IndyCar: Could another driver make an ‘Alex Palou’ move?

Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Juncos Hollinger Racing’s statement following the death threats aimed at Callum Ilott indicate that Ilott should consider a move elsewhere for the 2024 IndyCar season.

For the second time in the 2023 IndyCar season, Callum Ilott faced a barrage of insults and death threats from fans of Juncos Hollinger Racing teammate Agustin Canapino following their contact late in the season finale at Laguna Seca last month.

The driver of the No. 77 Chevrolet went on to finish in a career-high-tying fifth place, while the driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet fell from a potential podium position to finish in 14th, which was still enough to place the No. 78 team in the Leaders Circle (top 22) to secure its season-ending $910,000 payout.

The first instance of abuse came back in April following their on-track incident during the race on the streets of Long Beach, California. Ilott put out a statement, and both the team and Canapino supported him and made clear that there is no place for such treatment in IndyCar.

But this time around, Juncos Hollinger Racing waited to make a statement, and when they did, it was nothing more than a “let’s move on” type of message.

Let’s keep it real. With all due respect, this statement is not a condemnation of those death threats. Honestly, what do these remarks even mean?

Unlike other recent instances of individuals and sports organizations speaking out against death threats and calling out the individuals behind them, including Colorado football head coach Deion Sanders and the Minnesota Vikings, this “statement” was not in any way, shape, or form supportive of the driver being targeted.

This was a weak attempt at ignoring the situation to control the damage — and to prioritize a pair of $910,000-paying Leaders Circle top 22 finishes in the entrant standings — over the mental health and well-being of one of their top employees, and above all, a human being who happens to represent the organization — and does so quite well — on and off the race track.

I respect Ricardo Juncos and what he has done to bring his small team to IndyCar and to compete with the frontrunners this quickly, thanks in part to the addition of Williams Formula 1 shareholder Brad Hollinger as a co-owner.

This was a team that was out of sight, out of mind, for several years, even after their David vs. Goliath upset over McLaren and Fernando Alonso in 2019 Indy 500 qualifying, so to get Leaders Circle money with both drivers, one who scored a pair of top five finishes and another a rookie who entered the year as one of the top picks not to finish inside the top 22, is no small feat.

But the fact is, the death threats do overshadow it. You can’t just brush that aside and expect it to go away, especially not in a day and age when anybody can seemingly say whatever the heck they want to from behind their screen on social media with absolutely no consequences whatsoever.

It’s why such threats are more common now than they’ve ever been, but it’s also why it’s more important now than it ever has been to put an end to them and make clear that they will not fly.

The team — and Canapino himself — supported Ilott after the situation in April, when Argentian fans ruthlessly targeted Ilott and sent hundreds if not thousands of death threats his way.

Perhaps they thought that speaking out against it once was enough?

Either way, Ilott may want to reconsider his future, because driving for a team not willing to go further than basically saying “be nice” in publicly supporting their driver at all costs might not be in his best interest moving forward.

In an effort to give the team the benefit of the doubt, we can hope that this recurring situation was addressed with Ilott behind the scenes. After all, it’s been about a month since the season ended, and nothing more has been said, so we’re going to assume that everybody is at least somewhat on the same page.

Ilott was said to have signed a multi-year contract extension with the team last summer, but even he wasn’t clear on the details of his contract and whether or not it contained any potential options or out clauses.

When asked a few months ago if he would be back behind the wheel of the No. 77 Chevrolet, he simply stated that he didn’t know.

To this day, there has not been formal confirmation that he will indeed drive that car for a third season next year, even though he said last month that he expects to be back.

But even if he does have a contract for 2024, should he make a move to end it, especially if Canapino is also back?

I’m sure Alex Palou would be willing to supply some tips, given his contract drama involving himself, Zak Brown’s team, and Chip Ganassi Racing over the last year and a half.

The only question would be, if Ilott does decide to cut ties with Juncos Hollinger Racing, which have ironically just formed a technical partnership with Arrow McLaren in an effort to continue their competitive push, where would he go?

Quite a few of the top seats are already taken, including all of the Chip Ganassi Racing seats as well as the seat that Palou had been expected to land at Arrow McLaren.

But there is an open seat at Andretti Global, and while the team did lose longtime primary sponsor DHL after the 2023 season, they recently announced that they will no longer be seeking any pay drivers. Whether or not that means they run a fourth car again remains to be seen, but if they do, Ilott would be an ideal fit.

He is a top-tier driver who deserves more than to run in the top five every few months for a team whose public support for him against a demented social media mob was questionable at best.

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Threats aside, given the fact that we don’t even know if Juncos Hollinger Racing will be able to afford two cars in 2024, it could be best for him to break away sooner rather than later anyway. However, our best guess is that he will stay, and that could still work out well for him, specifically amid the team’s new alliance with Arrow McLaren.