JHR sighs Ilott to new multi-year contract, why he didn’t test the open market here

INDIANAPOLIS — Callum Ilott is a man of his word. His word means a lot to him. Unlike other words that are being floated around in the paddock, his word is his word.

That led us to today.

Juncos Hollinger Racing also left no doubt. They confirmed on Thursday afternoon that Ilott has signed a new long-term contract and will continue to race for the team in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the foreseeable future.

JHR beat a host of teams to the talented British driver’s signature at the end of 2021 when it persuaded him to spearhead its fresh assault on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

“Back in 2021, I took my time to choose our NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver from a list of five drivers,” said JHR Co-owner and Team Principal Ricardo Juncos. “Even when Callum was not on the radar for most of the teams here in the states, I knew he was the perfect fit for our team. Not only for his potential as a driver, but his personality and his desire to win which aligns with our team philosophy. Today, almost a year later, I’m happy to confirm Callum’s continuation with the team for long term. From the last three races during the 2021 season and the great results we have had so far this year, shows we were right in choosing him as our driver. Together with our new members of JHR, we have proven so much in a short time, which is incredible with the caliber of drivers and teams currently in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. This is just the beginning of a new era at JHR and I’m looking forward to continuing our work with Callum and to the results we know we can receive together as a team.”

A promising showing in the No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet during the final three rounds of 2021 served as a prelude to other impressive performances in 2022.

The 23-year-old has qualified inside the top-12 at all road courses so far this season, with his best grid slot coming at the GMR Grand Prix where he started seventh. Callum’s strongest race performance came at the same race where he finished eighth – securing his and JHR’s best-ever result in the series.

The speed with which Callum has adapted to the unique challenges of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, his race-winning potential, and the excellent relationship he has established with the entire Juncos Hollinger Racing team has convinced both parties to extend their agreement beyond the end of the current season.

“After seeing the results that we have been able to put forward at JHR for most of the year and the work that has been going on in the background by Ricardo and Brad to improve for the years beyond, made sense to continue with the team and keep building,” said Ilott. “The potential that we have shown as a one car team can only get better as we grow and expand this program. I am super happy to continue working with all the team members at JHR, we have created a great foundation together this season. The effort that everyone puts in and the working environment that they have is amazing. From where we started at a year ago, to where we are now, I am confident that we will find more success together.”

That success has started drawing some attention due to his speed with the single car team. However, Ilott values his word, remember. He never tested the open market. He didn’t want to.

He’s heard the talks. He felt like he owed it to the team to talk with them first.

His deal is an extension of the current deal as he, his manager and team officials sat down and worked out a longer term deal to keep this relationship growing.

“Yeah, it was the extension of an existing deal,” Brad Hollinger said. “We really didn’t have an option. We decided to sit down with Callum and Martin, his manager, and say we’d like a long-term arrangement, and they both agreed. They thought that was a really good idea, liked what they saw, and our willingness to invest heavily in the team, which we’re doing, and I think the fruits of that labor are beginning to bear out significantly.”

Hollinger said that this was decided after the 3 races last year that Ilott was a driver of their future. They couldn’t let him get away.

“We decided after the last three races — the first three races last year that Callum was someone we really wanted to be with the team for several years, not just one season,” he continued. “I think it gives us a much better chance at advancing the ball, which is where we want to be, obviously at the very front.

“We just didn’t get into it to participate, we got into it to win it. I think with Callum we have that opportunity to do it.

“It takes a little bit of time to gel the team, not just the driver. Having a few years under our belt makes it’s a much more palatable experience for everybody. It allows us to set not only one season goals but the next two, three season goals so we keep moving up the ladder and keep fighting for the championship over the next couple years.

“That was the objective. We negotiated a longer-term agreement.”

Ilott says he’s a man of his word and even with the team not holding an option on him for 2023, he still welcomed discussions. While his name was brought up to several open seats in the paddock , Ilott didn’t want to listen.

“The last couple weeks have been interesting for the whole paddock I think,” said Ilott. “It’s been quite entertaining.

“But before that, the idea was to have a long, long career in INDYCAR, learn and take my time, help the team progress.

“At the end of the day Ricardo and Brad have put a lot of investment in from the beginning, gave me the opportunity to come out here. The trust in them and the trust in me, vice versa, I really respected that.

“We did the deal quite early on this year to continue. I’m a man of my word. Of course, there was a lot of interest from other people, but I was very honest from the very beginning if anyone approached me, Look, this is what the situation is.

“But, yeah, I’m very happy to continue. I think we’ve got a lot of momentum. Also there’s interest for engineers and people to join as well. I think as a team we’ll grow, hopefully quickly. It could be slowly, but we’re definitely on the right track to improve.”

One of global motorsport’s brightest talents, Callum arrived in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after deciding not to continue his pursuit of a potential race seat in Formula One.

A member of the prestigious Ferrari Driver Academy since 2017, Callum served as Scuderia Ferrari’s official F1 test driver, and Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN’s reserve driver in 2021.

His other notable career achievements include finishing as FIA Formula 2 Championship vice champion in 2020 and securing an LMGTE podium on his first visit to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021.

Ilott tells me that his longer term goal is now here in America and while an F1 seat would be nice still, he’s okay with being here. This is his future now and he’s happy with that.

“Long-term I’m focused here,” he says. “I still have a contract and agreement with Ferrari that stands for a little bit longer, a few more years.

“But, no, I’m definitely out here to see a career and make it work. Of course, if there is potential in Formula 1, then that would have to be discussed. But at the moment I’m very happy here. It’s a great career. It’s some strong racing. Actually a bit more enjoyable than it was in Europe.”

The other topic that’s been out there is if JHR expands to a 2nd team. They have a car and equipment to do so. The problem is money and people. There’s a lack of people to work on these cars in this industry and despite having plenty of drivers available and a car sitting there to use, you have to not only have people to work on it, but the right people.

“I think the target, irrelevant of the second car, is to build a base,” Ilott told me. “I think we’ve been able to operate, but the idea is to accumulate as many people as possible to help build the team, build the brand.

“We’ve been able to operate. We need to start looking at development, like other teams are doing. Irrelevant of the second car, even though it is the idea to go to two cars, we need more people to start putting that effort in.”

As far as when we can expect movement on that 2nd car?

“We’re targeting next year right now,” Hollinger said. “Ricardo can allude to that a little bit more for that. We’re happy to say that is the game plan for sure.”

Juncos said that while that’s the goal, it’s hard to get momentum on getting it off the ground.

“It is quite difficult, INDYCAR, right? One of the key components is the system, the engineers, how you apply all that. It’s easy to do two cars, three cars, four cars, the whole thing goes to nowhere, right?

“We’re going to prioritize the quality. Having one car, you still can perform quite okay. No question the second car will put us to the next level. That’s intention. But, like I said, we need to make sure is properly first, not just do two cars just because, because otherwise can be the whole program damaged.

“We’re working very hard to see how we’re going to put the program together. As of today, we don’t know that yet, but that’s clearly the way to go.”

As far as the challenges of being the only single car team in the series?

“It’s a huge disadvantage, but is what it is,” says Juncos. “We knew from day one is our situation and we take it.

“Imagine for Callum being a rookie without knowing the tracks, we go to Toronto and we were P7, hundredths off P6, 2/10ths from P1. We were the only one with old reds. Technically we could be front row.

“Being the first time, we have nobody to compare. It’s very hard. We are hypothetically comparing to imagination.

“Having two cars is big advantage. But we know the different. But have to be right, right? Not just because you go to two cars. If it’s not right, it may be worst. That’s the key question here, how we’re going to do it.

“No question being only one-car team in the level of INDYCAR today, everybody can see is a little bit disadvantage. But, like I said, we knew from day one going to be like that so no complaints.”

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