As a second generation driver Conor Daly used information and hard work to make a name for himself in Indaycar.
Mecca of Speed: Your career started with a great run in go-karts, are you still involved in karting at any level?
Conor Daly: Literally nothing, I don’t even own a go-kart. My dad sold all of our stuff. I would love to have a go-kart again. The only race I do is the RoboPong 200 in New Castle. That is an awesome race, it’s the most fun event of the season. I try to do it every year if I can. It all just depends on who I can get to bend and get into their go-kart.
Mecca of Speed: You worked through the Indycar feeder series of Pro Mazda and then Start Mazda, how did that prepare you for the Indycar series?
Conor Daly: It was a really good preparation system. After completing the Skip Barber series, which was the first rung of the ladder, it helped fund moving up to the next level, Pro Mazda. After winning Pro Mazda that helped fund moving up to the next level in 2011.
There is no other system in the world that helps propel young drivers through if they are the best and win the championship. You win one series and your next year in the next series up is funded. The most difficult thing in motor racing is finding the money to race.
Every step of the way is a good jump up. Now with USF2000 as the starting rung you have a great car to learn the mechanical side of racing. When you get to Pro Mazda you learn more about aerodynamics and greater speed. Then moving to Indy Lights you find yourself in a great car. It’s one of the best junior formula cars out there.
Mecca of Speed: As you climbed up the series and learned more about aerodynamics did that knowledge from the lower series easily transfer to the current Indycar?
Conor Daly: As you go along there is more and more you learn in each series. You are sort of worried about aerodynamic in the lower categories, but not too much. In Indycar aerodynamics is paramount, it’s absolutely crucial. It’s a huge deal for us right now racing in the aero kit era.
For me personally it’s important to understand aerodynamics, but when you get to this level there are engineers that know way more than you do. They are always involved in the set-up process.
Mecca of Speed: You made the transition to GP3 after racing the feeder series in the U.S., what was that like?
Conor Daly: It was a great experience. We went over and won some races, I have no regrets. We competed against guys that are currently in Formula One. It was good to be there as an American.
Your career can come down to one race that either propels you forward or not. We got the short end of the stick. I got taken out in a race when we were fighting for the championship. If I had won that championship, we would probably still be racing in Europe today.
In the end it is what it is. I still got the experience as a driver regardless if we won or lost. This year, being my rookie year I’m able to use that experience. I have so many years in the lower formulas as I’ve run all the development levels to Indycar and Formula One. That is a lot of experience. Now we use that experience and hopefully make a few less mistakes and be more consistent as a rookie in Indycar.
Mecca of Speed: You are very composed in the car and have no issues going wheel to wheel with anyone in this series. The European series are often viewed as more aggressive; do you think that background has helped you from becoming intimidated by veteran drivers?
Conor Daly: Maybe a little bit. It’s all racing experience. There is good racing here, but more of it over there. When I was in GP3 there were 30 driver and most of them were really good. You could start a race in 18th and move up to 9th and consider it a really tough race. Some of those guys you are fighting with that weekend might be winning the next weekend.
It made me think a lot more about race craft because everything was so important. Now in Indycar every inch, every comer requires maximum performance so that extremely comparative mindset carries over.
Mecca of Speed: During a race do you prefer a lot of information over the radio or just key point?
Conor Daly: I like information, the more the better. I don’t mind chatter, I like to know what is going on and being aware of my environment.
Mecca of Speed: Can you explain your past roll as a driver in the aero assists position with the Force India Formula One team?
Conor Daly: I was contracted to Force India for two years as they were paying for my racing in Europe. They were a huge supporter of my career. I would be in their workshop every week on the simulator.
They have a certain amount of time at air fields where they can go up and down the runways and add things like chicanes for testing. I had three days testing in the 2012 and 2013 car, It was a very cool experience.
Mecca of Speed: Are the aero adjustments on the 2016 Indycar effective?
Conor Daly: We are fighting for very small amounts of advantage because the racing is so close. Yesterday there were 14 cars within three tenths and today is probably going to be similar. The aerodynamic set-up is of the utmost importance but if you can’t follow it up with a good mechanical set-up, you are not going to have a good performance out of the car.
Mecca of Speed: Your helmet has cues to your dad’s design. He had a large arrow down the top and you have arrows along the sides. Additionally, I’ve seen the Lucky Charms leprechaun and chicken legs etc. added to the back. What is the story on your helmet design?
Conor Daly: I came up with the design with a design sheet that I printed off the Internet. It was very simple, I wanted some of my dad but also my own identity. At first it was green, blue and a yellow arrow like my dad’s but that looked super Brazilin.
I really like black and green so I went with that and have had the same basic design since 2005. My dad was always very strong on you helmet is your identity and it should always be the same.
There are a lot of drivers like Sebastien Vettel that like to run a different helmet every weekend. My dad hates that. I think it’s cool because I love helmets. Every driver wants a collection of other driver’s helmets.
The Lucky Charms leprechaun was something I had from the beginning. It’s a cool little signature and I have him doing something different every time so there is a unique aspect.
Mecca of Speed: Now that you are at the top level is your dad still coaching the finer details of racing?
Conor Daly: For sure, he is here today. He is at most of the race weekends. If he has anything to offer he does. My engineer likes to have him at the races, he can see things that may help us overall. He is always out there watching and it’s a huge help.
Mecca of Speed: Do you watch a lot of race replays to find ways to improve your performance?
Conor Daly: All the time. On board videos and replay past races. I watched the 2007 race that was here at Road America two nights ago. The more information I have, especially as a rookie is to my benefit.
Mecca of Speed: Do you do simulator work during the season?
Conor Daly: Not really, there are simulators but they cost a lot and we are a small team. I’ve done so much simulator work over the years that I know what it’s like, but nothing compares to when you are on the track.
Mecca of Speed: What is your goal to consider 2016 a successful season?
Conor Daly: We already got a trophy this season, which is great. If there were no oval on the schedule we would be seventh in points, which is good. Ovals have been bad luck for us, wrong place at the wrong time.
I don’t set a goal that I want to be in “X” position as it’s a contently changing game. We do our best and then focus how to improve in select areas. When that happens we refocus again and improve in other areas until we are doing the best that we can in all areas.
Mecca of Speed: In Texas you were running clean side by side with Josef Newgard and then the back of the car just snapped, was it a case of losing the downforce on the car?
Conor Daly: Yes, he was on my right rear. After the accident I got a message from Dario and a call from Bryan Herta in addition to others telling me it was not as much of my fault as I might think. Loosing air off the right rear is harder to deal with than you might think.
The sad part for the team is we had gone from twenty-first to second. We had a really good race going, there was nobody faster than us. But in the end that is just racing.
Mecca of Speed: Do you have any thoughts on the possibility of canopy’s or a halo over the cockpit of Indycars?
Conor Daly: I hate it; I think it’s stupid. There is a danger element to our series and I like that. That’s what we have to have to have appeal and be different.
Mecca of Speed: The burning question from years back, where did your dad come up with “Hold on to your Hollyhocks”?
Conor Daly: Not a clue, you don’t know how many people ask me that. I have no idea. He is an interesting wordsmith that is for sure. I wish he still did TV. Apparently they may say that in Ireland.
Mecca of Speed: You show a lot of maturity for a young driver and we hope to see you at the top of the podium before the end of the season.
Conor Daly: Me too, that would be a goal to achieve for sure.
Content credit Conor Daly and John Vatne. Photo credit John Vatne.