British racing driver Callum Ilott secured his fourth victory of the 2017 season with a commanding lights to flag victory of 7.3 seconds for Race Two at the Zandvoort circuit. This victory highlighted what might have been a great weekend had qualifying results better reflected Ilott's competitive speed.
With securing a good grid position critical for success at the Zandvoort track, Ilott was right in the mix for pole in Friday’s Qualifying on a circuit where many struggled for grip on parts of the newly resurfaced track. Underlining this, on his final push lap, Ilott was over three tenths up and looking good for pole, only for traffic at the hairpin to stymy his opportunity, leaving him a disappointing fifth for Saturday’s race.
In dry conditions for Race One, Ilott made a good getaway and sweeping around the outside at Turn One, was swiftly up to fourth. Ilott’s start was however stunted by an early safety car to recover the upturned David Beckmann from the gravel. On the restart, compromised by his track position and wary of not making contact with his teammate Maxi Gunther, rival Habsburg was able to retake the place from Ilott. Undaunted, Ilott tried valiantly to get back up to fourth and a daring move around the outside the Tarzanbocht only just failed to stick, leaving Ilott fifth at the end with a haul of 10 points.
Qualifying for Races Two and Three on Saturday afternoon saw Ilott fighting once again for a front row slot. Yellow flags and then a red flag were shown following an off track excursion by the Carlin driver Jehan Deravala leaving time on the clock for only two fast laps. Ilott immediately put in a lap good enough for P2 and on his last lap improved in both sector one and sector two before being forced to lift for yellow flags shown as Beckmann left the track. The lap ending over four tenths down on his previous best.
The FIA stewards subsequently investigated more than half the drivers for not slowing under yellows flags and imposed 2 place grid penalties and 2 license penalty points on those they felt had not lift and slowed sufficiently. This led to a flurry of penalties and Ilott, who had, according to the stewards “made a concerted effort and a visible and audible lift off the throttle," was promoted to pole for Race Two. Knowing that a clean start was crucial for victory, Ilott ensured he delivered and built a substantial lead ahead of the pack within the first four corners. An early safety car threatened to derail Ilott’s best intentions but ultimately he was never headed in a lights-to-flag masterclass, pulling a half second gap on the majority of the laps to take the chequered flag.
“I knew that the restart was important, I pushed as early as I could, accelerating from the last chicane,” says Ilott. “The team gave me a great car and I knew I had the pace to win.” In the end, Ilott finished a massive seven seconds ahead of his rival and topped off his success with the race’s fastest lap.
After the success of Race Two, there was disappointment in the final encounter with Ilott unable to capitalise on a great opening lap. Ilott started from seventh on the grid having had his second best qualifying lap deleted for improving his time in sector two despite the stewards acknowledging he had lifted to slow right at the end of the sector. He then made another superb getaway to leapfrog to fifth before having to pit to replace a loose front wing. The stop cost Ilott any real chance of reaching the points paying positions but undaunted and ready to capitalise on any potential safety car, Ilott pushed hard, claiming another fastest lap before pitting again and forcing an early retirement.
“Another strong victory is fantastic but I’m gutted that we couldn’t make the most of the pace we had to get more in Holland,” adds Ilott. “It’s a mark of how far we have come and how tough this season is that one win isn’t enough both for the championship and for me personally. We have however, closed the gap to third in the championship and I won’t give up on my original season goal of winning the championship. Nürburgring is next and as the scene of my first podium, it’s a favourite track of mine. It will be an all-out push to close the gap further.”