Saturday, April 1, 2023

Callum Ilott Qualifies an IndyCar Career-Best 2nd at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

Callum Ilott practicing for the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey
Callum Ilott practicing for the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment.

MONTEREY, Calif. — Callum Ilott’s heroics in qualifying at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca ended with the rookie qualifying second for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

The No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet went around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course in 1 minute, 11.6320 seconds, averaging 112.475 mph. Ilott was .0193 seconds slower than polesitter Will Power, who won his 68th career IndyCar pole to become the all-time leader in IndyCar pole positions.

Ilott was in the second group of round one of qualifying, setting the fifth fastest time to advance to round two. In the second round, Ilott set the sixth fastest lap to advance to the Firestone Fast Six.

Ilott advanced to the final round by .008 seconds over fellow full-season IndyCar rookie driver David Malukas. The British racer was on provisional pole with his fastest lap with 27 seconds remaining. However, Power bested Ilott’s time just 10 seconds later.

“Yeah, first Fast Six, so we’ll take that,” Ilott said in the post-qualifying press conference. “It’s one step at a time. I’d love to win races if we have the pace to do it. I’m not going to ruin anyone’s race to do it. But it’s more about working away. I’d love to just finish the season with a top-5, top-3, take it as it comes.

“Hopefully I have a long career, and like this man, can have many podiums and wins, so there’s no point messing people around to try and save something with the last one. The team will be happy with that. If we’ve got the pace, I’m all for it, but it’s a long, long race. These races aren’t won in the first corner. They’re won with good strategy, good pit stops and a fast car. We’ll see. I’ll be calm and all of this, but if someone pushes me off I’ll get them soon.”

The result shows the improvement Ilott and JHR have made since the two paired up for the final three IndyCar races in 2021. Ilott’s second IndyCar race was at WeatherTech Raceway in September of 2021, a week before Ilott signed with JHR for the full 2022 IndyCar season.

“Our car was not very good last year,” Ilott said. “I felt like I did a good job, but yeah, it was P25 I think in qualifying, which was horrendous, considering I kind of knew the track a bit, as well. It wasn’t very good, but that was last year. We changed a lot, improved, turned things around and personnel changes, as well. Yeah, massively different and massively positive. To be on the front row, I think, yeah, I’ll take it.”

Ilott’s result after a couple of key announcements involving the team. After recently signing a multi-year contract extension with the team co-owned by Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger, the team then announced an expansion to two cars for the 2023 IndyCar season.

Things are looking up for the Speedway, Indiana-based team. They have 95 laps to get their best finish on Sunday. The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will air live on NBC, with coverage starting at 2:40 p.m. ET.

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