Callum Ilott and Juncos: the unlikely underdog pairing taking on IndyCar

Indycar Racing News

With F1 race seats a rarity, Callum Ilott has turned to IndyCar and the minnow Juncos team to keep chasing his racing dream – the unlikely pairing is not to be underestimated

Ilott lead

Illot has now set his sights on conquering IndyCar with Juncos Hollinger Racing


Formula 1′s rapidly shrinking window of opportunity for new drivers to showcase their talents might be a cause for concern in Europe, but grand prix racing’s losses have quickly become IndyCar’s gains over in America.

With Callum Ilott’s signing at Juncos-Hollinger Racing (JHR), a young driver looking to advance his career and a small team resurrecting their IndyCar operation provide the backdrop for one of the more intriguing driver and team pairings for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season.

Ricardo Juncos’s small, truehearted squad has not competed full time in IndyCar, focusing on their title-winning Road to Indy programs and part-time IndyCar efforts with various drivers. After partnering with former Williams F1 shareholder Brad Hollinger to form JHR and make IndyCar competition a priority, Juncos sought to sign Ilott for the final three IndyCar races in 2021 to prepare for a full season the following year.

With Juncos taking care of the technical aspects of the team in hiring mechanics and engineers, Hollinger has focused on building more commercial partnerships for the team to help expand their capabilities.

Ilott racing

Ilott acquitted himself with respectable results in his first few IndyCar races


“I’m not a technical guy, so I’m not going to profess to know that I know how to set up the car. I probably don’t even know enough to be dangerous, but on the business and commercial side, that’s something that I’m fairly familiar with,” Hollinger said. “Having done it my whole life, that’s what I bring to the table as well in this organisation. So it’s very complementary. The best partnerships are when two people bring different things to the table and I think we do that, yet have the same philosophy 100%. We both want to win, that’s the goal.”

There will be challenges ahead for Ilott and JHR. All parties acknowledge that the best results won’t be coming their way in 2022 as it generally takes a smaller team time to get themselves on the proper footing. However, Ilott and JHR are embracing the upcoming challenges as they build a program to challenge the top teams.

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“I think the challenge is building an IndyCar team from scratch,” Juncos said at Long Beach. “From zero, it’s always a challenge, right? It’s a top of the planet class and we respect that, we know it’s difficult. For us ’22 will be our first full season, a lot to learn, I think we are really looking forward to ’23 when everything is set – that’s the year we’re going to go for big things. I think obviously we want to win, we want to win today and this weekend, but the reality is IndyCar is difficult and obviously we’re facing all the top teams. We know what we want, we just need time and that’s what we’re going to start doing.”

The current level of competition in IndyCar is such that being one or two tenths of a second off of the pace in qualifying can make the difference between starting eighth and 18th. To be successful in IndyCar means that a team must operate at a near-perfect level and that comes with a lot of experience, which JHR is lacking.

Ilott pits

In an extremely competitive series, Juncos has to make sure it will be near perfect to get anywhere near the sharp end


That didn’t deter Ilott from joining a small team, especially with his pedigree in European racing. The Brit is a Formula 2 race winner, coming second in the 2020 F2 standings to Mick Schumacher and finishing third in the GTE-Am class at the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans. The mountain for him and JHR to climb might make critics question the wisdom of joining a small team, but Ilott knows the path ahead will be difficult and has embraced that difficulty.

“As frustrating as it can be, we knew what we were coming into for these (2021 IndyCar) races, that’s why I’m not stressing at the moment,” Ilott said. “But what I know for sure is that we will have a lot of work to do over the winter, we have a lot of ability to do that work and then we’ll see where we start the beginning of next year, so I think honestly we can do a great job.

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“It’s great if you come in and do a good job with an existing team that’s already proven, but if you take a team from starting point, rock bottom in that sense, not that it’s rock bottom but, you know, from the base up and you make it into a race-winning team, I’d much rather take the credit for that and that’s the program that I think we’re going to put in place and what we can do over the winter. There’s a long way to go but I think it’s highly possible.”

What may be Ilott’s biggest challenge for 2022 is oval racing. Ilott’s entire junior open wheel career has been contested on road and street courses, but the 2022 IndyCar schedule has five oval races in a 17-race schedule, which might make some oval novices uneasy.

“I’m a person who can’t knock it until I try it in that sense,” Ilott said. “I think some people come over here and they love it, some people come over here and don’t try it and say that they don’t want to do it. You know it’s just something that I’ve got to try and in a sense, yeah, I’m committed to doing it and I will do it, but that doesn’t mean to say if I’ll like it or not, but who knows. It could be my strong suit because I’ve never done it before, could be my weak thing, who knows.”

Ilot helmet

Ilott is open-minded towards ovals as he heads for a full 2022 season


Before 2021, JHR’s most recent start was the 2019 Indianapolis 500. Yes, that same race where the team built up a car from scratch in two days. After Kyle Kaiser crashed their primary car on Fast Friday, the team knocked out Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso by 0.0129 seconds over a 10-mile qualifying run.

To pull that feat off, Juncos’s small staff worked around the clock converting Kaiser’s road course car that raced in April at Circuit of the Americas into a superspeedway-trimmed car. That kind of work takes dedicated employees drawing inspiration from their boss who has built a racing empire housed in a 41,000 square-foot race shop in Speedway, Indiana after coming to the US from Argentina in the early 2000s with a backpack and $400.

With one car already built for Ilott, the team is currently building a second car for 2022 to have it ready as a spare car. JHR could very well try and enter that second car for the Indianapolis 500 but it is still too early to make any final decisions.

One thing is certain about next year’s Indianapolis 500 is that if Ilott makes the show, he might have to adjust his pre-race routine.

Ilott Juncos

Ricardo Juncos is confident of taking his team to the top, but is not underestimating the challenge


“The team asked me if I wanted to pray before the Sunday race (at Long Beach) and I’m not used to that and I said no because I’m not used to it and it was a little bit out there,” Ilott said. “But I think before the Indy 500 I probably will (pray), so yeah, that’s my mentality a bit on that. But on the other hand, [IMS] was incredible when I saw it, it’s a great challenge and something that I’m not against doing, but it’s a big one, that’s for sure.”