Thermal could be key to Ilott’s 2025 IndyCar hopes

Will Callum Ilott get an offer to drive for Arrow McLaren in 2025? We should have the answer to that question by the end of the weekend in Thermal, California.

The Briton’s race debut for the team at St. Petersburg — with a bare minimum of pre-season testing to ready himself for temporarily taking over David Malukas’s No. 6 Chevy — went well, but there were no standout moments after qualifying 16th and finishing 13th. Stuck in a deep pack of cars where fuel saving was the mission, there were few opportunities for Ilott to march forward.

With teammate Alexander Rossi improving from 15th to eighth and Pato O’Ward going from third to second, Ilott’s Arrow McLaren debut spoke to a driver having to learn a new team, to work with a new race engineer, and to adapt to the program’s approach to chassis setup while keeping the car off the walls.


It would be unfair to expect Ilott, with one race and one more test day — he was second-fastest behind Rossi on Monday at Barber Motorsports Park — to turn up to the $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club with overflowing confidence and comfort, but that’s the sticky part.

With Malukas expected to return after Thermal, Ilott has one more chance to inspire the team to place him in one of its cars next year. He’ll have the Friday-Saturday test, Saturday night’s qualifying session, Sunday morning’s heat race, and hopefully for his sake, Sunday afternoon’s 20-lap $1 Million Challenge to convince McLaren’s Zak Brown, Arrow McLaren team principal Gavin Ward, and sporting director Tony Kanaan that he’s a better choice than free agents Rossi and Malukas.

“I haven’t really thought about it that way,” Ilott told RACER. “That’s something that’s quite tough to control; it’s very difficult to force it and make it work. The slight mentality shift is that there’s a bit more testing to get stuck into the weekend, and since it’s a non-championship race, you can take a little bit more risk. Versus St. Pete, in the position I was in, where you’re not in a position with the walls being so close, where you’re overdoing it to try and get an extra place or two.

“I’m looking forward to Thermal with a road course where there’s more room to push and feel the car out. That was important for me at the Barber test, to get an idea of what the car can take in a more unrestricted environment, because they will have little differences in how they behave. But I view this as, you’re coming here to do a job, which is fill in and do the best job you can in that environment in a short space of time. I’m pretty excited more than feeling pressured.”

Ilott earned a pair of top five finishes last year with the decidedly smaller Juncos Hollinger Racing team where he’d been able to shape the car’s handling to his liking over two seasons. He’s trying to expedite that process in his brief stint with Arrow McLaren while also trying to help the team find additional speed that will deliver a return to victory lane.

“Whenever you change environments, you normally get a bit more time for each other to get accustomed to each other,” he said. “The good thing is Blair [Perschbacher], my engineer, has had a lot of experience so he’s been phenomenal to work with and we’ve been able to put a baseline down, but everyone tailors to what they need and what they want. And at the same time, I’m discovering the car so it’s quite tough to maximize it.

“That’s what I found in St. Pete. It wasn’t tough to get up to speed. I was straight away quite close, within two-tenths of Pato in the first session, which is good, but then everything gets tighter and tighter as you come to qualifying and you need to get every little bit out of that. That’s tough to do. Firstly, I didn’t know what the car necessarily needed, and they don’t know what I need as a driver and what I need from the car to get the most out of it. That’s why this Barber test [on Monday] was very important. That’s why Thermal is important. There’s a lot of adaptations to do, whether it is in setup or my driving, and that’s part of the challenge.”

Story originally appeared on Racer