Saturday, April 13, 2024

Countdown To The 2024 ACURA Grand Prix Of Long Beach

NTT INDYCAR Race 2023 AGPLB around the fountain. Image Credit: Sandra E. Bartley (2023)

Countdown To The 2024 ACURA Grand Prix Of Long Beach

In a few days Long Beach, California will be hosting another 200 mph beach party better known as the 49th running of the Long Beach Grand Prix featuring the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Race on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at 12:35 P.M. PT. 

IMSA WeatherTech GTD sportscars through Turn 10 at the 2023 AGPLB. Image Credit: Sandra E. Bartley (2023)

In addition to INDYCAR there are numerous other races including IMSA WeatherTech, GT America Series Race (aka gentlemen’s racing series), Super Drift Challenge and Robby Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks. The Historic INDY Car Challenge makes another appearance this year and you never know who is going to be driving these vintage race cars. These cars are usually privately owned by collectors and, or vintage racers. Since not all vintage car owners are drivers they seek out licensed race drivers to drive their race cars and it’s a usual practice. 

Last year there were at least two drivers with special credentials. Patrick Long, a multiple Porsche champion driver and Zak Brown, former pro driver champion who is the CEO of McLaren Racing, McLaren Formula 1, took time out of their hectic schedules to drive.

Robby Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Truck Race 2023 AGPLB. Image Credit: Sandra E. Bartley (2023)

The Stadium SUPER Truck races and the Super Drift Challenge are always major fan favorites. There is a stark difference between watching these races in person versus seeing them on television. Everyone loves them, including the kids.

Mothers Car Care Products will host another exotic car parade, one lap around the 1.3 mile track. If we’re lucky, maybe someone will show up driving an Aston Martin DBS 770 Ultimate (last of the V12’s), a Koenigsegg or a Pagaini Zonda HP Barchetta. I hope so.

2024 Acura NSX, Type S is a great choice if the idea of ​​a supercar that you can use every day appeals to you. Image Credit: (2024)

ACURA will demonstrate hot laps with the ACURA Type S/NSX. In addition, you’ll find some of their vehicles on display in the Lifestyle Expo which is all part of the race festivities. But, there is so much more to experience during the 3 days of racing and festivities. The indoor Lifestyle Expo offers a variety of things to see at no charge with a race ticket. Inside the arena you can find video games, race cars on display, new vehicles, snacks and food to purchase, artwork to enjoy or buy and last year a vendor was giving away beautiful t-shirts. One year there was a zip-line inside the arena. There is a concert outside the main entrance to the Grand Prix on Saturday night around 6:00 P.M.

If you happen to be in Long Beach on On April 18th the annual Motorsports Walk of Fame Ceremony takes place at 11:00 AM on South Pine Avenue next to the Long Beach Convention Center and is open to the public at no cost and no ticket is required. Just show up. This year’s inductees are Katherine Legge, a very talented driver who has competed in the NASCAR Infinity Series, IMSA SportsCar as well as IndyCar. In fact, last year she became the fastest female ever to qualify at the Indianapolis 500 Race.

Speaking of the INDY 500, the other inductee for the 2024 Long Beach Walk of Fame is Takuma Sato from Tokyo, Japan, who has won the INDY 500 twice, in 2017 and 2020. And this fierce competitor knows his way around the Long Beach track just fine. You guessed it. Takuma won the ACURA Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2013. The event is short, one hour, but fun. You may have the chance to say hello to both of these drivers.

The Acura Grand Prix is quite easy to get to. For example, it is 18 miles south of LAX, Los Angeles International Airport and 22 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. If you’re driving, the freeway access is very good. There are numerous parking lots nearby and hotel parking lots. Rates vary but are at least $30.00 - $50. per vehicle. For ticket information and all the details you can search, “ACURA Grand Prix of Long Beach 2024” and it will take you to the website. Make sure you’re viewing the 2024 schedule.

Long Beach racetrack and Pike Amusement Park 2023, is open during the weekend Image Credit: Sandra E. Bartley (2023)

The ACURA Grand Prix of Long Beach is a fabulous event. The President and CEO of the LBGP Association, Jim Michaelian, his staff, all of the sponsors and hundreds of volunteers make creative and valuable contributions to entertain us. The weather is always good in Long Beach in April, the facility is friendly and safe. There are a few dozen restaurants across the street from the event or nearby. Book a reservation if you’re going to a restaurant, but little bistros can take walk-ins. Wear comfortable shoes and take lots of photos. Bring a friend, bring your family or come alone - you’ll have a great time. This writer has attended the LBGP event about 30 times. I’ll see you there at the races.

Andretti Autosport Team (now known as Andretti Global), Winner 2023 AGPLB. Image Credit: Sandra E. Bartley (2023)

Photos and Story by Sandra E. Bartley
Published with permission by Motorsports Journal
Sandra E. Bartley was a member of the PPG CART IndyCar Pace Car Team. She has driven on this racetrack at the former Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach multiple years.

... notes from The EDJE

Syndicated To Motorsports Journal >>>

TAGS: #AGPLB, Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach, 2024, IMSA WeatherTech, SRO GT America Series, Formula Super Drift Challenge, Robby Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks. The Historic INDY Car Challenge, Sandra E. Bartley, The EDJE

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Media Day Introduction To Made For TV Event - $1 Million Dollar Challenge @ThermalClub

Media Day Introduction To Made For TV Event - $1 Million Dollar Challenge @ThermalClub

In anticipation to The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge, members of the invited media were treated to a lap of the track configured for the NTT INDYCAR Heat Race Challenge. This made for TV event will be the first non-championship NTT INDYCAR SERIES race since 2008. With a total payout of over $1.7 million, it is the largest non-Indy 500 purse for an INDYCAR SERIES event in over two decades. 

The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge Fast Facts
Race weekend: Friday, March 22 - Sunday, March 24

Track: The Thermal Club, 3.067-mile, 17-turn road course (counterclockwise) in Thermal, California

Race distances: (Two Qualifying Heats) 10 laps / 20 minutes) | (Sprint for the Purse) Two Segments (10 laps/ 30.67 miles each) with 10-minute halftime after Lap 10

Push-to-pass parameters: 40 seconds of total time for each qualifying grioup, heat race and both segments of the final.

X: @TheThermalClub, @INDYCAR, #ThermalChallenge, #INDYCAR

Instagram: @TheThermalClub, @INDYCAR, #ThermalChallenge, #INDYCAR

Facebook: @ThermalClub, @INDYCAR, #ThermalChallenge, #INDYCAR

Inaugural Event

NBC Sports telecast: Races, 12:30 ET Sunday, NBC (live). Leigh Diffey is the play-by-play announcer for NBC's coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, alongside analysts Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe.

Peacock Live Streaming: All NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test sessions, qualifying session, heat races and the final Sprint for the Purse will stream live on Peacock, NBC’s direct-to-consumer livestreaming product.

INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the anchor alongside turn announcers Ryan Myrehn and Jake Query. Michael Young is the pit reporter. The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge, Saturday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test sessions and qualifying session air live on SiriusXM INDYCAR Nation 218 and SiriusXM NBC Sports Audio 85, and the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA.

At-track schedule (All Times Local Pacific Time Zone):

Friday, March 22

9-11 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test, Peacock

2-5 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test, Peacock

Saturday, March 23

9-11 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test, Peacock

1-3 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test, Peacock

5 p.m. – $1 Million Challenge heat race qualifying (two groups / 12 minutes each), Peacock

Sunday, March 24

9:24 a.m. – $1 Million Challenge Heat Race 1 “Drivers Start Your Engines”

9:30 a.m. – NBC on air

9:31 a.m. – $1 Million Challenge Heat Race 1 (10 laps / 30.67 miles / 20 minutes / Top 6 advance to Sprint for the Purse), NBC

9:58 a.m. – $1 Million Challenge Heat Race 2 “Drivers Start Your Engines”

10:05 a.m. – $1 Million Challenge Heat Race 2 (10 laps / 30.67 miles / 20 minutes/ Top 6 advance to Sprint for the Purse), NBC

10:52 a.m. – $1 Million Challenge Sprint for the Purse “Drivers, start your engines”

10:59 a.m. – $1 Million Challenge Sprint for the Purse (Two 10-lap segments with 10-minute halftime after Lap 10), NBC (Live)


· The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge will be the first non-championship NTT INDYCAR SERIES race since 2008. With a total payout of over $1.7 million, it is the largest non-Indy 500 purse for an INDYCAR SERIES event in over two decades. More information on the weekend format can be found HERE. There have been 10 INDYCAR SERIES exhibition races held since 1946, including the Marlboro Challenge All-Star race, which was held by CART from 1987-1992.


YEAR     RACE                                TRACK                        WINNER

1957       Race of Two Worlds          Monza                          Jimmy Bryan

1958       Race of Two Worlds          Monza                          Jim Rathmann

1966       Fuji 200                             Fuji Speedway             Jackie Stewart

1987       Marlboro Challenge          Tamiami Park               Bobby Rahal

1988       Marlboro Challenge          Tamiami Park               Michael Andretti

1989       Marlboro Challenge          Laguna Seca                Al Unser Jr.

1990       Marlboro Challenge          Nazareth                       Rick Mears

1991       Marlboro Challenge          Laguna Seca                Michael Andretti

1992       Marlboro Challenge          Nazareth                       Emerson Fittipaldi

2008       Nikon Indy 300                  Surfers Paradise          Ryan Briscoe

* Note: The 1981 and 1982 Indianapolis 500 only counted for the USAC INDYCAR SERIES championship and was considered a non-championship event for CART teams.

· Qualifying heat races will return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the first time since the series conducted heat races at Iowa Speedway for the 2012 and 2013 events at the track. Two drivers entered have won heat races in their career: Graham Rahal won heat races in both 2012 and 2013 at Iowa while Scott Dixon won a heat race at Iowa in 2013.


YEAR   TRACK                  LENGTH      WINNERS

2012     Iowa Speedway   30 Laps       Graham Rahal (1st), Tony Kanaan (2nd), Dario Franchitti (Dash)

2013     Iowa Speedway   50 Laps       Scott Dixon (1st), Graham Rahal (2nd), Helio Castroneves (Dash)
[ht: NICS]

... notes from The EDJE


TAGS: #ThermalClub, $1 Million Dollar Challenge, NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Heat Races, 2024, @ThermalClub, @INDYCAR, #ThermalChallenge, #INDYCAR, #TheEDJE,

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Anticipation Mounts For A First Of No-Harm/No-Foul NBCTV Properties #ThermalClub Event

Front straightaway of #ThermalClub North Palm Course where The Thermal Club member Don Cusick claimed that a speed achieved by these INDYCAR platforms could reach 200 miles per hour. This mark seems doubtful given that the front straightaway of Shoreline Drive at the Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach has these cars getting a touch over 185 Miles Per Hour. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2023)

Anticipation Mounts For A First Of No-Harm/No-Foul NBCTV Properties #ThermalClub Event

After having a two day pre-season shakedown test Track Day at a special Coachella Valley desert private club race track in 2023 preceeded by NTT INDYCAR SERIES (NICS) Content Days, INDYCAR management and teams felt this would be something fun for a repeat visit on some level. 

The Thermal Club, NBC, and NICS came up with an odd first of expansion on the pre-season test and decided to expand the time to include a No-Points Big-Money made for Television payoff series of Heat Races labelled as The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge broadcast on NBC & Peacock subscription service - #ThermalClub will be official hashtag applied to this expanded test.

Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles, INDYCAR President Jay Frye, NBC driver analyst Townsend Bell and Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge team co-entrant and The Thermal Club member Don Cusick participated in a NTT INDYCAR SERIES ZOOM Call video news conference on Tuesday, ahead of The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge, a unique nationally televised exhibition with $1.756 million at stake.

The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge is the first non-championship INDYCAR SERIES race since the Nikon Indy 300 in 2008 at Surfers Paradise, Australia. The event will feature a pair of 10-lap qualifying heat races and a 20-lap all-star race, all of which will be televised at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, March 24 on NBC. The full event is scheduled to start on Thursday with test days through Saturday including qualifications (first rounds of Knockout Qualifying where the field is widowed down to 12 drivers) at 5:00pm PT.  On Sunday a 20 lap (two 10 lap heats) Race for the No-Points Big-Money bragging rights payoff. Broadcast begins on Peacock and concludes on both Peacock and NBC (check your local listings) on Sunday. 

RACER - Marshall Pruett 

The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge Preview Video News Conference Tuesday

Interview Participants: NTT INDYCAR SERIES video news conference with Mark Miles, Jay Frye, Townsend Bell and Don Cusick


THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us today. As the countdown to The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge continues, wanted to offer up an opportunity to hear from several stakeholders today.

Joining us, Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp. Thank you for joining us today.

Jay Frye, president of INDYCAR, is also with us. Thanks, Jay.

Don Cusick this May will enter the Indy 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold and Cusick Motorsports but also a Thermal Club member, firsthand knowledge of the facility. He joins us as well. Don, thank you.

And from NBC Sports, long-time analyst and former INDYCAR SERIES driver, Townsend Bell.

Thank you all.

Mark, let's go ahead and start with you. Ever since this nationally televised exhibition was announced last fall, there's been a buzz about it. What does something like this mean for the series?

MARK MILES: Well, I think we and INDYCAR fans are really excited about getting out to California, getting into the desert, getting to this phenomenal facility at Thermal and mixing it up and doing something a little bit different.

We had an opportunity, let's say, on the calendar in the spring, and Thermal had the kind of climate that seemed like it could work. We had a great experience. I think all the teams had a great experience there for our first visit last year. So it seemed like it just made sense.

The Rogers family has been phenomenal to commit and to work through how this can be a good thing for them and the members of their club, as well as INDYCAR, and especially our teams.

I'm excited to see this format. I've never been to a heat race before or an all-star race of this type. I think it's just going to be sensational to see what happens.

We appreciate NBC saying, listen, let's see what we can do with this. For Peacock to be with us until Sunday and then on Sunday to have the race live on NBC is terrific. Fans everywhere in this country will be able to see it.

THE MODERATOR: Jay, smooth segue from Mark talking about heat racing. First heat racing and really an INDYCAR SERIES exhibition in over a decade. This will be all-out sprint racing. From the competition side, really how did it all come together?

JAY FRYE: It was a huge effort by a lot of people, and Townsend was actually a big proponent of something like this, and he and I talked about this a couple of years ago. If this goes bad, we're going to blame it all on him. I'll put that out there right now.

Like Mark mentioned, we always want to try something different. We had a great test at Thermal last year. NBC had a broadcast window, which created this opportunity. The Rogers family, the members, our teams have all embraced this challenge. It's going to be a little unique, but really it's very simple.

You have basic qualifying on Saturday afternoon, two groups, 12 minutes. It's going to be the same thing we've done in the past, so there's nothing different there. Then the two heat races on Sunday morning. Basically two different groups, two different heat races, top six advance. Then we'll have a 12-car 20-lap shoot-out with a halftime for a lot of money. What's not to like? It's going to be great.

THE MODERATOR: Jay, stand by. Don, great to see you again. Can you give us the members' perspective? You are already out there. How excited are they to share the club with a nationally televised audience like this?

DON CUSICK: I think we're all super excited. After last year, everybody got a taste of what INDYCAR racing is really about. We are really happy to hear you guys are coming back, and the excitement has been building. Here we are. Yeah, we're ready for you. We kind of set the bar high last year, so let's see what happens this year.

THE MODERATOR: We can see over your shoulder the weather should be good for us this weekend.

DON CUSICK: I'll tell you what, we drove in in a rainstorm, the likes of which I haven't seen in a long time, last night. It's clear and sunny and 80 degrees. According to the weatherman, that's the way it's going to be the rest of the week. So, yeah, get you guys out of that cold weather and into some of this nice sunshine.


THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Don. Stand by. Townsend, as Jay alluded to, you know Thermal pretty well. I know you're excited about the weekend. How will NBC plan to translate the excitement of this format to the viewers and the nationally televised audience come Sunday afternoon, and Sunday morning if you are on the West Coast?

TOWNSEND BELL: I think first it's important to clarify to Jay that failure is an orphan. Success has many fathers. Let's see where we stand on Monday.


TOWNSEND BELL: This is an exciting opportunity for INDYCAR. I think it's an exciting opportunity for Thermal. From an NBC perspective, we had a few production calls this morning, and I think our goal is to keep it simple in that, hey, we're racing Indy cars at a brand-new super exclusive facility. And what makes this, I think, format different and unique and exciting is big money on the line, no points can be lost.

It's a go-for-it kind of approach I think for the drivers. We'll have the two heat races live on big NBC on Sunday morning starting at I think 9:30 out on the West Coast, 12:30 Eastern.

For me, in between the heat races and the main event, we want to tell the story of this great facility. You know, this is -- as a California native, I can tell you that new, cool ideas are almost always answered with a "No" in California and followed up with a whole bunch of reasons why something cannot happen. This is a great example of innovators and industry leaders coming together and doing something cool despite lots of people telling them no.

I remember 14 years ago walking into a sales office in La Quinta before Thermal owned land. It was nothing more than an idea. It's pretty awesome to see.

For those of you that are in the media that haven't been out to this facility, it is mind-blowing what you'll find there. Absolutely -- it's what any car racing enthusiast would want if we achieved the success that a lot of the Thermal members have achieved.

To me this is a celebration of American innovation and can-do attitude, and I think INDYCAR is doing the same with this exciting format. We're looking forward to telling the story on NBC.

THE MODERATOR: As mentioned, that kind of helped set the stage. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.

Q. I like the looks of that weather behind you, Don. This one is for you. Obviously, we talked a lot about the on-track side of this event, but there's going to be an off-track portion with your members. How important do you think an opportunity it is for the INDYCAR teams to possibly meet potential partners, people like yourself who want to get into racing?

DON CUSICK: I think it's super important. Last year when we were putting together the deal with Dreyer & Reinbold, the spring practice was here, and so a lot of our members got to see it, kind of get immersed in it a little bit. Out of that we picked up a half a dozen new sponsors. So I think it's super important.

It lets them know that the teams are accessible, the drivers are accessible, and it's a pretty cool sport. Yeah, I think it's tremendously important that the members get to interact with the teams.

Q. And maybe, Jay and Mark, go over in a little bit more detail how the members are going to be involved with the teams.

JAY FRYE: Thanks. There will be a draw party on Thursday night, so the members will draw. There will be a random draw based off -- they'll line the cars up for qualifying, but it will also pair the members with -- embed the members with the driver. That will be their first chance to meet.

Then for the weekend they'll be embedded like a VIP with the team.

MARK MILES: I'll add to that, more generally, years ago at the 500 we brought, I don't know, 12 or 14 working members of the media from a particular different broadcaster and embedded them with teams at the 500 that race weekend.

It was phenomenal. We made more fans with them that weekend than we probably had with them for many years.

I think it's going to be a fabulous experience for the members, and we'll see how it pays dividends in the future.

Q. I have a couple of questions for all of you. I will start with some racing-specific ones, maybe best fit for Jay. Jay, I know, thinking back to last year's tests, one of the reactions from a lot of drivers was that this track really ate up those tires and there was a high level of degradation. I know the car is somewhat different from what it was a year ago, and I know, from what it sounds like, Firestone's tires that they might have made for this event may not be -- may not have been made with not having the hybrid in the car in mind. How do you anticipate the tire wear given whatever compounds Firestone is going to be running and how that can impact this event on Saturday and Sunday?

JAY FRYE: Well, again, it's a short heat kind of race, that type thing, so the tire degradation should be less than what we saw there last year. Like you mentioned about the hybrid, so the tires are a little different because of that. Instead of having more weight, we'll have less weight, 25 pounds less than we ran there last year at Thermal.

Degradation should be a little less than it was before.

Q. Another reaction from drivers after testing there last year when they were maybe thinking ahead to what a race might look like -- again, I know this was before this event and this format were formally announced, but a lot of them maybe struggled to think of where passing opportunities might be if we do happen to have -- or if we did happen to have a race. Where do you envision, from looking at the track map, where the best passing opportunities might be, and how do you anticipate racing might be different knowing this may be a track where there may not be an abundance of passing opportunities and just ten laps per segment in order to get those passing opportunities in?

JAY FRYE: I guess the way I look at this is we're dealing with some of the greatest race car drivers in the world. They're going for a whole bunch of money, so they'll certainly get it all figured out where the best passing places are.

It's funny, sometimes we anticipate or what we think is actually going to happen, the complete opposite happens from that. I would envision something like that. They'll have a couple of days to test. We'll have the qualifying session. I'm sure they'll learn some things in the heat race, and then for the main it will be quite spectacular.

Again, we're going to let them have push-to-pass. Push-to-pass will be on for the Practice 4, it will be on for qualifying, it will be on for the heat races, and it will be on for the feature race too.

They'll have 40 seconds. If you are in the feature, there will be 40 seconds in the first ten laps. It will reset for the next ten laps too. We're going to give them every opportunity and every tool at their disposal to create some great racing.

Q. My last racing-specific question, Jay, what safety additions do you know of that the track has made over the last 12 months? I know that was another driver concern, what the venue might be like when you actually had drivers racing. What things notably have changed from the last 12 months heading into this weekend.

JAY FRYE: Mainly just tire packs and run-offs, things like that. They're basically an FIA Grade 2 facility at this point. The guys at Thermal have done a great job getting the facility ready.

Tony Cotman is actually out there today, and has been out there many, many times, and he's an FIA-certified inspector. The track will be in great shape. They've done everything we've asked them to do, and safety is obviously paramount in everything that we do.

Q. Mark, a question for you, how will you and Penske Entertainment officials at large determine whether this weekend was a success or not and decide whether or not you would want to do something like this again in the future?

MARK MILES: That's a great question. I think we will have our ear to the ground with our key stakeholders. First of all, I think the Rogers have to like it. It has to be a good experience for them as the owners of the club, and I'm sure that the club members' attitudes will be reflected in Tim Rogers' attitude. That's an important fundamental thing.

I think we'll see how fans react. And you know, because you do it all the time, that you'll have a good sense from social media on the fan reaction to the racing.

There will be some of our sponsors out there. Teams obviously. Team owners will be out there. We'll just take everybody's temperature after the fact.

Listen, I just know the temperature is really in a good place after the test last year. People really enjoyed being there. Maybe raised some of the questions you asked about racing. I hope we've addressed them, and we expect to have a really good weekend that people enjoy.

Q. My last question is for Don. Don, I know the way INDYCAR had framed this event originally back when it was announced in September was that there would be some level of buy-in from members from a financial perspective that would then allow them to potentially reap some financial rewards in case the driver that they were paired with finished in the top five in the main event. We know that that's not happening anymore. The way I understand it, it sounded like there just maybe weren't enough members that were interested in participating in that. Can you give any sort of perspective on maybe where that disconnect was? I know you sound positive that there are a lot of members that are excited for this, but just I would be interested to know what perspective you can share on that on why that portion of --

DON CUSICK: Sure. I think it's a combination of things, but I think ultimately it just came down to we've got a lot of amateur racers out here, not a lot of professional racers. I think people just weren't quite certain that they were at the level required to compete as would be expected for that kind of prize money.

We're kind of talking through that as members and as a club. We'll see where that leads. But I think for this year it might just have been a little bit overwhelming and they didn't quite know what to expect, and that's a part of it.

I did want to comment on your question about where you pass on this track. I can tell you, I've been passed everywhere on this track. There's lots of opportunities. That's for sure.

Then, as far as changes, we did make a few changes to some of the apexes in the turns and made it a little more friendly, I think, for the cars to race on. At least that's from the members' feedback so far.

Q. I know next to nothing about this track. What kind of peak speeds are you anticipating there?

DON CUSICK: Down the main straightaway, which is on the north part of the track, I'm guessing they're going to get probably close to 200 miles an hour. In a GT3 Porsche Cup car, a 991 Cup car, we're doing 160 at the end of that straightaway. So I'm guessing they're going to be upwards of 180 to 200 miles an hour.

Q. Jay, what about -- Nathan asked about safety modifications. Are there SAFER barriers, or are they needed there?

JAY FRYE: No. This being a road course, there are no SAFER barriers. There's ample run-offs, there's tire packs that are conveyored throughout the facility. They've done everything that they needed to do to upgrade it to an FIA Grade 2 facility. But no SAFER barriers, no.

Q. Last thing for Mark. The timing of the race on Sunday and talking with NBC about that, you're going up against NCAA basketball. Was there a lot of discussion about when to start on Sunday?

MARK MILES: I think it was pretty typical. We're hoping to get a broadcast network window. There's a lot going on in American sports this weekend and this time of year. So you kind of work for what you think gives you your best opportunity both from the point of view of the teams and the fans who will be there and the television audience.

12:30 Eastern, again, there's going to be a lot of competition for eyes in U.S. viewership. The 12:30 Eastern is a pretty good time. We do things like the Indy 500 around that time and get a pretty big number.

Q. Last thing, is this a ticketed event?

MARK MILES: I can try that. We never thought of it as let's see how many people we can sell tickets to to be there for this. It's normally a private facility. It was meant to be a kind of high-end hospitality offering. So it's a little pricey. Pricing changed, but it's still kind of pricey. But we think, and I'm sure the Rogers think, that this is the right way to put it forward to get a good number, but a manageable number of fans to the track.

Q. Jay, this is for you. I don't fully understand this, but you're about to help me out here. What happens to things like engine life for the teams in terms of the series? Does it impact them later on by running at a non-championship event?

JAY FRYE: No. It's accounted for in the 2500 -- they get four engines at 2500 miles apiece, so this is accounted for within the full season. So it will not get them out of their allotted amount of miles, no.

Q. So it won't -- effectively, then, doesn't impact on the championship scenarios at all in that sense, does it?

JAY FRYE: No, sir. No.

Q. That's awesome. That makes the scenario of racing at Thermal even more enticing for the teams, then, doesn't it?

JAY FRYE: Yes, sir.

Q. I don't know who this question is for. I wanted to go back to Don mentioning that some of the members weren't comfortable racing. I had never heard it explained that the members would actually be in the INDYCAR race. Was that always the plan? I know they have their own race. I thought the buy-in was just a pairing that embedded them.

DON CUSICK: I can take it, if you would like.

MARK MILES: Go ahead, Don.

DON CUSICK: Yeah, so I'm sorry if I confused you on that. Originally they were going to pair a member and they were going to drive a BMW M2 comp car in the race. And so the members would have their own race, and depending upon where they finished, they would be paired with an INDYCAR driver. And depending upon where they finished, they would combine those points, and then the members would also share in part of the prize package.

But I think part of the problem became were there enough M2s and were there enough experienced drivers in those M2 cars to actually make this happen.

I think that we just didn't quite have enough time to prepare either the cars or the people for 27 individual race car drivers and race cars to drive in. So that kind of led to some of the issues.

I think if we go forward and this works and everybody wants to, I think next year we might revisit that and see how that goes.

Q. The members, though, still do have their own race this weekend?

DON CUSICK: The members are not going to race this weekend. We are going to try to put together an exhibition race featuring the Hendrick Motorsports Track Attack cars. Those are converted Gen 6 NASCARs. But that would just be a demonstration, kind of fun race for the members to participate in, and just be maybe a little ten-lap thing or something like that, something kind of fun just to fill in the space in between.

We're not sure yet. We're going to have to kind of see how it goes. But that's what we're thinking. Just so they can get a feel of what it's actually like to be out there in a competitive environment with all the INDYCAR teams around and things like that nature.

Q. Just, first of all, for Jay, in the all-star race, we have that little halftime segment, a ten-minute segment. I just wanted to know the thinking behind that. Is it so we can have closer racing the entire 20-lap race, or are there other reasons why you decided to go for that halftime segment?

JAY FRYE: A couple of different reasons. One, we wanted it to be a no-holds-barred race. So we're going to let them come in and get -- put on -- take fuel. So we'll make sure, when the cars leave for the first ten laps, they'll be full of fuel. They'll come in at the halftime, we'll make sure they're full of fuel.

There will be no fuel savings. It's no holds barred, go get 'em, push-to-pass, that type thing. So it should create a great racing environment. That's really the biggest thing.

When they come in halftime, they can't -- they will add fuel, they can adjust the wings, tire pressure, take care of the driver. But no tires. We want to see the tires, the deg. The last ten laps will be pretty interesting. Full of fuel with ten-lap tires on it and 40 seconds more push-to-pass.

Q. Maybe Mark or Jay. Obviously you're televising the practice test sessions over the week. Is that to build up hype for the event? Is there any other significant reason why nine hours of practice is being televised compared to what we've seen before historically?

JAY FRYE: Last year we did a two-day open test during February. So this is something that we always do in the preseason. We just really moved that to this weekend. The teams are still going to get their two-day open test. Then, at the end of the second day, we're going to do the qualifying piece with the two groups, and then we'll have the race on Sunday.

Again, we are fortunate to have an NBC window. We've had this idea about doing something different with an all-star kind of race. It all fit into the weekend where we can do everything all at once. So that's what we're going to do.

Q. Just for Townsend, sort of on a driver's perspective on this track, what sort of challenges might the drivers face compared to other weekends? Will the attitude change, racing for money instead of championship points? Is there any other circuits this might compare to, any other challenges that drivers might find similar to other tracks?

TOWNSEND BELL: Yeah, I think Barber Motorsports Park comes to mind in that you have quite a few corners on the circuit. Different with Thermal is that there is some really good brake zones from high speed, in-line straight brake zones that you don't have as much at Barber.

The teams have all tested there. Not every driver in the series has tested there before, so I think that's going to be fun to watch some of the rookies get accustomed to the facility.

At the end of the day, having no points to win means no points to lose. And I'm not sure in the current era we've ever seen what happens in that format. That's the curiosity I think for all of us.

None of us, as we sit here right now, can tell you with any certainty exactly how this will play out from a racing standpoint, but I also think that's the reason that so many are curious to watch, along with me, and see what the results are.

You dangle cold hard cash in front of just about anybody in a competitive environment, whether that's Mike Tyson boxing again at age 58 or 27 INDYCAR drivers with no points to lose, I think we're going to see some interesting dynamics play out. INDYCAR never disappoints.

I think, back to your earlier question, all of the testing and all of the coverage we'll have on Peacock is everybody watching from afar an opportunity to learn about the facility. It's a lot like Augusta in the Masters, right? I'll probably never have a chance to go to the Masters, but I get to tune in once a year and watch, or I live close here to Riviera Country Club and the L.A. Open. These are really, really special places that this kind of event presents a unique opportunity for everyone around the world to get a peek into a pretty magic place.

This is the kind of facility that I think Carl Fisher would build if he was alive today. It's a clean slate. It's a big vision. I think, most importantly, it's not an idea anymore. They are making it happen out there in spectacular fashion. That's why you should watch. There's just a lot of curiosity to be satisfied.

Q. A couple of questions for Mark and Jay. How big of an opportunity is this to showcase INDYCAR as a product for, like, maybe future teams or future commercial partners?

MARK MILES: My take would be we don't know exactly what will be harvested from it, but as Don has said, others have said, it's a great connection to the members, which we'll see what comes of that. It's on national television, so we have a chance to get maybe some new eyes looking at INDYCAR that might not have absent the kind of unique format for this.

I think people want to see us innovate. To do it in this way without the points on the line to us made sense. We're excited to see what comes of it.

Q. Jay, in terms of attracting potential new teams, do you think that if this happens next year, would you open the door up for maybe one-off entries?

JAY FRYE: That's a good question. Probably not because, again, when we do an open test, it's about the current full-time teams. They're required to come to open tests. The open test is basically an INDYCAR-sanctioned event. So we want that to be kind of special and kind of unique.

Obviously having -- last year was a record having 27 full-time entries for an entire season. We have 27 again this year. So it's back-to-back years of that. That's a really good thing.

We also have -- there's quite a bit of interest right now from some new teams to come in, which is great. Again, it's just kind of managing how it's all going to look for the future.

Q. Don, finally for yourself, as a member, how excited are you to have INDYCAR and for you guys to showcase Thermal for what it is with the track itself?

DON CUSICK: Yeah, well, if I was a dog, my tail would be wagging really hard. I can tell you that. It's really fun. We've been looking forward to it pretty much from the day that INDYCAR left last year in February until now.

Yeah, it's a huge event, and it's super exciting, and it's fun to be here and see it all happen. I'm looking forward to hosting people and showing them the track and being a part of this event. It's really a cool deal.

Q. This question is probably best served for Mark. I know we still have to have the event, so we can't get too far ahead of ourselves, but I think that just assuming that this goes exceptionally well for all parties involved, what do you see as maybe the potential that can come out of this from could we have this race? Would this race potentially become a points race? Could you see a scenario where this opens up beyond made for TV? What things could be in play there?

MARK MILES: The scenario you hypothesize, we hope accurately, was that this is phenomenally successful this weekend. I hope that's the case. Kind of expect that to be the case.

Then we'll just sit down and work through it. The last part of your question was sort of about the gate, the crowd. We really have to do some thinking about that. The club wasn't built for, pick a number, 20,000 spectators at an event.

What we do know is that the paddock, the teams, and the drivers love it, so I think there will be interest in being there. Exactly in what form going forward is something we have to analyze and discuss amongst ourselves and with the Rogers and perhaps input from the members after this weekend.

Q. I think it this question is mainly for Mark, maybe Jay, whoever can really answer this. You guys just touched upon it a little bit, but I think with the possible TV contract coming up, a bunch of unknowns. Obviously we didn't even have the race this weekend yet, but with The Thermal Club, all the hype that's been surrounding it so far, would you say that it's a guarantee for The Thermal Club to come back on the INDYCAR schedule in any capacity, points race, exhibition 2025, or is this it?

MARK MILES: I don't think we make hypothetical guarantees. I pretty much said what I think about it, which is I think our competitors, our team owners love being there. I expect that will be the case maybe even more so this weekend. We'll get feedback from NBC, and we'll see what the fans think.

We appreciate the work that's been done to upgrade to F2 to the track itself and posting of the resources to make this possible. I'll be real surprised if the drivers aren't happy to race for this money, as Townsend has said, and we'll see how all those ingredients come together after this weekend.

THE MODERATOR: Appreciate everybody joining us. Townsend, any closing thoughts here from our friends at NBC?

TOWNSEND BELL: Just look forward to having everybody tune in and watch. We will do our very best to satisfy all of your curiosities. If you're not there and you're watching from afar, don't be afraid to hit us up on Twitter, let us know what you want to see. I'm going to take the viewers around in between the heat races to some of these amazing -- Don, how many facilities are there now in terms of private residences? It has to be close to 100.

DON CUSICK: We have close to 100 houses. We've got a dozen or so commercial buildings that members own. Obviously you're welcome to come by and look at mine. I just bought it. Yeah, yeah, it's going to be fun.

There's going to be a party, and I can show you where the house is that it's going to be.

TOWNSEND BELL: Look forward to sharing it with you all. It's going to be a blast. In fact, my 2016 Indy 500 car is hiding in one of those complexes out there, so I'll be checking in on that and making sure it's still there. I know Don tried to slide in for a few laps a couple of weeks ago. Always got to keep an eye on the members.

THE MODERATOR: Just give us the gate code. That would be great.

DON CUSICK: No problem, no problem.

THE MODERATOR: We'll leave it there for now. Our thanks to, again, Mark, Jay, Don, Townsend. Appreciate everyone's time today. See you at the Thermal Club.
[ht: FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports]

Basically, the money is always good but nothing to hurt the car over when this may jeopardies having a stronger car in the upcoming 49th Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach and a good driver later in his career may have earned up to eight figures - a $500,000 winners purse ()in California after taxes = South of $300,000 after taxes) isn't really elbow throwin' money.

Watch for drivers and teams who thirst for braggin' rights like Romain Grosjean riding in a Juncos Hollinger prepared Chevy. 

... notes from The EDJE


TAGS: #ThermalClub, $1 Million Dollar Challenge, Mark Miles, Jay Frye, Townsend Bell, Don Cusick, NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Heat Races, 2024, @ThermalClub, @INDYCAR, #ThermalChallenge, #INDYCAR, #TheEDJE, 

Thursday, March 7, 2024

NTT INDYCAR's 2024 International Access Accelerates Visibility of North America’s Premier Open-Wheel Series

#ThermalClub North Palm Circuit front straight at the beginning of the NTT INDYCAR's first run of NTT INDYCAR SERIES 2023 Winter TestRLL's Jack Harvey leads teammate and 2022 Rookie Of The Year Christian Lundgaard, followed by Ed Carpenter Racing's Rinus Veekay, along with MSR's Rolex 24 2-time winner Simon Pagenaud, AJ Foyt Racing's Santino Ferrucci, and ECR's Conor Daly in tow of Session 1 first laps on the "Private Pavement" of The Thermal Club, site of NTT INDYCAR SERIES 2023 Winter Test. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2023)

NTT INDYCAR's 2024 International Access Accelerates Visibility of North America’s Premier Open-Wheel Series

Global accessibility remains a top priority for INDYCAR. A robust list of international broadcast partners and impactful media partnerships ensures fans in more than 220 markets and 140 countries can follow the stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

For the third consecutive season, INDYCAR LIVE, INDYCAR’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, provides fans with access to practice, qualifying and races in territories not covered by an international partner.

“Our international broadcast partners and offerings mirror the impressive growth and representation we see in the full-time field of drivers,” said Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles. “With drivers representing 15 different nations, it’s more important than ever that the fan base and audiences in those locations and beyond have access to coverage and are able to follow the unmatched action of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.”

Partnerships for the 2024 INDYCAR season include:
  • Canada’s sports leader, TSN, provides fans with comprehensive live streaming of INDYCAR action from all 18 races, including coverage of all practice and qualifying sessions on TSN+ and eight races, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the Honda Indy Toronto, via its TSN linear platform.
  • ESPN across Latin America brings live coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES to key markets, including Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, where audiences can follow four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves as he continues his “Drive for Five,” along with Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino, Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward and Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Pietro Fittipaldi.
  • Canal+ provides coverage in France for fans of Romain Grosjean.
  • Sky Sports UK, Sky Sport Germany (including Austria and Switzerland) and Sky Sport Italia continue to provide end to end INDYCAR coverage for fans in 2024.
  • Sky Sport in New Zealand continues to be the home for coverage of Kiwis Scott McLaughlin, Marcus Armstrong and six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon.
  • Australian fans of two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Will Power can follow him on streaming partner STAN Sport, while sister network Nine Network shows race highlights mid-week.
  • Movistar+ partners with INDYCAR for an eighth consecutive season, allowing fans in Spain to follow reigning and two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou as he defends his title.
  • Gaora returns to broadcast all races in Japan with special emphasis on Takuma Sato’s attempt to win a third Indianapolis 500.
  • Ziggo Sport provides coverage of countryman Rinus VeeKay to its audience in the Netherlands.
  • Viaplay continues its coverage of INDYCAR in the Nordics allowing fans to follow Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist as both embark on their first seasons with new teams, as well as the rookie campaign of Linus Lundqvist. INDYCAR fans in Denmark will be able to follow Christian Lundgaard and Christian Rasmussen.
  • Supersport provides coverage in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

“I am very pleased that INDYCAR is reaching all corners of the globe,” said Armstrong, driver of the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. “It is some of the best racing in the world, and in my opinion, the product is second to none. I’m glad that our racing and name is getting out there as much as possible.

“I’ve raced in Europe for the past 10 years, and I had always found it very enjoyable to tune in to watch INDYCAR races. Being from New Zealand, as well, I was able to tune into Sky Sports over my breaks with it on TV almost every day. This series features drivers from all over the world, and it’s only right that everyone can see how great the racing is, as well.”

The 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season begins Sunday, March 10 at noon ET with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. The start of the 2024 INDY NXT by Firestone season begins the same day, also on the streets of St. Petersburg, at 10 a.m. ET. A full list of international broadcast partners is available here.

... notes from The EDJE

TAGS: NTT INDYCAR SERIES, 2024, #ThermalClub, #Supersport, #Viaplay, #ZiggoSport, #Moviestar+, #Gaora, #SkySport, #ESPN, #TSN, #TheEDJE 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Arrow McLaren Taps Callum Ilott To Cover The Malukas No. 6 Chevy For St. Pete INDYCAR Season Opener

Two and one-half year NTT INDYCAR veteran who could not find the right deal for his services after concluding the 2023 season with Juncos Hollinger Racing, found a seat with Jota Sport hypercar in the WEC in Europe then someone got injured. David Malukas needs to heal from an off season injury so Arrow McLaren found the next best temporary shoe. Welcome back UK driver Callum Ilott. Image Credit: ZOOM Call Screengrab Edmund Jenks (2024)

Arrow McLaren Taps Callum Ilott To Cover The Malukas No. 6 Chevy For St. Pete INDYCAR Season Opener

Arrow McLaren announced Tuesday, March 5th, 2024 that Callum Ilott will be taking the wheel for the upcoming Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, stepping in for the injured David Malukas in the No. 6 Dallara-Chevrolet. Malukas, who underwent surgery on his left wrist following a mountain biking accident, is expected to be out of action for approximately six weeks.

In their official statement, Arrow McLaren noted that they are still assessing their options for future tests and races as Malukas recuperates. The team anticipates David's return to coincide with early April, prior to the Grand Prix of Long Beach but following the $1 Million Challenge exhibition race on March 24 at The Thermal Club.


Tuesday, March 5, 2024
Callum Ilott - Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: The 2024 NTT INDYCAR Series season begins this weekend in the Streets of St. Petersburg for the annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.

Arrow McLaren just moments ago announcing their driver for the No. 6 NTT Data Chevrolet this weekend as Callum Ilott makes his return to the series. This Sunday will mark Callum's 37th career NTT INDYCAR Series start and a return to the Streets of St. Pete where he finished fifth last year after starting 22nd.

Callum, thanks for hopping on with us quickly after the announcement here today. Your thoughts about returning to St. Pete, now driver of the No. 6 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren?

CALLUM ILOTT: Thank you for having me. It's great to be back. It's great to the back in the NTT Series and getting on with it with the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Really excited. It's a great race to come in for.

First off, I feel really bad for David. I hope he gets a speedy recovery and gets back in the car soon. I think he's coming to the race. We'll get to work together and get him up to speed with the team as quick as possible, and also for me, as well, I need to get up to speed.

But yeah, really grateful for the opportunity, so thanks to Zak, Gavin, Tony, the whole team and NTT Data for letting me in the car. It's going to be exciting.

Also got to give a thanks to Hertz Team Jota for allowing me to do this race. I'm very pumped to get going and give this orange car a go, or papaya.

Q. Just returning from the World Endurance Championship, finished second, so quick flight, quick turnaround, different machinery. Is your head spinning right now or do you think you'll settle in once you get to St. Pete?

CALLUM ILOTT: I don't know what continent I'm on, what time zone, but I'm ready to go, as always. But yeah, we had a great race, finished second. Yeah, solid weekend in the World Endurance Championship, so that was a great start to the year. Really enjoyed it.

Got on a plane, stopped off in the UK, collected some stuff, and flew straight on to Indy where I am now. I'm in the shop getting some last-minute prep, took some photos for you guys this morning, and off we go.

Q. Just curious, we all know that with INDYCAR, it's roughly somewhat of a spec series for the most part, but there is a difference in team size and personnel, et cetera. With that, that experience at Juncos, coming into this opportunity, where is the head space in relation to that? Where do you look at how big of an opportunity this is compared to what you had the past two years, the equipment difference, et cetera?

CALLUM ILOTT: To be honest, it's a bit of a discovery process because obviously I did the hybrid test, but I've only been in the shop for one or two days now.

The size of the team obviously is larger and more years of experience within the series, but I can't really comment on that until during the race weekend and experiencing it on that side of a full scale. Obviously it's great. The preparation is good even though I've kind of had to be in Qatar and full focus on that. But now it's obviously full focus on St. Pete.

That's increasing and ramping up, and I'm excited to see what the full scale of the operation is.

Q. When you're still kind of in, as you say, a discovery process of kind of learning some of those integral parts of the team, do you have personal expectations this weekend that might be different than what you might have had in years past, because as we know, a top 5 in a Juncos car is going to be a mega run. What are you looking at with the scope of this opportunity?

CALLUM ILOTT: It's a brand new year for everyone, so of course you don't know exactly where to start off. But in the history of Arrow McLaren, they've always been very, very strong, and St. Pete last year was also very strong.

Yeah, think there's all the opportunity to do a good job, but my focus at the end of the day is filling in and doing a solid job and leaving the weekend with no complaints. If I can be fast and up there, great. If I can finish the race and get some good points for them, that's also the goal.

Let's see where it goes into FP1, qualifying, and then the race.

Q. First of all, how important is it to you as an opportunity to really prove yourself that you can fit in at a top team with this opportunity? How important is it to just validate the work that you've done at Juncos and prove that it was a really high level that you were showing there?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, I mean, I think it kind of goes without saying that every racing driver wants to prove what they can do, and this is a perfect opportunity to do it. The test at Homestead went really well. So far gearing up to this weekend, it's all going very smoothly.

I fit in quite well in a last-minute situation. Again, I wish David all the best and he gets to be in the car as soon as possible, but I'll try and do the best job that I can within that time.

It's obviously an interesting place to be and an interesting place to see what I can do, but again, I can't really comment until I get on there, but that's the goal, right, to do as well as possible.

Q. You told us that you were going to try and be around the paddock a bit. Have you got any more info as to whether there will be other opportunities later in the year beyond this chance here to deputize at McLaren, or is it still a case of seeing what comes up?

CALLUM ILOTT: Well, I think the plan of being around and maybe jumping in a car came sooner than expected, so obviously that kind of -- I don't want to say wish, but idea has come early.

Yeah, I'll see what happens. I'm obviously quite busy with the World Endurance Championship throughout the year, but if I can make some races, we'll see what happens. But I'm around, and I'll be looking about for sure.

Q. Just a couple questions for you. Obviously in the NTT INDYCAR Series everybody gets to this level fast. They're talented race car drivers. I'm curious from a race car driver's perspective, what are some intangibles that a driver can show the team that maybe isn't reflected on a speed chart or race results, something maybe you can do behind the scenes that maybe the outside world aren't aware of?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, I mean, results are obviously a very global, quick look at what amount of effort goes into the world of sports and motorsports, and that's the thing that at the end of the day everyone wants to see.

I mean, if I look in hindsight -- if I look back at my career in INDYCAR, it was spent in a single-car team which moved to a dual-car team, and we got some amazing results in that environment and built something up from the ground. Sometimes that gets overlooked because at the end of the day results is the most important thing.

But I think that kind of work, you know how much effort you put into get that environment to the place that it is.

But overall, yeah, everyone is working super hard in every environment that they're in. I can't say that what I do or did personally is any more or any less than anyone else, but I know the efforts that I've put in in different places, and I think this is one of those little -- well, quite big rewards to get to fill in for.

Q. What is kind of the mindset or confidence level going into a ride -- obviously this isn't a full-time seat for you. You can't not be aggressive in a series as high as the INDYCAR Series, but I'm sure you don't want to make any enemies because this could be an audition for the entire paddock. How do you balance that behind the wheel this coming weekend?

CALLUM ILOTT: I think in terms of the friends, enemies type of thing, I've done two and a half years almost in this series, and people know what I am. I think in terms of one race, I'm not going to create any problems on that side.

Looking at it, yeah, my full-term commitment this year is in WEC, and that's where my full mind is, and I'm enjoying that a lot so far. We had a great start to the year.

In my books, I've already checked off a podium on that side, and I'm just looking forward to keeping the momentum and the speed with these guys here at Arrow McLaren.

Q. It's kind of a discovery process this weekend, but race rhythm is a thing, and you just raced last weekend. As you mentioned, you got a podium. You finished fifth there last year. McLaren has got good street course cars. What is the immediate goal? Do you feel a podium or top 5 is something that's achievable this weekend? Do you feel like you can use last weekend -- granted, it's a sports car, not an INDYCAR, but you've already been in race rhythm. Is that something you can use to your advantage this weekend?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, honestly, I'm in a very good space this year. I've had a great off-season, and actually kind of -- even though it's been a bit crazy the last couple weeks, a great buildup to my weekend in Qatar.

I think in looking at it, the test at Homestead helped me a lot to get the ball rolling actually in Qatar, and I think vice versa. Coming from there, I had six out of seven days on track -- maybe five out of six days on track coming here to St. Pete.

I think I'll be ready to go in terms of results. It's very difficult to say. Yes, I was competitive there last year in the race, and you'd hope that that would continue, and that's the goal. In terms of the extent of that, I don't know. We've got to see.

Really, again, like I said on the discovery side, there's a lot to learn and know, and I think a few questions will be answered by the end of the weekend.

Q. The release from the team says it's only specific to St. Pete. Have you been told or have you had any discussions about this going beyond St. Pete if David remains out for say Thermal?

CALLUM ILOTT: I think it all depends on David. Obviously he's got to -- well, you can't really work to get better, but you've got to be in the position to get better, so I hope he recovers as quickly as possible.

I am available for Thermal, but again, that's a later point whether we'll know if that's the case or not. We'll see what happens with David and the team and for the future.

Q. The initial release when Malukas was hurt indicated he could be back right before Long Beach, but I notice the WEC schedule has quite a gap past that. I know this is speculative, but if this goes well this weekend, are you thinking as long as David is out, you could be Arrow McLaren's guy in this car?

CALLUM ILOTT: I don't want to say it at all like that. I think WEC is the priority for me, and it will be for the near future.

Of course if I'm available and what's needed is me, for example, then of course I'm open to doing it.

We'll have to see what happens on that side. But I pray for David that that's not the case because you want to be in the car and you want to work with your team. I hope that he is in the car very soon because it's very tough -- I can understand -- even for me, the one race I did out of the car after the 500 in 2022, it's tough to sit and watch. I don't really wish that on anyone, especially with a new team. It's very tough.

I do feel for David, and again, want him to be in the car as soon as possible.

Q. Presuming he is back for Long Beach but this goes really well this weekend and maybe you turn some heads, I know you said you're committed to WEC this year, but beyond that if there are gaps in the schedule and you get approached by INDYCAR teams, are you treating it as you're kind of available for hire as needed?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, of course it's all up for discussion. There's a limit to what you can do in terms of travel. Of course everything has fit in quite well. I had to miss a Sebring test for the WEC stuff, but in the end the WEC race was quite good. I made the right decision on that side to -- oh, and we had the prologue moved, as well, so it wouldn't have happened anyway.

But of course if there is availability and communication goes that way, there's no reason to say no.

Q. You just mentioned it, the WEC opener obviously went outstanding for you and your team, and I think you were fastest in one of the prologue sessions, as well. I know it's a different discipline, but how much confidence did that give you to be back on the podium, to be fastest in a practice session, coming back here to INDYCAR? We all know you've shown you can contend in INDYCAR, but coming off of that great WEC showing, does that give you more confidence coming into St. Pete?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, I think so. It's been a few years, I said on an Instagram post, that I haven't been on the podium, and I know that that was always possible. I think the prologue, we came out of that P2. Qualifying in Hyper pole P3 and P3, and then the race P2, splitting the Penskes. It was a very impressive first race. The team did an amazing job and was very competitive.

I think we wish we could have got a little more out of there because P1 is always something that you want to get, but I think it was the first Hypercar podium that we had achieved as a team, and yeah, I'm really looking forward to carrying the momentum.

It's been refreshing. It's nice to go into an environment and hit the ground running, and it's also an environment that I kind of grew up in a little bit, a little bit more, so I'm hoping to bring the momentum here and see what I can do.

Q. Was curious to know how this came about. Did Zak reach out to you or was it Gavin?

CALLUM ILOTT: I think it was a bit more mutual in that sense. Obviously I saw the news -- I was actually coming out to Indy anyway for some more admin apartment stuff, and then I was going to drop away quickly, or sooner than I expected. Then I think a day or two later, the seat fit was happening, and then I think we were kind of like moving step by step on that side.

There were some things and logistics that needed to be sorted out, obviously, as it's not an easy one to deal with last minute, especially as I'm now no longer in the U.S. full time, and to be honest, I think it was with Tony that the first contact was made.

But yeah, I reached out, and it was kind of like, let's see what we can do and how we can make this work.

Q. I'm pretty sure you got to do the test. How did you feel after that?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, it was good. It was great to be back in a car. Been two or three months since I --

Q. Just physically how did it feel?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, it was good. Honestly, I did I think like 139 laps, then got straight on a plane to the UK, stopped off, got my helmet for the WEC stuff and flew to Qatar. Pretty busy, but I felt good, straight on the pace. It was like I had kind of never jumped out.

I've been driving constantly since, so I should be ready for St. Pete, no issues.

Q. Do you still have your apartment in Indianapolis?

CALLUM ILOTT: I do. I kind of extended it two weeks before I kind of knew my fate at the end of last year, so it cost me a bit more to get rid of it early, so it was actually quite convenient because I get to use it now.

Q. Having worked with the team, albeit very briefly, how beneficial is that to you going to St. Pete knowing that it's not completely brand new for you this weekend?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, it was really important to do the test, even though, yeah, I felt like I kind of hit the ground running. There's always stuff that you need to learn and how the environment works together. At the end of the day, it's such a competitive series, so any little edge you can get is good.

Yeah, it really worked out well in the timing. Of course I would have loved to do Sebring, as well, to get some more info, especially in the non-hybrid car. But yeah, it worked out super well. I'm excited to get going, and obviously they have a great history within INDYCAR, so it can only be easier with that, I would say.

Q. Have you had an opportunity to talk with Ryan-Hunter about this opportunity, and if you have, what kind of advice did he give you?

CALLUM ILOTT: No, I haven't. No, I haven't been able to speak to him.

Motorsports Journal Edmund Jenks
Q. It strikes me you were the experienced person on the previous team you were at, and now you're going to be joining a paddock that's chock full of experience. How do you feel that that's going to be come St. Pete, working with the people in the paddock, the other drivers that are easily equal? What do you expect?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, I think coming into the environment at Arrow McLaren is going to be interesting for me. It's a lot to learn. It's a bigger environment to what I was used to previously. Also to be next to Alex and to Pato is going to be cool to compare. I have a lot of respect for both of them. They're both very fast.

It's going to be good. There's going to be lots to learn. Hopefully my progress through the weekend should improve, and hopefully I can join them for a good result and good points.

Q. You've raced against these guys before, a good solid season plus. What do you think you'll be marching into in terms of learning more from them?

CALLUM ILOTT: Well, Pato is known for his speed, so that's always something that you're going to be chasing and trying to find. Alex has a lot of experience within the series. His race craft and race pace is always very strong.

I hope to learn on the racing side before we come to the race, see what little things I can find. But even afterwards, it's probably good to compare and see where you gain, where you lose, and even if it's before the weekend or after the weekend, there's a lot as a driver that you can bring with you for the future.

Q. Do you think you might get softer elbows out on the track?

CALLUM ILOTT: Well, we'll see. To be fair, I love the INDYCAR racing. It's hard but fair. St. Pete is always one that is where people get their elbows out. But at the end of the day, I proved last year that sometimes being a bit more careful in situations brings you a better finish?

So we'll have to see. It depends on the situation.

Q. Obviously being a reserve driver you're in a situation where it's essentially an audition for other part-time rides. Do you see yourself being able to secure any other part-time gigs throughout the season, whether it's in the Indy 500 or anything else that may arise in 2024, or is this solely for 2023 at this point in terms of looking for other deals?

CALLUM ILOTT: To be honest, I'm not really thinking about it. Like I said, it kind of came a bit earlier than I expected. I did think about turning up to St. Pete and then the 500 and a couple of other little ones and see what happens. But of course I'm jumping in a car in the first race of the season, and a very competitive car as it is. Yeah, I would say after this, I don't know. I might take a little break as I've got some WEC stuff coming up, and then we gear up for Le Mans. I think I can make the 500, as well.

We'll have to see. I think in terms of a -- not full-time, but a for-sure ride for the 500, it's going to be tough. I think those filled up quite quickly.

No, I'm just focusing on WEC, and if I'm available for anything else that seems convenient or I might try some other different cars and range my experience within the world of motorsports.

Q. Obviously you said earlier you're enjoying your time in the World Endurance Championship. In INDYCAR, if no opportunities arise, is your goal to stay in the INDYCAR Series or would you be content with other endeavors, just hypothetically?

CALLUM ILOTT: I mean, I've already kind of -- how would I say? I took a step away from INDYCAR to go and do the World Endurance Championship, and again, it's a professional series ride. To be honest, I just want to do what I enjoy. I enjoy it a lot. I enjoy INDYCAR a lot. Just have to see where that takes me.

But I'm not forcing anything because it just doesn't feel right. I'm kind of going with the flow.

Again, the fact that I can make all of this happen and I think so far start the year in a very nice way after the end of last year, it's great, so I'm just going to continue that momentum and keep enjoying it and keep getting results in everything I can do.

Q. Obviously you're missed because we keep bugging you about future opportunities and next year and everything like that. Clearly we want you around the paddock. I guess to touch on something that was asked earlier, I don't want to put the wagon before the horse, so to speak, but if you were to ballpark it, because you obviously made it clear that WEC is the priority, that's the program that you're putting the most emphasis on this year, and rightfully so, but if you could ballpark it, what do you think is maybe a comfortable number of races that you'd be willing to do on the INDYCAR side this year without sacrificing or feeling like you're sacrificing that program?

CALLUM ILOTT: You know, I don't want to get in the way of anything. There's a lot of preparation up until Le Mans, and I think we have some other tests maybe before COTA later on in the year.

Of course, it's convenient that the series only has seven or eight races, so it's not too strenuous on that side. It's just a lot of travel. I think the calculation I did at the beginning of the year was the possibility to make 11 or 12 INDYCAR races if I had to. Of course that's a lot of traveling for me to do.

I'm just going to see what's convenient on that side. If I have to do 11, 12, that's what I'll have to do. If I can manage with three, four, five, that's what I'll do, as well. I'm just playing it by ear. I don't think I expected to go to St. Pete about a month ago, so now that's happening, and I can't complain.

Q. Obviously Arrow McLaren announced there was going to be this strategic alliance with Juncos. Were you already in discussions with McLaren back then?

CALLUM ILOTT: Yeah, so when there is, shall we say, some shifts in the market, obviously I had some contact with Zak to see what was going on. There was the understood kind of development of a partnership between Juncos, and at that point it seemed quite sensible to keep things as it was. So I had that communication established, which is why I think it was quite easy to get the ball rolling to do St. Pete a couple of weeks ago.

Q. Clearly INDYCAR feels like home to you, I can tell. Smile, expressions. I remember a couple of years ago in the media center I remember you talking about how it felt right to you to stay with Juncos. Why do you keep wanting to go back to INDYCAR? What about this series do you like that even with WEC and full-time abilities over there, you still want to come back? What about the INDYCAR Series feels like home for you and makes you want to keep coming back for more?

CALLUM ILOTT: You're putting a lot of plurals on there. This isn't like I had to come back.

No, to put it simply, I felt that maybe it was slightly premature, what happened end of last year. It's life, and you have to find the best situation for yourself and work with that, and to be fair, I'm very fortunate to be in a super competitive seat with Hertz Team Jota and hit the ground running on that, and we're second in the championship, World Endurance Championship, straight away, which is great, and then to get the ball rolling in the first weekend of INDYCAR with Arrow McLaren, I can't complain.

It's pretty exciting on that side.

This opportunity just felt right, I think, for me, and for the team, it was very convenient to kind of get it working. I think we're in for a good exciting weekend in St. Pete.

From my side, yeah, again, maybe it was premature. I obviously did try and stay in the NTT INDYCAR Series for this year, and I was kind of unsuccessful at making that happen. I very quickly found another seat which just felt right in the World Endurance Championship.

I think in some ways, it's a shame that I didn't quite make a full-time ride work. If things would have happened maybe a bit earlier, I wouldn't have had a problem. But again, I made something work, so I can't complain about it at all, and I'm super happy to do.

It's a good place, and again, I can't have wished for more at the moment. I'm getting to do some exciting things this year.

Q. More so on competition, is there just something about the competition levels of the NTT INDYCAR Series that just brings the best out of you, brings the most out of a race car driver that it's hard to find and replicate that in other areas of the world? Competition-wise, is it just something that suits you that you just want more of, per se?

CALLUM ILOTT: I mean, yes, it suits me. If I'm going to summarize it, I think it's been a tough two and a half years to really show what I want to show. I've showed potential in a lot of areas, but it hasn't quite paid off in the way that I wanted it to.

I think there's something about that that keeps making me want to come in and just go like, this is what I've been talking about, and hopefully that can happen sooner rather than later.

Yes, of course the championship is super competitive, and there's a lot of variability, and the range of tracks that we go to as a series is tough to stay on top of. But yeah, I think as soon as I move away, I seem to get the ball rolling again and get some results, and I come back here and I want to keep proving what I can show in my history of racing.

THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and leave it there for now. Callum, thank you so much for your time here today.
[ht: FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports]

... notes from The EDJE


TAGS: NTT INDYCAR SERIES, #ThermalClub, Callum Ilott, Arrow McLaren, St. Pete, 2024 Season, David Malukas, No. 6 Chevy, The EDJE