England’s Callum Ilott and the single-car Juncos Hollinger Racing team showed their capabilities in the opening practice session earlier this month at Long Beach where he placed the No. 77 Chevy ninth on the speed chart. Ilott had the car up to eighth by the end of Friday’s practice at Barber Motorsports Park, directly behind Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward — the small team’s second successive Good Friday showing.
The ability for the little JHR team to punch above its weight comes from the stellar crew Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger have assembled. In particular, we’re seeing the effects of Ilott’s talent being amplified by veteran engineer Yves Touron. Just four races into the new season, the Frenchman—JHR’s chief engineer—and his new driver are becoming a formidable pairing.
“It’s developing very positively,” Ilott told RACER. “Yves is the brain behind what we’re doing and where we want to go with the engineering and he’s got lots of ideas. We used the rookie set (of tires, given out for the first session) and we tried some stuff and it didn’t work, but that’s how the weekends can go, and then we made some progress from there. I think they’re starting to understand my style of things — how I prefer to work and how I want to do stuff.”
For Touron, who comes to JHR from the former Carlin Racing IndyCar program, the young driver has given the blended team a shot at fighting among the bigger names in the series. For Ilott, the expectations coming into a weekend like Barber, where the natural terrain road course is a perfect fit for his European racing background, are growing.
“It’s nice to be able to, at some points in the weekend, show what we can do,” Ilott said. “But the goal is to get in that Fast 12 in qualifying and to get in the top 10 in the races. I can’t keep coming here and finishing 18th or 20th; it winds me up. Although I’m a rookie, I’m paid to do a good job, so it’s good to get to run well in practice and we’ve got a goal to do better in sight. And I think this weekend, so far, we have something to build off of.”
Ilott, who the Ferrari Formula 1 team retains as a testing and development driver, sees a long-term opportunity for himself in IndyCar and has hopes of becoming someone fans and rivals come to know and respect in the near future.
“I wanted to come here and have the opportunity to build a career here in IndyCar and sustain it,” he said. “You can come here and be disappointed that we’re in a tough position, but I really like people I’m working with and who want to work with me to become better, even if it takes some time to build that. Ricardo will testify to that and say that it was worth signing me in his eyes and, you know, I appreciate that.”