INDIANAPOLIS – After five years of wondering, what if, Conor Daly finally got his chance that everyone wanted and that’s a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series opportunity for the 2016 season. Daly, grew up vying to work for a Formula One seat, but when the funding dried up, he came back to the United States wanting to prove he’s worthy of a full-time IndyCar seat.
Daly, made 26 starts in two seasons at the Star Mazda level from 2009-2010 where he won the ’10 championship and finished third as a rookie in ’09. He had eight career victories in that series with seven of them coming in his championship winning year in 2010. In fact, he finished on the podium in 12 of his 13 races in 2010.
That led him to Europe for GP2 and GP3 action, but in the meantime, he also made six Indy Lights appearances with a second place finish in his first ever start in 2011 and a victory in his third start that year at Long Beach. He had three podiums overall in six tries.
Also, he ran in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 for A.J. Foyt Racing where he finished 22nd. With the Indiana native back in the States, he deserved a ride from 2014 on. Instead, he made fill-in appearances as he had one practice session for Dale Coyne Racing at Long Beach in 2015 and finished an impressive 17th. He then filled in for James Hinchcliffe in four races that year and finished sixth in the rain at Belle Isle.
Everyone knew he was ready and could be the next great American IndyCar driver.
Well, he finally got that chance this past season as he drove the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. This year, Daly shined as a rookie as he had five top 10’s including a second and sixth place finish in the Belle Isle doubleheader weekend. With how fast he was and being one of the top Honda drivers overall in 2016, everyone assumed he’d be back for 2017. But, with Sebastien Bourdais being signed by DCR on Wednesday and Dale saying there’s a list of drivers he has for the second seat, Daly’s future with the team is now uncertain.
If he doesn’t remain with DCR for 2017, what are his options then?
I think the favorite is Ed Carpenter Racing replacing Josef Newgarden. Team owner Ed Carpenter wants a young American with a little bit of experience that he can groom and grow into a driver like Newgarden was for them. Well, Daly is the perfect fit.
Daly, has the talent and potential of Newgarden and can drive for them without much of a drop off. In fact, given him two years in that seat and he can be what Newgarden was if not better.
Also, think of the connections there too. Daly is the step son of Doug Boles, the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Carpenter, is the step son of Tony George, former President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the new Chairman of the Board for IMS. It’s a perfect match.
Then, there’s the Jonathan Byrd’s/Fuzzy’s Vodka connection to the drivers. Fuzzy’s is the current sponsor at ECR and Jonathan Byrd’s was Daly’s sponsor for 2016. If they choose to follow Daly, the Indiana company can sponsor an Indiana driver with an Indiana based team and join another Indiana sponsor too.
It’s THE perfect match.
But, if Daly and ECR don’t work out, he would be great with Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. SPM has expressed interest in having a third car for 2017 and Daly would be a great fit there too. He’s a roommate and best friend to James Hinchcliffe, SPM’s lead driver, and those two would work great together as teammates.
Also, Daly made five of his six Indy Lights starts with SPM as well as four of his six IndyCar starts prior to 2016. It’s another perfect fit.
If not those two, then a return to A.J. Foyt Racing could be in the cards as could KVSH’s seat. Also, don’t count out Andretti Autosports’ fourth seat either.
Daly will have options. I think we will see him in a better ride for 2017.