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Q&A with rising F3 star, Callum Ilott

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May 25, 2017
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After an amazing start to the 2017 FIA European Formula 3 Championship, young British racing driver Callum Ilott spared a few minutes to chat about being a modern day racing driver.

Adrian Flux Insurance: What made you want to become a racing driver?

Callum Ilott: It all started with my Dad. He was into motorsport but only really as an enthusiast, he didn’t race. He worked in London and he’d commute on the train to his office. The line from Bishops Stortford goes right past the Rye House kart track. He thought as I liked cars, that I’d like to have a go in a kart. We didn’t have any idea of what you needed to do so we just turned up one day. I was about 7 at the time and we went down as a family to find out if I could have a drive. We wangled a run in a rental kart and from that moment, I just loved everything about it.

AFI: When did you realise you were actually very good at it?

CI: Definitely not straight away! At the start we were just doing it for fun, just lads and dads. As I said we weren’t a motorsports family so once we actually began competing, we were on a steep learning curve. Race karts aren’t really like the karts you find at indoor centres. They require more setting up and tuning, highly strung is a good description! The life of a race engine before you must pull it apart is very, very short; measured in hours. It’s complex but we found some good people to help. After a little while, we started to get results and looked to race further afield, a bit more in Europe. I was a bit younger than some of the guys in the categories but once you start beating the more experienced karters, then you start to believe and then nothing should stop you.

ilott in crowd

AFI: Do you ever get chance to switch off from racing – even when you’re dreaming?

CI: Yes, but as we’ve progressed, that time to switch off has become shorter and shorter. We’ve got all the usual things like testing, racing, sim work, training, nutrition as well as engineering activities at the workshops. Social media and the like means you are much more ‘on’ than ever as drivers. Now my studies are on hold, I’m doing more motorsport-related work too. For example, I’m heading to Monaco to work at a VIP event at the Grand Prix next week and I’ve got some coaching days planned.

Away from the track, we’ve just got a new puppy at home, a French Bulldog that the Adrian Flux guys have been following. We’re at the ‘trying to house train it’ phase which is driving my Mum mad as I’ve been travelling a lot and not been around as much to help……

I definitely don’t switch off when dreaming either as I have a reputation for holding full blown racing conversations in my sleep!!

AFI: What’s your dream road car?

CI: It’s probably a LaFerrari. It’s a V12 hybrid Ferrari with something like 950bhp. Epic so I’d pick that.

AFI: How much of the job is a sport, and how much is business?

CI: It’s increasingly a business. It gets more business-focussed as you move up the ladder for sure. That’s natural; it becomes more expensive, it is no longer a hobby but a profession and every single aspect of a driver is considered by the team. For them it is their livelihood to. Teams no longer see who is the quickest but who offers the best ‘package’. For example, can a driver bring a budget or a big sponsor? Do they have a good social media following that sponsors can leverage? Can you work with the team and support the other drivers? These and lots of other factors come in to play. Having said that when the race starts, for me the sporting element returns. It’s emotional as you race, win or lose as a team. We’ve had all of that this year and going through the highs and lows builds the relationship with your engineers and team manager.

AFI: Should a driver keep the same helmet design through their career?

CI: I actually changed my helmet design from a black background to white for this season so I have to say yes don’t I? I’ve got a great helmet painter; Mike Fairholme. He paints my Arai helmet, my preferred brand since I started karting and the one that I trust. Mike has helped me develop and refine the design. Each year we’ve made little tweaks but I’ve tried to keep the core design using stylised versions of the letters in my surname, the ‘I’s being the go faster zig zags on the side.

Ilott helmet

I do think the fans like to see drivers make changes to the helmets sometimes, maybe a one-off race or to mark an occasion. I know Lewis’ competition for fans to design his helmet had huge interest. Change can be good!

AFI: Which race do you think would be hardest to win – Le Mans 24 hour, Indy 500, or Monaco F1 GP?

CI: I haven’t driven in any of them (yet!) so I’m probably not the best placed person to answer. Le Mans is so tough on the driver, team and car, with so many more variables that would be very tough. For Monaco, overtaking means it is very tough to be able to win. You have to be on the front row or have some luck with a safety car or pitstops. Indy 500 is a very different discipline. It’s been fascinating to watch Alonso approach the race this year. It would be a fairy-tale if he could win that for McLaren. Might mean a spare seat in F1 too….

AFI: How physical is it to race a single seater?

CI: It really depends on the type of single seater. In the junior categories, the cars don’t generate much downforce and run on narrow tyres. An F3 car does generate quite bit of aero but it’s not a physical car to drive like say, an F2 car. The F2 spec car I tested in Abu Dhabi last year was another step up; it’s more power and no power steering. So, you need good overall aerobic fitness along with neck, leg and arm strength to get the best out of it. I’ve spent this last winter focussing on strength training and we’ve now got this Ninja-warrior-like climbing frame apparatus to work on. This is definitely helping me build upper body strength.

Ilott in single seater

AFI: Who are your inspirations, within motorsport and away from motorsport?

CI: In motorsport I’ve got to say it is Billy Monger. Billy and me karted together and to see how he has responded to his accident beats anything I’ve seen on track for inspiration. His approach and spirit is mind blowing. Nothing else compares to that.

AFI: What’s your ultimate goal?

CI: My goal is to race in F1, it has been my aim since that trip to Rye House and I will be doing everything I can to get there. This year is key to achieving that; my aim is to win the championship to take me to F2. We’ve started the year well and after Pau, we are very much in the mix. It’s a tight championship with four of us in the hunt now. I must do everything I can to win. I’ve got a great team to support me and special thanks to people such as Adrian Flux for investing in me and in motorsport in general. It’s really appreciated. Maybe one day I’d be keen to chase the Triple Crown too – seeing Alonso make his mark on Indy 500 is fascinating, and let’s face it doing Le Mans would be very cool.

ilott podium

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