After a rookie IndyCar season with equal parts promise and frustration, Callum Ilott kept his car clean for his first top-five finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
While other cars collided around him on the first lap, the British driver navigated his way around the carnage to gain three spots from his 22nd starting position. Ilott moved up to 14th after the opening yellow flag and took advantage of more chaos to navigate his way into the top-10 on Lap 42.
When Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean had their contact on Lap 72, the top three cars on track had not made their final pit stops. David Malukas, Will Power and Marcus Armstrong pitted, allowing the 2020 Formula 2 championship runner-up to move up to seventh place.
Seventh became fifth on the restart following Grosjean and McLaughlin’s contact. Alex Palou and Josef Newgarden both ran wide in the final corner, compromising their corner exit for the restart and allowing Ilott to overtake both of them.
Ilott blamed the pace car’s slow speed for why the drivers had so many mistakes on restarts. Tires and brakes were not able to get to optimum temperature before racing and that led to situations where contact was inevitable.
“I don’t blame anyone for making those mistakes,” Ilott said. “But obviously I was taking it easy. I lost some places because I’ve taken it easy, but at the end that’s the difference, you know, taking it like 98%. But yeah, no, it’s definitely not an easy race, fucking chaotic as hell.”
There were no position changes among the top five for the rest of the race except for Marcus Ericsson’s late overtake of Pato O’Ward after the Mexican racer had a very brief mechanical issue. For Ilott, it was a way to reward Juncos Hollinger Racing for all of their hard work.
“It shows what you can do when you keep it clean,” Ilott said. “We had surprisingly decent pace. Obviously not as much as those guys up front, but pretty decent after to say, yeah, kept it clean. Pretty happy with everything, honestly.”
JHR was the only one-car team in IndyCar racing in 2022. The team punched above their weight several times last season before expanding to a second car for Argentinian Agustin Canapino who finished 12th, the last car on the lead lap. Both cars finishing the way that they did pleased team co-owner Ricardo Juncos.
“It is amazing, obviously a great feeling,” Juncos said. “I can’t believe it. I don’t think I’m going to realize what we just did because coming from one car to two cars is really difficult and to do in a right way. The target today, the goal today was try to eliminate mistakes, but I never expected after qualifying 21st, 22nd to finish the way we finish.”