Callum Ilott

Callum Ilott will return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this weekend for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding (Noon ET, NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).

Ilott was already planning on being in the paddock this weekend visiting, but due to the nature of David Malukas recovering from surgery on his left wrist following a mountain bike accident, Ilott will drive Arrow McLaren's No. 6 Chevrolet.

The British driver maintains that his ride with Jota Sport in FIA’s World Endurance Championship remains his full focus. However, moonlighting in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES when the schedules don’t clash is something the 25-year-old isn’t shying away from.

“I took a step away from INDYCAR to go and do the World Endurance Championship -- it's a professional series ride,” Ilott said. “To be honest, I just want to do what I enjoy. I enjoy INDYCAR a lot. (I’ll) just have to see where that takes me.

“I'm not forcing anything because it just doesn't feel right. I'm kind of going with the flow.”

Ilott made 36 starts with Juncos Hollinger Racing over the last three NTT INDYCAR SERIES seasons, posting five top-10 finishes. He also has Formula One experience as a test driver for Scuderia Ferrari and a reserve driver for Alfa Romeo in 2021.

Ilott bookended the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season with a pair of fifth-place finishes, the first on the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit and the last at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Even with improvement in points from 20th in 2022 to 16th a year ago, JHR went in a different direction for 2024.

“From my side, maybe it was premature,” Ilott said of not being able to continue full-time in the series. “I obviously did try and stay in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for this year, and I was kind of unsuccessful at making that happen. I very quickly found another seat which just felt right in the World Endurance Championship.

“It's life and you have to find the best situation for yourself and work with that and to be fair, I'm very fortunate to be in a super competitive seat with Hertz Team Jota and hit the ground running on that. Then to get the ball rolling in the first weekend of INDYCAR with Arrow McLaren, I can't complain.

“This opportunity just felt right, I think, for me, and for the team. It was very convenient to kind of get it working. I think we're in for a good, exciting weekend in St. Pete.”

While Ilott was the 27th and final addition to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding entry list, he feels like he could be the one with an advantage in the paddock.

Race rhythm is a real thing for drivers. By time the green flag is displayed Sunday, it will have been 182 days since the checkered flag for the 2023 season at Laguna Seca. Ilott is among the few drivers who have been involved in race conditions this year.

Ilott finished second in last weekend’s WEC season opener in Qatar. He credits his recent test with Arrow McLaren at Homestead-Miami Speedway for prepping him, and he hopes racing just last weekend can do the same for him in St. Petersburg.

“In looking at it like the test at Homestead helped me a lot to get the ball rolling in Qatar, and I think vice versa, coming from there, I’ve had six out of seven days on track -- maybe five out of six days on track coming here to St. Pete,” he said. “I think I'll be ready to go in terms of results.”

This opportunity is one that Ilott knows could lead to something bigger. Scoring a career-best result a year ago in St. Petersburg and Arrow McLaren nearly winning that race with Pato O’Ward, this is a prime opportunity.

However, in a series that’s often decided by the smallest or margins, Ilott can’t afford to be less aggressive. The problem is, especially on a street circuit, being overly aggressive with his elbows out could lead to trouble, even with other drivers.

In an audition for the entire paddock, Ilott says he has to be methodical, but he hopes that his past three seasons in the series is enough body of work for the other teams in the paddock to know what he can prove.

“I think in terms of one race, I'm not going to create any problems on that side,” he said. “If I'm going to summarize it, I think it's been a tough two and a half years to really show what I want to show. I've showed potential in a lot of areas, but it hasn't quite paid off in the way that I wanted it to.

“I think there's something about that that keeps making me want to come in and just go like, ‘This is what I've been talking about,’ and hopefully that can happen sooner rather than later.”

Arrow McLaren, which also fields O'Ward, Malukas and Alexander Rossi in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, continues to evaluate options for its driver lineup for future tests and races as Malukas recovers. This is Malukas' first season with the team after two years with Dale Coyne Racing.

Sunday's season-opening, 100-lap race airs live on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.