Q&A with Noblesville’s Conor Daly as he attempts to secure a spot in the Indianapolis 500
For the second consecutive year, Noblesville residents can root for one their own during the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26. Driving the second entry for A.J. Foyt Racing is 21-year-old Conor Daly. Prior to his first GP3 race in Europe and before strapping into his red, white and blue No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda, Daly answered a few questions about the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” from his residence in London.
CIN: What advice has your father, Derek Daly, a six-time Indianapolis 500 driver, given you as you prepare for this year’s race?
Daly: “He’s obviously got a lot of experience. So far it’s only been on the managerial side because he’s my manager. Making sure I’ve got all my helmets prepared and all of the driver’s stuff that I need. The business side of things that’s been a challenge to get it all put together… I think once I get on track it’ll be more like, ‘Hey dad, what do you think of this portion of the track?’ Times have changes obviously since he’s been in it but he will still have little bits of advice that I can always learn from.”
You have a great owner in A.J. Foyt, a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and A.J. Foyt Racing teammate Takuma Sato. Are you looking forward to hearing their advice?
“I’m in a really good position right now. Honestly, it’s the best position a rookie could be in I think. The team is leading the championship points race Takuma Sato, my teammate, nearly won the race last year and he’s a very experienced guy through Formula 1 and IndyCar. And you’ve got A.J. Foyt as your owner, one of the legends of the speedway. It’s kind of a perfect setup going into the month and I can learn from the guys around me. It’s going to be a really difficult learning curve, there’s a lot to learn, but a lot of the drivers are friends of mine and I just ask a couple questions here and there. Everyone says that really I’ll be fine. It’s not as hard or difficult as I might think, but it is definitely a challenge. I just can’t wait until that first session to get on track and get my first taste of what it’s like.”
What’s it like knowing you’re participating in the “greatest spectacle in racing?”
“It’s a really cool thing to think about. It’s been the only thing I’ve thought about since the deal was announced. It’s just incredible because I lived and breathed the Indy 500. I was there for every race that I could have been there. I only missed one – last year – when I was in Monocco racing. It’s just been an incredible part of my life and I’ve witnessed all that goes on. I’ve been there as much as I could possibly be. And now that I actually get to be in it is just an incredible, incredible opportunity. I’m just so thankful to get the chance and compete with my friends. A lot of the IndyCar drivers have become my friends and I’ve been racing in Europe so I haven’t had the opportunity to race against any of them and now I get to compete against some of my friends and guys I’ve always looked up to during my career.”
How did you get started in racing?
“I obviously grew up with it but I never grasped the potential that I could be a driver. I always looked at it as wow those guys are amazing people driving these race cars. Until I went out to the go kart track with some of my cousins, I was like ‘wow, maybe I’d like to try this. I’d like to see what I can do’ Sure enough as soon as I got inside a go kart I was pretty much just hooked. I really enjoyed the thought of driving fast and pushing the kart at the time to the limit. I was basically hooked from there and that was when I was 10 years old.”
You’re testing a lot for Formula 1 and GP3, what would you like to do in the future?
“As a driver you really only get once chance to try and pursue Formula 1 and as much as I love IndyCar right now, Formula 1 is definitely more on a world stage and a world championship level. There are no Americans in it right now and I’d really like to be the American in Formula 1 and that’s my main goal, but obviously there’s a chance I could be in IndyCar at some point. It depends on what happens… My goal is to try and make it in racing anywhere. I don’t mind what I’m driving as long as I’m getting a paycheck.”
What do you hope to do with the exposure from the Indy 500?
“It is the biggest race in the world. Everyone over here (in the Formula 1 world) knows Indy is a massive deal so it’s very beneficial to my career no matter where I’m going. It’s a great chance for me to get some experience with guys at the top level of the sport and I’m sure a lot of things I learn during the month will help me throughout my whole career.”
What is the biggest difference between IndyCar and Formula 1?
“F1 is the top level of technology-based cars in the world. There’s a lot more money that goes into Formula 1 cars than IndyCars and each team in Formula 1 develops their own car. So you have Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren all developing their own car from the ground up. Where as in IndyCar Dallara produces one car and all the teams have the same chassis. So it’s really down to the engine manufactures then because you have Honda and Chevy. I will be driving a Honda. In Formula 1
There’s just a lot more money and a lot more diversity in the cars and engine program. Both are obviously very high level. To compare it, in Formula 1 it would cost almost $400 million to run a team for a year; whereas an IndyCar team would probably be around $10 million to run for a year – and most likely less. The cars kinda look the same. They all have the same profile shape, open wheel. The Formula 1 cars are just a little faster and more high tech.”
Do you feel a big difference behind the wheel of each car?
“No necessarily. In the end they all do the same thing. They all go left and right and they start and stop, but Formula 1 just does things at a little bit higher of a speed. I think IndyCar just needs a little bit more power and they’d be comparable. At the moment Formula 1 is just a little bit more fine tuned and more on that perfect level. It’s extremely high tech and high performance.
Do you have any superstitions?
“I always get in the car from the left – always, no matter what. It just feels wrong if I get in on the right. I always like to listen to music before I get in the car no matter what race it is. I’ve got a Skullcandy Headphones sponsorship now so I’ll probably be wearing those right before I get in the car at the Indianapolis 500. It’s just nice to get in the zone a bit with some tunes and tune out the rest of the world.
What do you listen to before you get into the car?
“It depends what kind of a mood I’m in. I like a lot of house electro, house music – more of a dance club music. That’s always good for me.”
How did the Indianapolis 500 deal come about?
The short story is at the end of last year I didn’t really know what was going to happen this year. I was really investigating all options and Graham Rahal, who’s a good friend of mine and lives in Carmel, he knows Larry Foyt really well and Larry runs the A.J. Foyt Racing Team now. They were playing golf and Graham mentioned my name to Larry and kinda talked about me a little bit. Then I got in touch with Larry and started talking with him, seeing what they were planning for the future and eventually he really liked the idea of seeing an American driver in his car the red, white and blue ABC Supply machine. But not for 2013, it was later in the future because they had already signed Takuma Sato. I kept talking with them and sure enough they put me in the car in Sebring (Florida) for a test in December (2012). I think it was something like Sato couldn’t get into the country for some reason and they put me in and it went really well. From then on they were really positive and looking for a way to get me into their second car. Obviously it all takes money of course unfortunately. They had ABC Supply Co. step up a little bit and really put the money forward for a fully funded second car at Indy. In Feb. we started talking and I said ‘what about me? Can I be in the second car?’ Obviously it was a little difficult with it being my first ever IndyCar race at the speedway but in the end we decided it was a good idea and it all worked for everyone.”
What steps do you need to take to qualify?
“Fortunately I think there are only going to be 33 cars qualifying for the race. So I don’t know if there will be any bumping, but we still want to be as competitive as we can be. Right now the team is in a fantastic position. They ran my car at the Texas oval test a month ago and Sato was quickest in my car. It’s a very new car and hasn’t been in any crashes or anything so it’s all ready to go. The body fit on it is fantastic. The car is good; I just need to get up to speed myself. I have to learn as much as I can every day and try not to go too fast with things. All I want to do is qualify the car and focus on the race because I know the race is extremely long. For me, I want to be there in the last 20 laps on the lead lap and try and fight for the win. But in reality, if I could finish in the top 15 I would be absolutely over the moon. We’ll just have to see what happens. It’ll be a long month and a lot of hard work but I’ve never been more ready in my life.”
How fortunate are you to be the “local boy” and have your friends, family and community so close and behind you during the month?
“It’s awesome. It means a lot for me because I’ve never really raced cars in Indy before. I’ve raced once in my life in Indianapolis and that was the night before the Indianapolis 500 in 2010. And by far that was the coolest night of my life because I won the race and nearly my entire high school (Heritage Christian) graduating class that year came and it was an unbelievable, huge crowd at O’Reilly Raceway Park. School teachers, friends, and people from school that I never really talked to were there. It was amazing. This race is 100 million times bigger than that so it’s already been very, very exciting. Everyone in Indiana knows the Indianapolis 500 and how big it is so I can’t wait to see everyone at the track. I’m just going to talk to as many people, hang out, say hello and I’m sure I’ll see a lot of people I haven’t seen in awhile and great friends. I’m going to try and soak it all in.”
What are your plans following the Indianapolis 500?
“May 30 I head back oversees to Europe to get busy with the GP3 championship. Our first race was (last) weekend in Barcelona, Spain but our second race is not until mid-June. Once we start racing in June I’ll have a lot of races through June and July. I’m pretty much racing in Europe through August and hopefully winning the GP3 championship. I’m trying to do another IndyCar race but obviously that takes a bit of funding so if there are any Noblesville residents that would like to help out that’d be great.”