The downs and ups of Ilott’s wild day at Indy

Callum Ilott qualified 15th for his third Indianapolis 500. The Briton then went on to finish a career-best 11th for Arrow McLaren, but those numbers don’t speak to the wild events that took place with his No. 6 Chevy between the pace laps and checkered flag on Sunday.

Things went sideways for Ilott moment after pulling away from the grid to complete the four warmup laps, and it was merely the start of what the Speedway had in store for the 25-year-old.

“When you start the race, it should be pretty straightforward as it was for 32 other people, but unfortunately, when I was doing a little check of the weight jacker, it decided to creep up and get stuck on the maximum understeer side,” Ilott told RACER of becoming the latest of a few drivers to experience weight jacker issues this month.


“Clearly there was an issue there and it was something that obviously wasn’t anticipated by me or the team at the time, so I pitted and we went through power-cycling the car, ” he continued. “Then I suggested a steering wheel change, but that did not fix it. We couldn’t solve the issue, so I went back out and was catching back up to everyone to start from last. At that point, it was what we’ve got, so we just had to try and manage max understeer.”

If dealing with a car that didn’t exactly want to turn while losing a midfield starting position for being at the tail end of 32 cars wasn’t enough to handle, Ilott got to deal with the multi-car crash in Turn 1 on the first lap and did his best to avoid being included in the wall-banging affair.

“We did the start and I was very lucky to avoid that contact,” he said. “Unfortunately, I clipped Pietro [Fittipaldi] trying to go down the inside; I don’t think his spotter told him I was below him and I was trying my best to keep down low. Some people brake to avoid such things and others try and roll through them to avoid these things.

Ilott’s Arrow McLaren was jacked up from the start…but not in a good way. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

“Every pit stop we did from there was adding front wing to compensate for the understeer. And by the middle of the race, it was a pretty reasonable car. I couldn’t follow too closely, because as soon as I lost the downforce, I had no mechanical front grip, but I was able to sit quite nicely three car lengths back and just wait for opportunities. And then of course at the restarts as well and we tuned and tuned the car, and by the end, it was pretty pointy (oversteering) a bit more than I would have liked. But that was what was needed to stay in the pack and we fought our way through. I think I got up to P13 before a little incident with Kyle Kirkwood in the pit lane.”

Nerfed from behind by his good friend Kirkwood of the Andretti Global team nearing the race’s halfway point, Ilott’s stop took longer than desired after his No. 6 Chevy missed its marks in his pit box, and Kirkwood was given a drive-through penalty for the contact. Some blamed Ilott for the incident, and few felt the Andretti driver deserved such harsh punishment for the contretemps.

“It put me back down to last, and unfortunately for Kyle as well,” Ilott added. “I had a couple of checkups on pit lane, which meant he was right behind me. And because I was avoiding one person, I was a bit slow to get to that transition lane and then he was a bit slow to react to me. It obviously wasn’t intentional for either of us.”

Despite the frustrating start, Ilott gained confidence – and ground – as the race went on. Josh Tons/Motorsport Images

Feeling somewhat defeated early in the race as he struggled to keep pace with most rivals, Ilott’s Arrow McLaren crew provided a constant supply of encouragement. Forced to start from the back of the field for a second time, Ilott settled in for another come-from-behind march with knowledge that he could regain plenty of ground, but exactly how much — with the race half over — was unknown.

“Honestly, the first two stints, I really didn’t think I was I was gonna make it to the end,” he said. “I thought I’d be out on 105-percent rule. And the boys and girls on the Arrow McLaren stand were keeping me going. You can get pretty negative on how it might go. But it was a long race and when it was looking bleak, they kept me going. At that point, I learned a new meaning of understeer, or as Kyle Larson might call it, ‘tightness.’

“As we kept going and turning on it, the car actually ended up feeling not perfect, but a lot better than where it started. I was not massively competitive, but we definitely did great pit stops towards the end and we made big progress. I’d love to see the stats on who did the most overtakes, because I think we were in competition for that award.”

Last year, Ilott was lauded for starting 27th and improving to 12th. This year, he went one position better, but it involved going from P15 to last to P13, then back to last, and finally up to P11.

Altogether, Ilott and the No. 6 team put in a remarkable amount of work to deliver a result that flew well under the radar.

“I was just happy to get it done,” he said. “That race is never straightforward. I’m just happy with the team that that they continued to push and got me in the right direction through kind of every mishap and kept trying. All things considered, and with how disastrous it could have been at so many points, it was a really solid effort we can be proud of.”

Story originally appeared on Racer