Developing an oval repertoire key to Ilott and JHR

Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

Developing an oval repertoire key to Ilott and JHR


Developing an oval repertoire key to Ilott and JHR


Callum Ilott wasn’t sure about the new form of racing he was having to learn.

At this time last year, the lifelong road racer — part of Scuderia Ferrari’s Formula 1 testing and development program prior to joining the Juncos Hollinger Racing team for his rookie IndyCar campaign — was preparing to venture out onto the steep banking at Texas Motor Speedway and wind his No. 77 Chevy up to 220mph with 27 other crazies.

Among the shocks to the Briton’s system was the sheer speed at TMS; laps around the 1.5-mile oval were being completed every 23 to 24 seconds—relentless whipping around the oval—while jockeying for position entering and exiting the corners in a flash.

Despite being no stranger to high speeds and high-commitment turns during his distinguished junior open-wheel career and his F1 testing days, American oval racing threw Ilott for a loop at TMS and once more as he struggled during his first Indianapolis 500. With five oval races completed by the end of the season, the 24-year-old gained enough knowledge and experience to enter his sophomore year with JHR holding a different outlook on ovals.

IndyCar’s first oval of the year is always Texas Motor Speedway – throwing oval rookies to the wolves. By the time Callum Ilott made it to Iowa Speedway in 2022, he was gaining confidence and seemed much happier. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

A strong weekend on the 0.875-mile Iowa bullring is where Ilott found his oval groove, finishing 12th in the first race of the doubleheader event and 11th the next day in the No. 77 Chevy. Coming off a strong start to the new season where he crossed the St. Petersburg finish line in fifth, Ilott will need to demonstrate his new oval skills on Sunday during the 250-lap PPG 375 at TMS if he wants to remain at the sharp end of the championship standings.

Compared to 12 months ago, it’s a challenge that seems reasonable for Ilott to meet.

“From my side of it, I’m a lot happier to go to Texas than I was last year because I know a lot more about what to expect,” Ilott told RACER. “I think also with the little downforce changes and the options to run more than we had last year, that’s hopefully going to make it a bit more comfortable as well to drive in the race.

“I don’t like going into the unknown, so last year it was all very unknown, even with the rookie test day. I thought the test went really well, and then I come to the race weekend with 27 other cars on the track and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, what’s this?’ I just couldn’t get my head around it. It was really crazy.”

Given the chance to reorder the sequence of ovals on the IndyCar calendar as a rookie, Ilott has ideas on the perfect educational order.

“If I could shape the series to the best way possible for me last year, it would have been to do Iowa first, do Gateway, then Texas, then the Indy 500,” he said. “I’d build it up like that so you don’t get thrown into Texas, which is the steepest banking probably and most aggressive oval, to start.”

Ilott will start 17th on Sunday and is thankful for the newfound confidence he’ll rely upon as he battles wheel-to-wheel throughout the afternoon.

“It really came up at Iowa,” he said. “That was where I started to understand completely what you need to be doing and how you can work the car and work the track to get the best out of your car. Last year at Texas, I spent a good half of the race doing all the wrong things, all the wrong ways with setting up passes, not understanding why it wasn’t working until I kept repeating the mistakes and then realized what I was doing to myself.

“Going 220 miles an hour and contemplating why the things you’re doing are not working is quite tough. And we had a downforce issue with our front wing in the race that was unfortunate, so this is going to be a different style of racing to what I had last year, because I wasn’t competitive at all. But then on the other side, knowing the progress that we made as a team in the winter with all the important stuff like strategy, pitstops, all those things, will make a massive difference, even if your car’s not the quickest. I think we should be in a much better place and my life will be a lot easier by the end of this year’s race.”