Ilott eyeing strong sophomore season season in 2023

Callum Ilott is only entering his second full-time season in the NTT INDYCAR Series but the English driver isn’t wavering on his confidence level inside of the race car. Part of that is his confidence in himself. He knows that he has the speed to compete here and knows that if given the right amount of time and a fast race car, he can win.

“Yeah, if I be really, how would I say, factual, I’m very quick,” Ilott said on Wednesday morning, Day 2 of INDYCAR content days. “If you put me in the quickest car, I don’t think there’s many people quicker than me, honestly. Looking at Laguna, we had a good car and I was able to put it there.

“I’ll be saying the whole year, once it’s there, I can always compete with it. So that’s up to them to do it. I rarely make mistakes in qualifying.

“If it’s slow, it’s partly maybe 5 percent of the time it could be me. It’s a bit — I feel a bit cocky to say it, but I can tell them when I’ve nailed it and when I’ve not. Normally I’m quite honest if I messed up.

The main thing holding himself back is data. A year ago, Ilott was the only driver competing without a teammate. Doing so as a rookie and with a somewhat new team (Juncos Hollinger Racing), well it was a tall hill to climb, especially with him being new to the United States and these tracks.

“It’s a huge disadvantage, but is what it is,” said team owner Ricardo Juncos of being a single car team last year. “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.”

Now, he has a teammate to bounce ideas off of for the 2023 season. JHR signed Agustin Canapino to be the second driver with the team. That has Ilott happy heading into the season to have that sense of data coming in.

“But yeah, it’s just data for us,” Ilott said. “The closer he is to me and the better he does, the better the team does, so it’s quite important to be able to get that comparison, and I’m sure he’ll do a good job.

“But yeah, it’s data. It’s another car. It’s another item, another option to test items on, so yeah, incredibly important.”

The only drawback to this is, Canapino is a rookie. He’s never raced in these cars, nor these tracks before. How much real data can that give Ilott?

“Let’s see. Let’s see. I mean, Agustin is in a very tough position,” he admitted. “It’s not easy being a rookie, and it’s definitely not easy being a rookie without single seater experience, so I’m very interested to see how he gets on. I’m going to do my best to help him as much as possible, especially over the next few days here.

“It’s a tough one because of the position that he’s in. It’s a bit of an unknown for me, for the team, for the championship, because for sure he’s quick. But again, it’s a real really tough thing to jump into.

“So I really — I’m a bit nervous for him, and I admire the jump because it’s not easy to do. Obviously Scott McLaughlin has done it in, shall we say, a different environment, but he’s done it, and Agustin has that background but from Argentina.

“It’s more I have to wait and see where we’re at and what we’re doing because it could be more of a data thing or it could be really something that we can work together as a team and build off of.

“But I know it’s definitely not easy as a rookie, but then taking my own experience, we worked really well together as a one-car operation compared to big four-, five-car operations, and sometimes we kick their ass.

“But that gives me the confidence that no matter what, I can kind of work with what we’ve got and do a good job with it.”

Ilott will take on a leadership role for the team to help, but another leadership role he’s sort of indirectly taken on is the role to lead F2 drivers over to INDYCAR. He led Christian Lundgaard and now Marcus Armstrong over.

“I think it’s starting to come more and more into play now, but yeah, there’s definitely a lot of people interested,” he said. “It’s just like for me, I was interested since 2019 but I never made the jump. It’s a big thing to just go, okay, right, I’m going to commit to that now.

“I’m not trying to get more people to emigrate over here, but they seem to like looking and being interested. I’m sure there will be a few more faces coming to a few races.

“Yeah, it’s good. I saw a lot of potential in INDYCAR when I came over. I think there’s some things it does really well. The racing is incredible. I think there’s some things they could definitely improve, but I think most people know that and are in tune to it.

“That’s a part of anything as a driver. You want to improve and you want to do better, and the potential it has as a series really has been highlighted across the years.

“What sets it apart from like a Formula 2 or whatever is you are constantly competing with the best, and if you look at the grid this year, it’s incredible.

“I thought last year was good, and this year is probably going to be even a touch better.

“From Europe, people recognize that, the career opportunities. It’s one of those things where I was looking at doing INDYCAR versus WEC or the IMSA stuff. It’s very hard to jump from IMSA to INDYCAR or WEC to INDYCAR. It’s not impossible but it’s tough, whereas going from INDYCAR to that kind of stuff in a couple years is not impossible.

“I kind of took that mindset and that jump to make life easier — well, to try and win some stuff here and then see what the future holds.

“Yeah, I don’t want to have like an orphanage of European expats.”

Ilott hopes his driving does the talking for him and one thing he notes that he can improve upon himself is his actual race craft.

“With the races and stuff, we’ve had incidences where I’ve made mistakes and made the wrong decisions under a bit of pressure,” he notes. “We’ve had instances, like Iowa was a good example, where we had great pace race but couldn’t keep up in the pit stops, so you lose four or five positions every pit stop, which is painful to do, but it’s just the way it goes.

“Quantifying that, I think eliminating the mistakes, being consistent, obviously if I’m doing a more solid, consistent job, we can really see the strong tracks for us, where we’re good, where we’re slow, the areas to improve.

“I think I have a big idea of where we needed to be better, especially like the short oval qualifyings. For some reason we were just not quick, but then we get to the races, and with the tire saving that we have, I think we can’t extract the peak out of the tire, but we end up being able to go 5, 10 laps longer than some other people.

“Yeah, some street circuits could be better, so that’s why I’m interested for the first couple races.

“Again, it depends on the performance a bit because, as you can see, even with the established teams, it’s hard to be perfect all the time. I think for us, if we can maintain the kind of end-of-year finishes like the Portland finishes, P9, P10, and have a consistent kind of hitting like that, that would be great, and then when we have those opportunities to get the good results, just take them. Eliminate the mistake, stay consistent, and grab the opportunities when they come.”

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