LONG BEACH, Calif .– As he kicks off three races for his IndyCar team ahead of his intention to race full-time in 2022, Ricardo Juncos believed he had fielded two former Formula 1 drivers, as well as the most recent finalist. from Formula 2 to man the No. 77 Chevy. Likely from that pool, Juncos co-owner Hollinger Racing would select the driver who would attempt to rebuild what Juncos went through to become a full-time program two years ago.

And when these two former F1 drivers pulled out of the gigs of a race at the last minute, the young gun was happy to fulfill their roles. Now, at just two-thirds of his part-time IndyCar job this fall, Callum Ilott has decided the IndyCar is a place the deserving future F1 driver would like to stay for awhile – or at least a year, for that matter. .

On Friday, JHR announced that Ilott would drive the No.77 full-time in 2022 and take on the daunting challenge of serving as the focal point of a team that raced 12 of the 17 IndyCar races in 2018, fought for the Indy 500 2019. grid, but then vanished from the highest levels of the sport during the pandemic and only reappeared recently. With much of the human capital that Juncos had acquired in mid-2019 now completely gone or working for its Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 teams, Juncos knows it will be more than just a one-year rebuild.

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The challenge then, with such a young driver who was this year Ferrari F1 test driver and Alfa Romeo reserve driver and finished 2nd in F2 in 2020, will be to keep him for what will most likely be a first. tough full season on the IndyCar Grid.

Team co-owner Brad Hollinger told IndyStar on Friday that the team’s deal with Ilott was only for one season, “but it’s something we can build on.”

“It’s not something beyond (a year), but it’s really good,” he said. “We are really happy about it. “

Back in Portland ahead of his first IndyCar race, Ilott still seemed very unsure of what he wanted his next year of racing to look like. By this point, nearly all of the F1 journeys of 2022 had been locked down and officially announced, and for the second consecutive offseason, he had walked away without an offer to pursue the dream he wanted most. Last year, the drivers who finished 1st (Mick Schumacher), 3rd (Yuki Tsunoda) and 5th (Nikita Mazepin) got favors from F1. As next year approaches, there is only one vacant seat left, and Ilott said weeks ago that his name was no longer in the running.

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At 22, Ilott doesn’t necessarily feel that joining IndyCar full-time takes his name out of the race for a future F1 gig. In fact, he said, it would probably help to drive a one-seater car somewhere than nowhere. And for now, like current F2 driver Christian Lundgaard, who came to drive a race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing earlier this year, securing an F1 seat is the ultimate goal.

But until that day comes, now that he knows where he will be for the next year, Ilott says he’s determined to give JHR his full attention. In all likelihood, officials at the Ferrari Driver Academy, of which he is a part, will be managing his prospects for the future in F1, so Ilott doesn’t have to constantly look over his shoulder.

“I’m going to focus only on that and almost get out of the European side of things,” he said. “Not because it’s never going to happen, but because it’s good to try something new, to change the scenery and make the most of it.

“If I’m really wanted here, I’d rather be fighting for my life to get something where I’m not really wanted.”

Ferrari F1 test driver Callum Ilott (right) will drive for Juncos Hollinger Racing for the Portland Grand Prix this month.

The “wanted” part is certainly not in question. Juncos and Hollinger both praised the young British driver who finished 25th and 22nd in his two IndyCar starts. Perhaps his greatest IndyCar achievement to date has been placing 19th in qualifying in Portland on 27 cars, having only had one day of testing before Saturday’s combined practice and qualifying effort. , without much time in between to digest everything.

And Juncos said he knows that doesn’t even tell the whole story of what Ilott has in the tank. He knows that JHR’s lack of depth, experience and continuity in all areas outside of the property side is currently and will continue to retain Ilott’s talent until Juncos can put his model in place. philosophical for the team in the future. The hope, he and Hollinger said, is to start seeing signs of significant team-wide improvement by the end of next year, in part so they can hope to keep Ilott. if in a year he continues to become the pilot they planned.

“I think we have to start over, maybe with people who don’t even have experience (IndyCar) and have them learn,” Juncos told IndyStar at Laguna Seca. “As we move forward, I will be less involved, but until the system is the way I want it, I have to spend more time and try to visualize what I want for next year to make the system as I want it. Realistically, 2023 should be much more appropriate. “

As green as much of the squad will take part in the season opener on February 27 in the streets of St. Pete, Ilott said even before the deal was announced he would not see any downside to taking his IndyCar inexperience to the next level. program where at the team level it is a fairly common theme. As long as he can sense progress, it might actually help persuade him to stay longer term.

“When you’re in that position, it gives you the opportunity and hopefully the freedom to control things, especially if you’re trusted to make those decisions,” Ilott told IndyStar in Portland. “For me, it would be nice to create an environment around me and have some control over everything. It can be good or bad, but on my side you’re trying to make the best possible package for yourself, and I think that’s when you get the best results.

Email IndyStar Motorsport reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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