Callum Ilott heads to the final of the 2018 GP3 Series off the back of a mixed weekend at the Macau Grand Prix.
Despite having a year out Formula 3 machinery Ilott returned for a one-off appearance at the prestigious race.
The Ferrari Driver Academy member was rewarded with third and seventh. Driving for his former team Carlin, Ilott was competitive from the outset in a car he has not raced in twelve months.
“I’ve enjoyed coming back to F3 and racing these cars one more time,” said Ilott. “After a strong quali and the podium on Saturday, Macau showed again how unpredictable it can be on Sunday when we just didn’t have the pace of earlier in the week.”
Despite a scare when Ilott had to make a miraculous avoidance of Marino Sato who was sideways across the track at Police after crashing.
In the end, Ilott ended second lining up alongside eventual winner Dan Ticktum.
“I was halfway through braking for Police corner when the yellow flag was shown.
“I saw a gap but it was tight, especially as the rear of the car is wider. Somehow, and I’m still not quite sure how, I squeezed through.”
At the start of Saturday’s qualification race, the Ferrari junior tucked in behind Ticktum at the start before pulling off a stunning move around the outside of Mandarin Curve which saw him take the lead.
Oversteer on the exit of the tight Lisboa meant Ilott ran very close to the barrier but maintained the position.
“I had a good start and got into the lead but Dan was fast and towed past a lap later and I was back to P2.”
There was further drama when on lap three, a stray dog on track forced a safety car period.
“Macau is unpredictable!” added Ilott. “I saw the dog but I was clear. It was closer to Dan.”
At the restart, Ilott put up a robust defence to hold off both Joel Eriksson and Sacha Fenestraz but the Swede found a way past.
Ilott, held on from the pressure of Fenestraz to secure third place.
“It was good to be back on the podium. We lacked a bit of speed but with changes planned to the car, I felt all was to play for on Sunday,” claims Ilott.
It was a less successful start for Ilott on Sunday, who dropped two places. On the long run to Lisboa, Ilott was back up to fourth but was hemmed in on the outside and slipped back to fifth.
The Briton then found himself up against the FIA European Formula 3 champion Mick Schumacher and edged ahead of the German.
“I bogged down at the start and was trying to find some space, ending up on the outside. It was very close with Mick but it was clean from both sides,” said Ilott.
The race was then red-flagged for over an hour after a serious incident involving Van Amersfoort Racing‘s Sophia Flörsch.
“Everyone was concerned about Sophia and those behind the barrier. My thoughts are with her, the marshals, photographers and everyone else involved.”
When the action resumed, Ilott fought his way back up to sixth before the safety car was out again after Enaam Ahmed crashed.
This time, into Lisboa the Carlin driver was hit hard from behind and only just avoided ending up in the wall.
“It was a big knock but the main issue today was a lack of power to be able to tow back to the cars in front,” added Ilott who slipped to seventh by the flag. “This year it didn’t go my way but that is the special appeal of Macau and why it has drawn me back year after year. I enjoyed working with the guys at Carlin again too. The main thing now is how Sophia is and I’m thinking of her, her family and all those involved.”
The Briton now heads directly to Abu Dhabi to conclude his GP3 campaign where he currently lies third in the standings – his highest championship position in single seaters.