INDIANAPOLIS – Multiple reports started circulating that Conor Daly wouldn’t be returning to AJ Foyt Racing in 2018. Daly, has since confirmed that move on Wednesday. That means for the second straight year, Foyt will have two new drivers in their cars. To me, that’s a huge mistake.
First off, Daly and Carlos Munoz proved that maybe it wasn’t all Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth’s fault with Foyt. It appeared that the lack of success was likely more car and engineer driven than on the driver.
In 2015 and 2016, Sato and Hawksworth combined to have just one top five finish and 12 top 10’s. 2016 saw no top five and two of those top 10’s. So, after adding a new engineering staff to revamp the team for the 2016 season, Foyt went with two new drivers for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Unfortunately, it took some time before Daly and Munoz had some success.
But, again that was on the team not the drivers.
The top management of Foyt admitted that the late switch from Honda to Chevrolet in the offseason between 2016 and 2017 put them in a huge hole. It meant relearning a whole new car and the newly vamped engineering team to learn a whole new engine in a short amount of time. See, they didn’t announce the move until way late in the offseason. They had virtually no test time to learn each other.
So, what do you expect?
Two new drivers working with new engineers who are working with a new manufacturer for not just the car but the engine and all the parts too. Plus, the two new drivers were new to setting up their own cars. Munoz, relied heavily on Ryan Hunter-Reay’s setup with Andretti Autosport. Daly, had limited experience in the series.
They struggled out of the gates, but Daly really started catching fire at the end of the season. All it took was a test at Mid-Ohio and July and boom, they all learned from each other. It was the test that really got the team to gel and get valuable information.
Daly, had one top 10 finishes through his first 12 starts with the team. But, in his first start since that Mid-Ohio test, he came home 10th at the exact same track as the test. It was one of his best qualifying efforts of the season too.
Then, in the next start at Pocono, Daly finished 14th. But, that wasn’t indicative as how well he ran that day. Unfortunately, Daly had a pit road mistake which cost him valuable track position. He’d made up for it over the final three races though.
Daly, finished fifth at Gateway, 11th at Watkins Glen and 10th at Sonoma. That was four top 11 finishes over the last five races of the season. He had one in the first 12. It really seemed that Daly was finding his groove and getting comfortable and the team was making up for lost time in the offseason. While Munoz wasn’t having the same success at Daly, he too was still improving. He finished 10th in the Indy 500 for crying out loud.
Then, last month happens and the team signs Tony Kanaan. I get that move as he brings in valuable experience to lean on for the new car and a veteran voice and presence for the organization. But, to not retain either Daly nor Munoz for the second car is a crime and a harsh reality on why Foyt can’t get over the hump and return to competitive nature. They fumbled this decision and it’s one that will haunt them.
Daly, is a popular American racer and one that can be a champion is given the chance. He started showing glimpses on what Foyt could look like next year. Now, the team will have to relearn a whole new car and the engineering department learn a whole new driver.
Kanaan could have helped Daly thrive even further. I would have liked to seen Daly given a multi-year contract like Kanaan so he can race without looking over his shoulder. Now, he’s shelved for a rumored Indy Lights driver with zero INDYCAR experience.
Doesn’t add up to me.