Aside from a disrupted one-day test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, the Grand Prix of Portland was Ilott’s first experience of IndyCar.
It was also the first race at the top of US open-wheel racing for Ricardo Juncos’ ace junior formula team since the 2019 Indianapolis 500.
It was expected that the 2020 Formula 2 runner-up would encounter issues through the two-day event, but turned 35 laps in opening practice – about on par with the series veterans.
He was just 0.7s off Marcus Ericsson’s pacesetting time in Q1 Group 1, and only 0.3s from graduating to Q2.
Thanks to penalties for other drivers, Ilott started the race in 19th but slightly missed his braking point while battling Romain Grosjean and clipped the rear of Penske driver Scott McLaughlin which dragged him over the apex curb.
Ilott then attempted to wrestle his car under control, but went straight on and cut across the bows of the cars of Helio Castroneves and Will Power, knocking them into each other and also being struck by both.
“Yeah, I had contact, it was a mess, and I will take the blame for that,” said Ilott, who hadn’t been aware which cars he’d collided with.
Ilott impressed thereafter, despite carrying car damage, until he had to pit and get pushed back to the paddock before half distance to have a new ECU installed.
Callum Ilott, Juncos Racing
Photo by: James Black
On rejoining the course, as the team just wanted Ilott to gain more track time, Ilott turned his fastest time of the day on his penultimate lap.
Only nine cars of the 27 starters turned a faster lap, albeit were running at a slightly reduced rate on a two-stop strategy.
“At the point that [two-stopping] Graham Rahal was leading, I was on the same pace as him, apparently, and when I was in clear air I was able to really get some rhythm. But with the restarts, I don’t know why but we were really bad out of the last corner,” Ilott explained
“It was a tough weekend overall. Very short stints to get everything done on Saturday to prepare for the race. No one’s going to look at our weekend and say it’s outstanding, but you look at where things were a month ago, and here we are competing.
“And there was definitely progress, so starting at Laguna Seca this weekend as we finished in Portland, we should be in a much better place – and I mean me, as a driver. Personally, I need to improve on the first laps out of the pits on cold tires, and a bit with tire management.
“Then as a team, we need to find a little bit more in the car, and to improve the pitstops – which you’d expect, obviously, as the team is fairly new to all that.
“If those three things come together, I think we’re looking quite good.”