until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Ilott’s no-nonsense nature now a better fit for IndyCar elite

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

In the aftermath of death threats and condemnation following a tough Long Beach Grand Prix, it’s no surprise Callum Ilott wanted to move on as quickly as possible.

The weekend started with the Brit crashing in practice after a damaged kerb that had been absent in FP1 was reinstalled for FP2 without the teams being directly told, and ended with a 19th place finish and a tonne of hate on social media for holding up his team-mate Agustin Canapino who was leading the race. A slow pitstop put him out just in front of Canapino, who then crashed defending from those behind after a poor exit from Turn 5.

The weekend came at an interesting time for Ilott.

He’s openly admitted he wants to talk to the big IndyCar teams about a switch for 2024, despite the impact he has had at Juncos. The team only went full-time last year in Ilott’s rookie year and for its second season it employed another rookie in Canapino.

That’s put a lot of pressure on Ilott to lead a new team – especially now, as Canapino has no significant single-seater experience – and that may well take its toll on a driver used to competing for wins and titles.

Team owner Ricardo Juncos knows and understands Ilott’s position but will do anything he can to keep his star driver.

Assessing the Long Beach weekend might have given other teams their first insight into how Ilott deals with controversy and handles himself publicly, as up to now the storylines have almost always been positive for Ilott in IndyCar.

Callum Ilott Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach By Joe Skibinski Referenceimagewithoutwatermark M76267

On the first occasion, his reaction to not being told the kerb in practice had been returned was to call it a joke and to ask for his car’s crash damage to be refunded.

Knowing Ilott, I’m sure he won’t have actually been expecting the team to be reimbursed and it was more a humorous and dry way to make his point that he had been hard done to in that scenario.

It’s not the sort of reaction you might expect from a Penske driver, for example, putting aside that an affiliate of that team’s company owns the championship!

But to offer an alternative opinion, Will Power has constantly criticised rules the series has on various topics over the years – before and after Penske owned the series.

His follow up, “Nice one, really helpful, change the track and don’t tell us [with a laughing emoji at the end]” is probably a bit more knife-edge!

And it’s not the first time he has criticised decision-making, using that word joke again in the aftermath of a messy Nashville qualifying session where he didn’t get a lap in because of two red flags.

Some teams might have discouraged such remarks but others would welcome a driver demonstrating their character.

It’s always important to contextualise these scenarios, like in Long Beach where a microphone was shoved under his nose so soon after the session that it’s understandable Ilott was annoyed by that scenario.

But with IndyCar being seen by more and more people and having launched a new documentary series 100 Days to Indy which airs this week, drivers being outspoken is arguably one of the things it needs more of to be entertaining for someone learning about the series.

Ilott is never afraid to speak his mind and so, he could really come to the forefront in this era. He has always been that way in his driving career.

If not outspoken, then certainly brash and self-assured on occasion.

“If I’m really, how would I say, factual, I’m very quick,” he said this pre-season.

“If you put me in the quickest car, I don’t think there’s many people quicker than me, honestly. Looking at Laguna, we had a good car and I was able to put it there.”

How he responded to the abuse he received at Long Beach gives even more insight into his character.

He could have kept quiet about the whole thing, but he took to social media in the aftermath to call out an ESPN commentator who had criticised him for the incident with Canapino.

Callum Ilott Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach By Chris Owens Referenceimagewithoutwatermark M76237

Ilott’s messages may not have been allowed or encouraged at a bigger team, but at Juncos where there’s a small number of staff on the media and PR side, presumably there was less resistance to getting his message across.

Especially as aforementioned, this is only Juncos’s second full season and until you experience a storm like it did at Long Beach, it’s really tough to know how to respond and react. At least it has also learned more in this event.

Towing that line as a driver when you are responsible for what you say and maybe don’t have the access to resources that the bigger teams have, that’s something you have to handle delicately. Ilott managed it well.

It meant many messages of support certainly endeared Ilott to new fans of IndyCar racing. Firm, fair and taking no bulls***, that’s what many fans want to see.

It’s the kind of approach that you might not think is suitable for the modern racing world where drivers are hushed and managed in terms of their public comments.

But there will be plenty of teams that are looking for that youthful vigour in the approach to online messaging and want their driver’s character to shine through because they see the benefit of that.

Especially when it’s so important for some for people to use social media to fight for equality, decency and sadly, still, basic human rights.

It also shows Ilott’s inherent steely determination. Whether it’s abuse, the racing opposition or attempting to solve a problem, there’s no messing around with Ilott. It’s the fastest and best way to solve any issue.

Sometimes he has been outspoken when it perhaps would have been more advantageous to remain quiet, but rarely has Ilott been backed by the kind of resources and help that a big team would offer to help make these decisions in the future. And he’s not doing a bad job as it is.

He’s shown with his reaction to the social media abuse that he will stand up for himself and for what is right when he can.

Any forward thinking team should love this no nonsense approach because when it’s managed properly, it creates a package fans love.

There’s plenty of teams that could be looking for a young driver like Ilott who has delivered so much as a rookie and a sophomore without a relevant team-mate to help or provide a benchmark.

Penske is off the table as its drivers are signed next year but Arrow McLaren could expand to four cars next season. Andretti and Ganassi could both have two or at least one seat available each. Rahal will also be looking and even though it’s struggling right now, it has great resources.

Callum Ilott Indianapolis 500 Open Test By Joe Skibinski Referenceimagewithoutwatermark M77071

Ilott was being looked at by multiple teams last year before it became clear contractually that he wouldn’t be able to leave Juncos. He’s only come on leaps and bounds since then with his start to this season.

Now it’s clear that he could be available for 2024, and teams have got a good insight into how he handles tricky situations off the track as well as on it.

Ultimately, his performances so far deserve a chance in a big team to show what he can do with all of the areas Juncos is lacking – and understandably so given where it is in its growth – so early in his development.

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