PORTLAND, Ore. — Race weekend consistency has been a mixed bag for Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott. During Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland, Ilott was able to put together a complete race weekend and was rewarded with a ninth-place finish.
“The adaption when the conditions change and when we’re slightly out of the window. Everything is so tight and it does make a difference,” said Ilott two days prior to the race. “Small mistakes add up and cost you the most. Getting those out of the way and these last two weekends are tracks that we know. So, we should be able to hit the ground running and eliminate all of that.”
The British racer rolled off 14th and through excellent strategy and having a mistake-free day, the No. 77 Chevrolet was able to work his way into the top 10 late in the race. Despite a late-race caution for a two-car tangle involving Rinus VeeKay and Jimmie Johnson, Ilott was a man on a mission.
It was game on with 23 laps to go when the race restarted. Ilott got a strong run to pass defending race winner Alex Palou and from there, he was ultimately in the ninth position. Hot on his tail was Felix Rosenqvist, but Ilott also had his mindset on trying to catch two-time INDYCAR champion Josef Newgarden to equal his career-best result early this year at the GMR Grand Prix.
Despite giving it his best, Ilott stayed put in ninth in the 110-lap contest and also gave the organization its second top-10 finish in America’s top open wheel racing series.
“Every time I kind of got close (to Newgarden), he used the last of his push to pass,” said Ilott. “Then at some point, the tires equaled out and I couldn’t quite get close enough to properly use it. Overall, a good race and that safety car helped us.”
Compared to the wet conditions in May, he brought his car home in one piece on a hot Sunday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest.
“It was a race where we made no mistakes and carried on through it well,” Ilott commented. “Good strategy, but maybe I could’ve gotten more out of it. Pretty happy with that and had pretty good pace all weekend.”
Although series Rookie of the Year honors is out of the picture, a strong result at Portland will bring tremendous confidence with a round remaining at Laguna Seca, more so when the effort backed up the pace JHR has produced throughout the campaign.
“It’s nice to get a solid result,” said Ilott. “We’ve had this kind of pace at a couple of the other races, but we didn’t really have the good weekend to carry this on. This will be nice and hopefully, we can have no pressure going into Laguna and finish the year off.”
Perhaps the result was even sweeter to have taken place in Portland as it was the site where the No. 77 squad made their intentions clear they would be racing full-time with Ilott driving the Chevy-powered machine.
Ilott explained how much progress they’ve made since last September when they ran the West Coast Swing (Portland, Laguna Seca and Long Beach) where some mistakes that were made during their abbreviated schedule last year have been fixed over time. The same can be said for Ilott, who came into the sport after competing in Formula 2.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for last year,” said Ilott. “But we’re in a much different place consistency wise and all the problems we had last year, we won’t have at the end of this season. It’s about time we have a good one.”
Ilott hopes to cap off 2022 with another top 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Sunday, September 11. Coverage of the season finale will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC. Last year, Ilott finished 22nd in what turned out to be the only race they finished.