Callum Ilott believes that his career-first front row start for tomorrow’s NTT IndyCar Series race at WeatherTech Raceway serves as both proof of what Juncos Hollinger Racing can do with limited resources, and a boost to the team as it prepares to expand to two cars next year.
“It shows what we can do with what we have,” said the Briton. “We started the season with two and a half sets of dampers, and one of them is for ovals. We finished with, I think, three and a half, and they’re not much different to the first one. We just bought another version of the first set and adapted them a little bit. That’s what happens when you work with what you’ve got and you optimize it.
“Our terms of development this year have been what we had to start with, and just fine-tuning it. Whether it’s me and the driving and the experience, we’ve just been chipping away and trying to do a good job with that. And it’s been tough, especially with no teammate to have any [additional data] to use, [or to] learn from.
“Even if it’s just one lap at the end, it’s great to do it, to finish it like this, and I think gives us so much more motivation in the off-season when they get some time to really digest everything and work on it.”
Ilott admitted that the combination of his own relative unfamiliarity with IndyCar and JHR’s methodical approach to reinforcing its foundations as a team made a feat like a front-row start feel like an extremely distant goal early in the season.
“I learned very quickly…that it was going to be a hard year and a long year,” he said. “Putting it all together like this…yeah, we had some weekends — I think Barber was the first one where we kind of clicked and got it right and that was P11 in qualy, and then from there it was getting closer and closer. But it’s so tight, and just having that edge when you put everything together, getting the tires in, not having yellows…or even here, like, guys just chucking dust up out of Turn 3 and then ruining your lap. It’s not easy and it has to all come together. I didn’t think after the first couple races we’d get there, but we got there, and I think everyone is super pleased with that.”
Ilott’s deficit to pole-sitter Will Power was just under 0.02s. On the track, the time was lost when he was a touch late getting onto the throttle at the second apex in the Corkscrew, but he suspects he might have also lost a couple of hundredths to a plate of pasta and chicken.
“If I hadn’t had lunch,” he reflected, “maybe I would have taken [pole away].”