Tuesday, June 6, 2023

INDYCAR: Chaotic Detroit circuit claims Callum Ilott first


by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer

Callum Ilott finished last for the 2nd time in his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Chevrolet Grand Prix on the Streets of Detroit when his #77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet crashed out of the race after completing 1 of 100 laps.

The finish was his first since the 2022 season finale at Laguna Seca, eight races ago. Across IndyCar Series history, it was the 203rd due to a crash, the 108th for Chevrolet, and the sixth for the #77.

While his finish didn’t show it, Ilott turned a number of heads during the final weekend of the 2022 season. His single-car Juncos Hollinger Racing team put its sole entry on the outside pole, showcasing both speed and driver ability on a tricky circuit. Over the offseason, Ilott seemed to be in prime position to improve on his 20th-place points finish. JHR expanded to two teams, bringing in Argentine touring car veteran Augustin Canapino. With two drivers to discuss data and setups, the whole organization seemed destined for a step forward.

At the beginning of the season, that seemed to be the case. Both team entries escaped damage-free from a chaotic season opener at St. Petersburg, and Ilott backed it up with a ninth-place run at Texas. However, the team returned to its original form from there, with showings of 19th, 13th, and 18th in the next three rounds. Despite this, Ilott began to be mentioned as a candidate to fill just about any seat that will be open at the conclusion of the season. At Indianapolis, Ilott barely avoided the Last Row Shootout, but once again avoided carnage and played an alternate strategy to a 12th-place finish heading into Detroit.

While the entry list shrunk from 34 cars to 27 cars, the bigger story heading into Detroit was the new track, which moved from the streets of Belle Isle to a downtown circuit. The new course was noticeably narrower and bumpier than the old one and featured mostly left-hand turns. Ilott acquitted himself well on the new layout, clocking in at ninth during both practice sessions. Rookie Benjamin Pedersen was last in opening practice, and in a rare sighting, Colton Herta was at the bottom of the leaderboard in second practice. The Andretti Autosport driver complained of a lack of grip on the track and spun while trying to pass Marcus Armstrong during the session.

Ilott’s qualifying pace was not quite as good as it had been in practice. The British pilot went from ninth in second practice to eighth in Group 2, missing out on the second round of time trials. Last in Group 2 was Graham Rahal, who was about a tenth of a second slower than Sting Ray Robb. By virtue of the run, Rahal found himself in a rare situation – he was set to start last for the second race in a row, but in a different car for both races.

The initial start to the race was waved off due to a spaced out field – on the extra pace lap, the broadcast showed Rahal’s familiar United Rentals car warming up the tires down the long back straightaway at the end of the field. The cars bunched up much tighter at the end of Lap 1, and the green flag was displayed. The leaders took a fairly cautious pace through the first hairpin turn, wanting to get out of the first danger zone cleanly. Ilott carried much more speed into the corner than the car immediately ahead of him, Kyle Kirkwood. Before even getting to the corner, Ilott’s Chevrolet climbed the back of Kirkwood’s Honda, bending the front suspension of the #77 and ripping the rear wing to shreds on the #27. While Kirkwood was able to continue, Ilott wound up in the tire barriers and climbed out of his machine, ending his day after about ten to fifteen seconds of green-flag action.

Pato O’Ward was the next driver out of the race. He was attempting to pass Santino Ferrucci in the Esses on Lap 43 after falling a lap down when he came in with too much speed for the final right-hand corner of that section, making heavy contact in the left-front area of the car. Rahal, Romain Grosjean and David Malukas rounded out the Bottom Five, all victims of crashes.

*The #77 previously finished last in Detroit on May 31, 2014, when Simon Pagenaud crashed after four laps. He drove a Honda for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports.
*Ilott is the second consecutive British driver to finish last after Katherine Legge last week in Indianapolis. It is the first time that happened since 2018, when Max Chilton took last at both Toronto and Mid-Ohio. The last time two different British drivers finished last consecutively was 2016, when Jack Hawksworth was last in the first Detroit twin and Chilton was last in the second.
*Crashes or contact has been the reason out for six of the last seven last-place finishers this year, with the lone exception being Sting Ray Robb at Barber.

27) #77-Callum Ilott / 1 lap / crash
26) #5-Pato O’Ward / 41 laps / crash
25) #15-Graham Rahal / 50 laps / crash
24) #28-Romain Grosjean / 80 laps / crash
23) #18-David Malukas / 85 laps / crash

1st) Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing (2)
2nd) A.J. Foyt Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1)

1st) Honda (5)
2nd) Chevrolet (2)


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