Ilott dodges Laguna tripwires en route to fifth

Apparently, the road to an IndyCar top-five finish is pretty straightforward. First you start from 20th on the grid, and then work through a shopping list of tripwires.

"I had a broken front wing, I was spun around twice, I was off the road at Turn 10…" relates Juncos Hollinger Racing's Callum Ilott. "I took some damage on a restart and had a bent rear and was fighting it like crazy, so that's why I kept going off the track. And I was right on the limit with fuel –I ran out right after I crossed the line. It was crazy."

Ilott matched his career-best IndyCar finish of fifth in Sunday's chaotic season finale at Laguna Seca. The list of random setbacks that he had to navigate during the afternoon were perhaps offset to some degree by the fact that just about every other driver in the field was dealing with an array of dramas of their own. But on the flipside, the No. 77 team had gone into the race planning on a two-stopper, and the early cautions played into their hands.

"I knew when we had the first pit stop that the strategy we decided was coming to life," he told RACER. "What we were thinking was, if there was an early yellow we'd take it and try to do a two-stop. And that was working — I think we were second out of the cars doing that strategy.

"I was saving fuel the whole race. So from when I had to do the front wing at the first caution, there was a big (fuel) number to the end, basically. It was all going well, then there was an earlier caution than we would have liked, and then I was getting fuel saving to that point.

"It's good points. We could have got a bit more because unfortunately the contact got past me because (Scott) Dixon got past me. It is what it is; it's IndyCar racing, and a top five is still good. It's a great result for us. We could have got a bit more, but it also could have been a lot worse."

Sunday's race will be remembered as much for the seemingly endless chain of incidents that punctuated the race as for anything else. The challenges presented by the different levels of grip across the new track surface were very apparent right from the start of the weekend, but according to Ilott, a bigger problem emerged during the race.

"(The track) was OK to overtake, but if you got to the mid-corner and you were still on the outside, you were in trouble," he said.

"I think one of the bigger problems was, on the restarts everybody had cold brakes, everybody had cold tires, and having everybody concertina up into that last corner was super tough. No one could brake, really, so I don't blame anybody… even me, I got spun around by (Will) Power, I think."