Conor Daly impresses in his debut at Sebring testing

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A.J. Foyt offered the young driver the chance to see what an IndyCar was like at the Sebring testing this week.

SEBRING, FL—Conor Daly took to the track in A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply Indy car for the first time at Sebring International Raceway Thursday to test for the racing legend and prove to himself that Indycar racing could be in his promising future.

Conor Daly
Conor Daly

Photo by: GP3 Media Service

“I thought it would be very different,” Daly said after stepping out of the car. “I thought it would take most of the morning to start getting into a competitive range but honestly we were quite competitive here early so that was pretty cool for me to do. One time I was catching Helio [Castroneves] and I was thinking ‘What is this?’ These were guys I looked up to for years so it was really, really cool.”

Daly ran 111 laps, and an unofficial .45 seconds off the quickest time set by Will Power; Daly was faster than several of the 15 drivers who were testing on Friday. But the test wasn’t about speed as much as giving a young race driver an opportunity of a lifetime just two days before his 21st birthday.

“It’s awesome!” said Daly, who spent the last two years in Europe competing in the GP3 Series and won a round in Spain this year. “I’m just about to turn 21 and all the party is out of me now—this was my party. I’m very happy. I’m just honored to have gotten the opportunity. It means a lot to me. You know I got a call at 3 in the morning from Larry when I was [racing] in India and he said would you like to test? I said ‘Absolutely!’ So it was really cool and I’m just really thankful and who knows what will happen in the future.”

For the record, Daly won that race, the fifth round of India’s inaugural MRF Challenge 2012 series featuring Formula 2000 cars. Daly spent the last two years in Europe competing in the GP3 Series and won a round in Spain this year; he finished fourth in the standings.

His IndyCar debut half a world away from that triumph wasn’t without its frustrations, however, as the Indycar rookie spent part of the day trying to sort out a handling issue.

“The middle of the day we started struggling with a handling characteristic and we worked most of the afternoon to try to fix that and unfortunately we didn’t get it quite right for our last set of tires,” Daly explained. “But then right at the end of the day we really sorted it out so I was really happy to be in the car and figure things out. The day went by too fast.”

Foyt was happy with what he saw in the young racer.

“I thought he did a very good job today,” Foyt said afterwards. “We were getting the car where he really liked it and at the end of the day we found some stuff that he was really happy with but we’d already run our last set of tires. Considering that he stayed out of trouble and ran very smooth all day long, I think he did a fine job.”

Conor is the son of Derek Daly, the Irishman who competed in Formula One before coming to the U.S. to race Indy cars in the CART Indycar Series over 20 years ago. He made his home here and became an American citizen. He was in Sebring to watch his son’s IndyCar debut.

“I think the day went very well,” Daly said, but his understated demeanor couldn’t hide the obvious pride he had for his son. “When you jump into a racing car this fast, it’s hard to absorb it all in one day. There’s a lot going on, a lot of questions, a lot of information and to absorb all that, it’s difficult for a rookie in his first day. I know that. When you go and sleep on it, it’s all so much easier the next day because things begin to slow down. But I think he enjoyed it; he looked good, he looked in control. I think it’s good for him to work with the engineers, you know challenge him.”

Daly, 59, provided insight into what goes through a driver’s mind when on the verge of transitioning to a faster and more demanding race car.

“Whenever a rookie gets into something this big, they don’t know what it’s going to be like and what they will be like versus everybody else that they’ve seen all through the seasons,” said Daly. “So to see him get out there and catch some of the big names, run with them, that’s good for him because it’s part of that confidence builder where, although you believe in yourself, when you begin to lay the foundation, it becomes real and you can do it and you did it, I believe that confidence unlocks more of your talent because you begin to unshackle yourself. You’re not afraid of the car so you drive a bit faster, you tune it a bit better and one thing leads onto the next. The biggest thing for him today was the amount that he learned.”

Based on the day’s results, it would appear the learning has just begun.

AJ Foyt Racing

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Testing report
Tags daly, foyt, honda, indycar, sebring, testing