only progress as the season continues.”

As far as how this course relates to ones he’s races in Europe?

“It’s a bit bumpier, obviously a lot of change of tarmac and concrete,” Ilott says. “From Europe we don’t ever really get the concrete. It’s normally just one solid maybe newly paved tarmac which is a lot smoother.

“Here, you’ve got to drive around the bumps more than drive around the corner in that sense, finding your way through it. That’s why with INDYCAR the standard damper torque is very high here because you’ve got to get a car that flows over these bumps very nicely.

“Yeah, it’s a tough one. From a driving point of view, it’s like going to Sebring at the beginning of the year, you’re struggling to kind of adapt more to the surface than the car.”

Ilott, says that he hopes they can adapt quicker and going in the right direction as the weekend continues. That’s something that didn’t happen in Texas.

“I think the problem in Texas was we didn’t adapt as quickly as maybe we should. The race, I was really held back in the beginning by my experience, but also with the car. We adapted it as much as possible. After that weekend there was a lot we could learn from.

“Coming into here, I have the experience obviously. With the cooler temperatures tomorrow, we have to be on top of it. I think we will be. It will be tough. Obviously a lot more teams will have the ability to test before going into quallie. We’re definitely trying to be more on top of it. Texas was a big learning curve, but also my rookie oval.

“Yeah, it’s something to learn from. It’s a very different environment. But it’s key here with I would say 15 degree Celsius drop, I need to learn my Fahrenheit a bit more, but, yeah, it’s going to be quite key.”

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