INDIANAPOLIS — Last August, Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard both diverted their Formula One potential plans to come to America in search of a possible different route to take for their future driving opportunities. Each were competing in Formula 2 and each with developmental deals with 2 of the top F1 teams at the time.
Now, 12 months later, both have signed long term extensions weeks a part from one another to stay in the NTT INDYCAR Series for the foreseeable future.
Just 2 years ago, Ilott was on a path towards a Ferrari seat in Formula One. He was a part of the Ferrari Driving Academy and thriving. He raced three years in F3 between 2015 and 2017. He’d win 7 times over the final 2 seasons. That propelled him to F2 to where he finished the 2020 season 2nd in points. However, with Ferrari having Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. locked in, Ilott knew that his ceiling was starting to hit overseas. It may be a while before a Ferrari seat opened so he went searching.
It landed him with Juncos Hollinger Racing for the final 3 races of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR Series season.
“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 of Ilott. “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.”
Also coming over was a Danish driver by the name of Christian Lundgaard. He ran a full season in F2 in 2020 as well. The youngster was a Alpine driver in their academy too with goals to eventually reach F1. However, a 2nd year in F2 in 2021 made him start to question his path. So like Ilott, he came to the US in hopes of landing a possible destination here. He raced a year ago on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He excelled in qualifying on the 2nd row.
Both drivers evaluated their prospects for the 2022 season and both felt like INDYCAR was the route. So, each returned with the teams that gave them their initial shot.
In their rookie campaigns, both are thriving. Ilott was 8th in May’s GMR Grand Prix and has been a top 15 contender in 6 of the last 7 races on the season. He had 1 top 15 finish in the first 6 races.
Lundgaard is also picking up speed. He had 2 top 11 finishes in the opening 7 races to 2022 but has scored 6 of them in the last 7 tries.
Now, both know their futures are set. Ilott and JHR announced a contract extension last month at Indy which has him on a new multi-year deal. On Monday, Lundgaard signed a multi-year extension to remain at RLL too.
“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.”
Co-owner Brad 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.”
That’s a massive win for INDYCAR in a sense that both of these drivers are talented enough to be racing in Formula One but each saw their paths stall because of a lack of seats and each had enough faith to come here. Now that they have, they don’t want to leave.
“INDYCAR is a lot about stability, and I don’t think many people realize this,” Lundgaard said. “Now I know that I’ll be with the same people, the same engineers, et cetera, the same team. And for me to know that and to be able to work close to them and be more a part of the team, I think is a big benefit.
“This has basically been the longtime goal to get it done and have a multiple year agreement because it settles everything down. You’ve got a work path, and I think that’s just a benefit overall. But it’s been work from 2007, when I started racing, and now we’re here. It’s happening. I wouldn’t say we never expected it to happen, but it’s always been questionable if it was possible.
“I think — again, just to follow up on the question before, I don’t think necessarily my chances would have been as big in Europe as they would have been here. So that’s obviously a good choice to come here then.”