Returning to the first track on the calendar where he’s previously driven, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott was the big performer on Friday in the NTT IndyCar Series’ opening practice session at Long Beach.
Having completed three races for JHR to close the 2021 season where Long Beach was the last on the schedule, Ilott and IndyCar’s only one-car team out-ran the entire three-car Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Arrow McLaren SP and Dale Coyne Racing teams, and the Briton displaced more big names on the way to placing ninth in the 45-minute session.
As the only legitimate David amongst IndyCar’s Goliaths, the Ferrari Formula 1 test driver was nestled directly behind Team Penske’s Will Power and in front of fellow rookie Kyle Kirkwood.
“It’s a great start to the weekend,” Ilott said. “This year, I have a complete understanding of the track. Obviously, you know, this is probably the race where I can get a real baseline for where we should be able to show a bit more [of] we can do. The preparation is obviously massively different from the end of last year because it was thrown together a little bit. We’ve almost turned things upside down from last year.”
Despite the lack of a dedicated damper engineer, the JHR team, which makes use of several ex-Carlin Racing crew members and engineers, found something to complement Ilott’s talents around the rough 2.0-mile street circuit.
“It’s a bit bumpy, obviously; quite a lot of change of tarmac and concrete,” he said. “You’ve got to drive around the bumps more than drive around the corner…and that’s why, with IndyCar, the standard damper torque is obviously very high here — because you’ve got to get a car that flows over those bumps very nicely. So it’s a tough one.”
Ilott and JHR will continue their efforts to try and stay near the top 10 as temperatures drop nearly 20 degrees for the rest of the weekend. Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions will reveal whether the No. 77 Chevy can maintain its giant-killing pace without a teammate trying different setup options and helping the team find improvements at a faster rate.
“I think that’s where it hurts us more,” Ilott said. “Now, [at] the street circuits, we’re building and building and building and we’re just…testing. So sometimes we’ll go wrong…”