Ilott Hits All The Right Notes in Audition with Arrow McLaren

  • Racing News
Callum Ilott

Professional athletes live by the mantra of being as good as their last result. For Arrow McLaren substitute driver Callum Ilott, that resonated exceptionally well at The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge on March 24 at the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course near Palm Springs, California.

The event at The Thermal Club was his potentially Ilott’s final audition to show the paddock he deserves a full-time ride after parting company with Juncos Hollinger Racing last fall after two seasons. Ilott is subbing for the injured David Malukas in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Malukas is expected back in the No. 6 car for the next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 21.

British driver Ilott excelled in testing at The Thermal Club, ending up fourth quickest overall and quicker than Arrow McLaren teammates Pato O'Ward and Alexander Rossi. That came after decent start earlier this month in the season opener at St. Petersburg. He climbed to 13th after starting 16th in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.

Ilott also was quickest among the 27 drivers in the morning test session March 23 at Thermal. Once testing ended and qualifying for The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge started, Ilott was caught out by a team strategic decision.

Marcus Ericsson crashed his No. 28 Delaware Life Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport with just over a minute remaining in the second group qualifying session, prompting a red flag, Ilott was again the top driver on speed. Arrow McLaren strategists thought the speed was strong to leave Ilott and his Arrow McLaren teammate O’Ward on pit lane when the session resumed for one hot lap. Ilott and O’Ward were 1-2, and the team thought the odds were slim of someone beating them on older tires.

The bold move backfired. Drivers hitting their stride on one final flying lap dropped Ilott to eighth out of 13 drivers, with seven drivers improving their times in the final 60 seconds.

A starting position deep in the field in the 10-lap heat race Sunday cost Ilott a chance of advancing to the Sprint For The Purse, the 20-lap main event. The bigger picture is Ilott drove flawlessly over three days, never turning a wheel wrong all weekend.

“Definitely good,” Ilott said. That’s useful for anything in the future, for sure. But at the same time, I'm not really looking at it weekend by weekend. St. Petersburg was good. There were no mistakes. Of course, I wanted a bit more out of it, but it's nice to have a bit more time in the car and get the most out of it.

“I'm very happy with the job we've done.”

Ilott is back as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES free agent. He hopes he showcased his skills well enough for another opportunity to arise.

After his Thermal weekend, Ilott was grateful he meshed well with Arrow McLaren on short notice as Malukas’ substitute. He thinks everyone worked exceptionally hard to make this the best experience and the team did a great job integrating him. The proof came every time Ilott hopped into the car: He and the team improved.

“We’ve definitely got a really strong group,” he said.

Ilott maintains that his sports car ride with Jota Sport in FIA’s World Endurance Championship remains his full focus for 2024, especially after a runner-up finish in WEC’s season opener in Qatar. But he’s not turning his back on moonlighting in more races in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this season when the schedules won’t clash.