Callum Ilott has quietly delivered a strong start to this NTT INDYCAR SERIES season even as a video put his No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet in the spotlight.
Ilott’s car was struck by a flying steel piece last month from Jack Harvey’s backstretch accident at Texas Motor Speedway. Video showed the debris hit the aeroscreen, not only protecting Ilott but not even leaving a mark on the car.
Ilott said the reaction to the in-car camera photo he posted on social media after the XPEL 375 at Texas has drawn nearly a universal “thank you” from his followers, and he met with INDYCAR President Jay Frye on Friday at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to thank him for the innovation introduced in 2020.
“Three years ago, an incident from someone else’s crash may have put me in the hospital,” Ilott said. “So yeah, I’m incredibly thankful (for it) … and to be here today without any damage at all.”
Ilott, a 23-year-old Englishman, said at the time of the incident “it was fairly unnoticeable,” but he knew he hit something solid. He asked the JHR crew to check the car. It took a review of the video to see it.
“Yeah, that’s a lifesaver,” he said of the aeroscreen.
Said Frye on Twitter: “This incredibly high tech/game changer did its job again.”
Ilott stands 16th in the INDYCAR SERIES standings and was ninth among 26 drivers in Friday’s first practice. Because he competed in the final three races of last season, he is the only rookie among the six entered this weekend to have competed on this 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard (No. 30 Shield Cleansers Honda) leads the rookies in points, four more than Ilott.
Ilott said this weekend will be a good gauge of how much progress the Indianapolis-based organization has made in these few months.
“Obviously, we hope to have made a lot of development with the No. 77 JHR Chevrolet since then, so I am excited to see what we can achieve,” he said.
Team co-owner Ricardo Juncos said the team has seen “a lot of potential in our growth” in the first two races of the season.
“We have finished each race and we have been able to lead laps, which has been great for our momentum as we move forward,” he said. “This (is) the first time Callum gets to compete at a track that he has experience at, so this will be a great test to see how far we’ve come since the end of the 2021 season.”
RRDC Finally Gets to Honor Mears
It took three tries due to the pandemic, but Rick Mears was honored Thursday night in Long Beach by the Road Racing Drivers Club.
Mears is always noted as a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, but he won road races at Watkins Glen International, Riverside Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, among others, in his INDYCAR SERIES career.
Mears’ longtime team owner, Roger Penske, joined him on stage. The annual event is hosted by NTT INDYCAR SERIES team owner and 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal.
Odds and Ends
- Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) said he is on “baby watch” as his wife, Ashley, is due to deliver their first child – a boy – sometime this month. “Hopefully he stays on time, and I don’t get caught out,” Newgarden said.
- It certainly has been hot in Southern California. At the start of Friday’s practice at 3:15 p.m. local time, Firestone reported 95 degrees ambient with track temperature of 133 degrees. The good news is, temperatures are expected to significantly drop over the weekend, with high 60s forecast for Sunday’s race (3 p.m., NBC, Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Radio Network).
- Turn 6 has a new look this year after officials replaced two straight portions of the wall on driver’s left with a more rounded one. The wall now stretches deeper into the corner. In years past, INDYCAR SERIES cars clipped the wall and ran into the tires at corner exit.
- This is the 100th INDYCAR SERIES event for Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda).
- NBC reported that Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda) suffered a dislocated thumb in last year’s Long Beach race when his car hit the tire barrier in a battle with Rossi. He dealt with the injury most of the offseason.
- Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport rookie Devlin Defrancesco (No. 29 PowerTap Honda) will grid six positions lower than he qualifies due to a penalty for avoidable contact in last month’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway. By rule, a penalty can be applied at the next INDYCAR SERIES race if the penalty cannot be served at the event where the infraction took place.
- Saturday’s schedule includes the second practice at 11:45 a.m. (ET) and NTT P1 Award qualifying at 3:05 p.m. (ET) – both on Peacock Premium.
- Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires is not competing at Long Beach this weekend, but series points leader Matthew Brabham, the winner of the season-opening St. Petersburg race, is again racing in the Stadium Super Truck Series doubleheader (Saturday and Sunday races). Brabham has won the past three series championships.
- NBC announced it will air both days of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test April 20-21 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on Peacock Premium.