Callum Ilott is taking his chance out in the United States. Driving for Juncos Hollinger Racing in his first full season of IndyCar, the UK native is still learning the ropes. In his unique position on the grid as a rookie with no teammate, Ilott faces his own challenges, but he isn’t letting the pressure get to him. Supported by an online community of fans who followed him from his Formula 2 career, Ilott is taking on the season with a new mindset.
The rookie driver sat down with ATRL’s Kristina Agresta and Leonie Deckert to talk about his new challenge and how he hopes to define success this season. But first, we asked him everything you wanted to know – from ranking berries to where to find the best coffee in Indianapolis.
If you could design your own livery, what would the main colors be?
Black and orange.
Long Beach or St. Petersburg Beach?
Rank strawberries, raspberries and blackberries from least to favorite.
Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Exactly like that.
What is your current binge-watch?
I just finished Billions and this Netflix show called “The Last Kingdom”. It’s like a Viking one. It was quite good.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Used to be anything sugary, but I’ve actually got off of sugar. Probably UberEATS at the moment.
What is the best coffee in Indianapolis?
What three friends or drivers would you take with you on a road trip?
Marcus [Armstrong], Giuliano [Alesi]… Those two would be great fun. Who else can spice it up a little bit? Maybe Jehan [Daruvala]. I’ll be the dad of the group again.
If someone told you to clean your apartment right now, what song would you put on?
All right at the moment I have a playlist of Elderbrook playing. Like a kind of EDM-type, chilled stuff.
Juan Manuel Correa or Juri Vips?
Juan, I’ve spent more time with Juan.
Favorite thing to do on a free weekend?
Call of Duty, go for a drive and probably sleep in.
Your social media antics are pretty well known. You posted some memes of Marcus Armstrong after his win, you respond to random stuff on Twitter, and you’re always answering questions on Twitch. What do you enjoy about interacting with your fans that way?
Over the years, I’ve spoken to various social media people. The goal at the beginning was to grow my Instagram and Twitter, and I found that it wasn’t working. You know, that generic, “this was the report, and this is the race.” I didn’t like that, and it’s not me, so I was like, let’s skip that. I knew I needed content, but I like to put stuff out that I find interesting or funny; otherwise, I won’t put anything out at all. That’s why I’m very on and off in what I post. I prefer to be random, authentic and just more me. I didn’t have a steady social growth. I think it took 6-8 years to get to 20,000 followers, but then in my last year of Formula 2, it went from 30,000 to 150,000. Very quickly you go from just a driver to someone who’s well known by people. So, I like to do it like that. I think it connects; it is surprising and a bit more engaging. Yes, it’s not as fluid as others would be, but I’m just doing it myself. I lose a few followers now, but I would prefer to be more me than anything else.
We were coming up with questions, and we found you’ve answered all of these on Twitch! Do you find that openness and honesty with your fans are what drives people to join your online community?
I hope so. Now that I’m a bit more, shall I say, “independent” than last year, maybe I should do a bit more, but I’m very happy to answer people’s questions. I always thought before, “maybe I’ll shoot myself in the foot,” or something, but now I’m open. Ask me anything. At the end of the day, I went from still being at school and no one really caring or knowing to then suddenly someone who’s got a fair few followers. I prefer people, instead of taking a picture or something, to have a chat, to ask about anything. I’ve adapted to it, but that’s the way I always like to be. Ask whatever you want to know, and if people see me at the track, ask away.
Honestly, I think the fans really appreciate that.
You touched on being at school, but you moved to Italy when you were younger & now you’re in the US, which is even further from the UK. How do you create support systems in these vastly different environments?
In one way, you don’t. You just adapt and get on with it. It’s probably damaging in a certain way. Every year with people and circumstances, you learn more about yourself and what you need and what you don’t. When I was younger, I didn’t care, and I didn’t need anything. I just got on with everything myself. As I got older, I realized I needed more connections; the connections I built with people when I was at school because when I’m here, my life is racing or doing nothing. It’s just flat out. Home’s home, I miss home, of course. It’s just getting to know people – the problem in Italy was I didn’t speak the language, so it was hard to get to know people, and then coming here, it’s just a fresh beginning. I knew everyone in the racing world in Europe, and here I start from zero again. Like, “Oh, there’s that European kid,” you know?
You spent your junior career in Europe and didn’t go through the same climbing ladder that a lot of your fellow IndyCar drivers went through. Do you feel like this affects you in a way in IndyCar?
100%. I’m not in an easy environment, with the team situation that we have and being a single-car team, rookie team, rookie driver. I have to learn all the tracks that are new to me. I have to learn the procedures of the ovals. Everything’s new, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job. It’s just all the other teams with all this experience. Even the fact that they have teammates! I have no data on the weekends; it’s just me. It’s not easy. IndyCar, as well as having an incredibly tough grid, has teams with millions and years of development, being able to adapt and try five things in one session, and I can only try once. It’s tough, but I’ll stick at it and focus a bit more in the long run and take my time.
Coming from Europe and the situation I had, I wanted everything now. I was a bit disappointed with the situation, like, “Okay, when am I gonna get my turn?” I just gotta be patient, keep chipping away at it, and then the stuff will come. That’s my philosophy on it. You know, I’m the European kid that has come over and is in a tough position. People understand that and know that, and hopefully, when we get it right, I can share what we can do. But at the moment, it’s more like we just got to get our heads down and keep working on what we got.
That’s a very healthy outlook, to be honest.
The best one, I think.
You just topped the timing sheets for rookies in terms of the IMS tests for the 500 and did your first oval in Texas. How has that adjustment been? Are you feeling confident? Are you still kind of unsure about things?
I don’t love it, and I don’t hate it. It’s a weird one because when you’re driving on your own, it’s all about the feedback of what you feel, but there’s not really much to say. It’s hard to go wrong. When we go into the race runs that’s where the technique comes in. It’s very, very difficult. Because, for example, you’ve always got to anticipate what the guy in front does, and what the guy in front of him does. You can’t use the brake. So, you’ve got to lift off early. You’ve got to tighten the speed right; you’ve got to get it right with the amount of downforce you lose. Everything’s a variable, which was something I had to learn and get an appreciation for.
You had some running last year. Were there any valuable lessons you learned that gave you a little bit of confidence?
It was a very different situation – the team is very different now to what it was at the end of last year. We actually put a pretty decent car down two of the races out of three last year. It was interesting, but everyone’s new, pretty much. It’s only me, Ricardo, and one of the data engineers who stayed on from what we had. It’s a big shift. We had to put a team together to make it work for the last three races. I learned all the fundamentals of how a road course & the street course race works.
Otherwise, it’s all very subtle things. It’s very different to Europe, especially the setup side. Everything is very efficient. It’s not made to look amazing. It’s made to be efficient and quick and easy. If you crash, you don’t rebuild the car, you just roll the spare car out, like 1990s F1. It works, so they continue to do it. You have to get used to that. It’s nothing too difficult. The championship is very difficult, but as a mindset type of thing. It’s “Okay, this is a new challenge. Let’s get on with it.”
What would make this season successful for you?
Finishing the season off with some good results. That’s the way to do it. We’ve worked hard and it hasn’t been quite rewarded. I can achieve some good results and good speed on the ovals. I think that would be great for my confidence in the future with the ovals. The most important thing for me is sorting out the car on the road courses more and maybe more the street circuits because I think it needs a bit of work. Other guys have done a hell of a lot more development with the dampers and it makes a massive difference. I think if we can work on that and put it into a better window, that’s where my specialty should be. And I would like to be able to fully use that. So yeah, just top tens & good pace. We’ll see.
Has anyone on the IndyCar grid given you any good advice so far?
Pato [O’Ward] helped me out with some things for my hands because obviously it was really bad after St. Pete. He had the same problem in one of his first races. I’ve spoken to Romain about the ovals. Jimmie [Johnson] is a super nice guy. But honestly, like everyone’s super, super open. We’re here at the end of the day for a good time. We race hard and that, but I think it was slightly different to F2.
I felt like in F2 you’re fighting for your career. Here, it’s obviously a bit different. You’re still aggressive in that but I don’t feel that necessity to eliminate everyone.
Do you have a favorite memory yet in IndyCar, or is there something that you’re absolutely looking forward to that you can’t wait to do?
The Indy 500 will be amazing. When you speak to the drivers, they just talk about the atmosphere. I think there’s something very powerful about it. The only other one for me was Long Beach . I did my first-ever proper parade on the back of these trucks. We’ve done the Drivers’ Presentation with Formula 2 where you’re on this truck, but you feel more like an animal-in-a-zoo with everyone staring at you. Here, people are actually cheering for you. They like to see you there, which is so cool. At the end of the day, it’s that energy.
A lot of your fans came with you from Formula 2, where you created a huge fan base. What do you want them to know about IndyCar? What excites you from a fan perspective about it?
If I take myself out of the equation, the IndyCar Series itself is like Formula 2 on steroids. It’s what it should be in a certain sense. In Formula 2, the races are great, and it’s a good atmosphere. You’re on the F1 weekends, and it gets a massive promotion on the TV. In IndyCar, the minimum race time is one hour 30 minutes. You got 27, maybe 33 drivers on the grid. With multiple teams, you’ve got underdogs like us, you’ve got the Ganassis or Penskes as the powerhouses. With 3-5 pitstops a race, it’s physically a killer. I mean, my hands are still healing from all the racing and driving that we do. You’ve got the American heroes of [Josef] Newgarden and [Colton] Herta. You’ve got the F1 guys of [Marcus] Ericsson or Romain [Grosjean]. You got guys coming over like me and Christian [Lundgaard].
A load of other drivers at the end of the year asked me, “Oh, what’s IndyCar? What if we came over?” So you’ve got a lot of guys who finish F2 or finish Formula E, for example and look at IndyCar. So it’s a step up. It’s a weird one, but it’s a step up. F1 is amazing in this spectacle, but no artificial stuff; it’s purely just real raw drivers, with the same feeling of F2 that anyone can win the race.
If we have a good weekend with the car, there’s potential to win if the car’s working well. Of course, we have to get out there a little bit, but even in Texas, to be fair, if I got it right with the safety car, I would have been in the lead and had fresh tires with loads of fuel to burn, and I could have won in my first oval race. So, I think with the spectacle of racing, the drivers, it deserves more attention. I just hope that my fans have the patience to sit and wait and understand that I’ve made the best decision I can with the positions that I was in and the time I had, and in the long run, it will be rewarded.
Do you feel a lot of pressure from your fans to perform well?
No, I feel like I want to perform well to make people happy and show that I’m still relevant as a driver. At the end of the day, it can be frustrating. The thing is, I could’ve wasted a load more money to go and do Formula 2 again to try and win it and still be in the same position. Yeah, I’d be back in the spectacle; maybe I’d grow a few more fans, and people would be happy I did that. But I wouldn’t be; that’s not the goal right now. I’m in a great position. I earn money. I’m starting my life as any 20-year-old should be and you know, enjoying it. I’ve got to build a career, and these things, you know; it can start slow. My whole career has always been up and down. I’ve got to work hard. I want to work hard. I think it’d be nice to be maybe a bit under the radar for a while and see what I can do.
Moving away from your career: What are you doing right now in life outside of racing? What are you obsessed with as your biggest new hobby?
I bought one of those little FPV drones and I’m giving it a go. It’s just I haven’t had a massive amount of time. We’ve been testing, there’s media stuff, and I gotta go get my haircut after this because it’s a mess. I think my new hobby is training every day. So I started to do that, hopefully, it will be a big benefit for me. On a personal side, I don’t think it makes you faster but might make you race for longer. Otherwise, just tending to myself a bit more. You know, like, I have a bit more of a routine like every day I’ve woken up at 8 or 8:30 whereas I can’t remember the last time I ever got a week where I can wake up at the same time every day. Maybe I need to find something.
What are your long-term career goals right now? And in terms of IndyCar?
Look, I have a long-term contract with Ferrari, so it’s a bit open-ended in terms of what’s going on with Formula 1. That could be an opportunity, that could not be an opportunity. I don’t know. I have learned to not be too optimistic with these things, so I have to focus on what’s better for me in the long run as a career. At the moment, I’m out here as a professional driver so I’m enjoying life. I’d love the results to be a bit better but the goal is to see if I can make it work in IndyCar, it’s a great atmosphere, great lifestyle, and it’s rewarding.
I think the only other option for me would be the Hypercar stuff. It definitely does interest me. But I wanted to do this season and see if I enjoy this more because being the sole driver of a car for me, it’s slightly more special. You’ve got a lot more, everyone’s working around you, they’re pushing you, specifically you and only you, to do the best job, and I love that feeling. I’m still young, so hopefully, if motorsport continues as it is, I can do the other stuff later. This year was like an experimental year in a certain way to see if I loved IndyCar and I think at the end of the day, I will focus on this year in a career out here. If anything changes, I’m always open to all the options and I always have been, which is why I did GT last year and why I jumped to IndyCar this year without much experience at all. I would love to be able to give an answer but it’s like, just see what happens and go with the flow and then try and make the most out of it.
Note: This article was edited for clarity and length.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Leonie is currently studying international management at an international university and plans to focus on marketing and communications. In lockdown, Leonie discovered a talent for digital art and has been creating motorsport-inspired artwork ever since. Her art is featured heavily throughout this site. She helps run the social media accounts and is in charge of creating digital content. When she’s not discussing the latest motorsports news, she is drawing, watching football, or traveling around Europe.
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