Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly in the No.20 BitNile Chevrolet says that a late-night call from AJ Foyt Racing Team President Larry Foyt led to his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES test at Sebring at the end of 2012.
Paddock Eye sat down with Daly on Wednesday before his 100th career start at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend.
You are making your 100th career INDYCAR start; tell me about the first time you drove an INDYCAR. How did the test come about?
Yeah, well, that’s a long time ago now. I was racing in the MRF Championship in India at the time in 2012, and Takuma Sato was driving for AJ Foyt Racing at the time, I guess there was a visa issue, or he had some issue getting into the country, and they had a test in December at Sebring, and so Larry Foyt called me in the middle of the night when I was in India and asked me if I could do the test, and obviously, I was g to make that happen for sure, we were going to try and make that happen and basically I was going to finish the test in India or no, finish the racing championship in India at the end of November, I think it was the month of November we spent there and fly back to America and do a seat fit, and then we were testing and so yeah, pretty cool to be able to do that. My dad was down there, my mum had sown some INDYCAR logos onto a suit to make it look official. That was kind of how it all started in Sebring end of 2012.
Fast forward a couple of months, and you are making your first INDYCAR start with AJ Foyt Racing at the biggest race in the world. Did you have added pressure, given that you were racing for a legend of our sport?
No, not really. At the time, they liked what they saw in the test. They wanted to make something happen with me, but all they had at the time was that extra seat for the 500, and it was very cool for me because it was something that was like, hey, we have the deal with ABC Supply, and we want to pay you to drive our car.
They clearly wanted me to be there as a driver, so that’s important. It was just cool to do that. I think, obviously, being a third car at Foyt, we were never expected to be super successful, but I had Ray Layto as my really good engineer, and that was a really good learning experience for me so, So it was really about gaining knowledge and obviously, I made a mistake and crashed in practice, but the race went pretty good for what we had and what we did, from being on fire several times in the race, it was a learning experience for me, and I enjoyed it.
Excluding the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, what track on the calendar is your favorite and why?
Yeah, that’s a good question! Excluding the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I like all the ovals; I love Iowa and St Louis. Texas is very much hit or miss.
This year, I didn’t enjoy it for us; you have to have the car in the right window there to enjoy racing at Texas, but in Iowa and Gateway, you seem to be able to do more as a driver there. The car still has to be great for you to have a good day, but it seems to have worked me into better windows there in qualifying and the race in St Louis.
Regarding road and street courses, I like St Pete as a track. I do like the event but other than that, the road and street course. It used to be Detroit, but that’s a different track now, so we are unsure what’s going on there. I enjoy Mid-Ohio as well. It just depends on how well you do at these places.
Any place can be good as long as you do well.
If you could drive any race car from history, what car would you pick and why?
It’s funny, you know, I get people always asking me if I would drive my dad’s old F1 cars, and I don’t like them as they are unsafe. I don’t have a need to drive an old car, to be honest. I prefer to look at them; they look great if someone’s driving them, and that’s awesome. As old as I would go, I drove the Champ Car, the DP07, which was awesome. That was a really cool car to drive.
Jimmie Vasser’s team at the time, KV let me drive their DP01, the last generation of Champ Car, which was awesome, I thought that was cool. and that’s as much as I would like to do when it comes to historic racing cars.
What has been your career highlight to date of your 99 starts?
I mean, honestly, I think there are several moments, Detroit, my very first ever street race when I drove the No.5 car subbing for Hinch, I thought leading right out of the gate, my first ever street course race, that made a big statement. We really almost had a shot at winning that race if we didn’t get taken out by Hunter-Reay in the first race and even the second race, you know, fuel strategy-wise, we were in a great spot to potentially win that but you know, finished sixth. That was still really good for my very first race.
So I think there are small moments, the pole at Iowa I think is a big moment for me. It was the first pole for a team that was still essentially new with Carlin and went and out-qualified everyone. That’s huge for me and that team. It’s a big moment. I think of small things, qualifying in the Fast 12 with Harding Racing at Toronto when again that team had nowhere near the equipment of anyone else. Leading the Indianapolis 500, was a big moment for me. The podium is amazing to look back at because the rookie year we were on the podium coming second, close to winning.
I should have been on the podium at Watkins Glen but finished fourth, we ran out of fuel crossing the line. There are a lot of moments that rookie year. So, there are many things to look back on that I am really proud of again that the casual Wikipediers will not be able to find in those types of websites.
Looking ahead to this weekend, what are your expectations both for yourself and as a team?
Well last year, honestly we had a pretty decent race. We didn’t have the qualifying pace at Long Beach clearly, both Rinus and I. We both struggled overall pace-wise but during the race last year, we, I guess surprised ourselves with the pace we had, running near the top ten and I think we finished 11th or 12th or maybe somewhere near there and that was after having a huge catch and thankfully we didn’t spin the car trying to avoid Jimmie Johnson late in the race.
I think we want to be in the top ten It’s hard for us to really ask for more unless the things that we try at this track make a large improvement for us mechanically but yeah, we want to be in the top ten and have a good race day and stack away some points leading into May which is hopefully where we will really do well.
What do you put ECR’s recent success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway down to, is it the car set-up?
Honestly, it’s the track surface. It has a such high grip that it works really well with our car so I think that is a unique track compared to any other track that we go to as well and it works well with the tire there for us. We’ll take it! Honestly, we want to be better there than anyone else. We have been able to dial what we like at the Indy GP circuit and then obviously at the oval the last few years I have found a good package there that has been good to me in the races.
There has been from INDYCAR recently about going to new venues like returning to Milwaukee or even going to Argentina; what are your thoughts on that?
Both of those places would be really good. I spoke to Agustin Canapino in the autograph line at Texas and he said that there is a real buzz around the race track in Argentina so that is exciting for the series.