Conor Daly and Tristan Vautier again delivered impressive drives under tough circumstances and conditions over the weekend at Detroit. But will it be enough to keep them in the Verizon IndyCar series?
Daly, who showed strongly in Europe before bagging his Formula 1 dreams to pursue IndyCar, should have opened most car owner’s eyes with his Long Beach performance in April. Hopping into Dale Coyne’s car for the first time ever on Saturday when Rocky Moran Jr. suffered a broken hand on Friday, the 24-year-old second generation racer made the most out of an impossible situation.
Despite only one practice period, Daly never put a wheel wrong in the race and turned in the second-fastest lap for a Honda driver en route to finishing 17th.
Subbing for the injured James Hinchcliffe with SPM this past weekend at Detroit, Conor led his first laps (12) in IndyCar and had a shot at winning (TOP) before finishing sixth. The day before, he pitted for dry tires at the perfect time and was looking at a podium before being rear-ended by Ryan Hunter-Reay, losing a tire and all his track position.
“I thought it went great,” replied Daly, when asked to assess his weekend,, while driving back home to Noblesville on Sunday night. “We struggled at first but kept improving the car and I was happy with it to be honest. I mean, we were looking at two Top 5s with just a little luck.
“The crew made some great calls and Saturday I pitted right after Marco (Andretti) for slicks so it was the perfect timing but then I got hit. Today, I was pulling a little gap when I was leading so I was going to be able to pit and come out in decent shape and then Josef (Newgarden) crashed and brought out the yellow. But we still battled back from 13th to get sixth.”
Vautier, the 2012 Indy Lights champ and 2013 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, had fallen off the IndyCar map prior to last month – working as a driver coach, doing some television and sports car racing when he got a call from Coyne to qualify James Davison’s car at Indy – which he did in impressive style with the 21st-fastest speed despite only a handful of practice laps.
The 25-year-old Frenchman then was headed back to Europe when he got the call to take over Carlos Huertas’ ride in the 99th Indy 500 and came to Belle Isle as Huertas’ replacement.
Starting last on Sunday, Vautier steadily carved his way through the field and then pounced on veterans Tony Kanaan and Juan Montoya during the final restart to score a shocking fourth place.
“It was crazy out there but you couldn’t be too conservative because if you were, you get passed by everyone,” said Vautier after giving Coyne’s team its best showing of 2015. “There was a fine line between being aggressive and staying out of the wall but it was fun. And big thanks to my team for making the perfect calls all day.”
Veteran engineer Mike Cannon had nothing but praise for Vautier.
“The kid is so easy to work with, hardly makes any changes to the car and just puts his head down and gets after it,” he said. “Really happy for the job he did.”
In the 1960s and even 1970s, what Daly and Voutier have done this season in their relief roles this would likely mean a direct ticket to a steady ride. As it is, their recent resplendence only guarantees them one more race at the moment.
“Sam (Schmidt) wasn’t at Detroit so we haven’t talked but right now I’m only scheduled to run Toronto the rest of the year,” said Daly, who will be replaced by Ryan Briscoe at Texas this weekend. “I really enjoy working with this team and I thought we made some good progress together this weekend.
“Obviously, I want to do more races for them but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
With Hinch out indefinitely, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Schmidt to run Daly the rest of 2015 and see if they have a future together.
Coyne pulled up to his transporter in a golf cart late Sunday with his super sub in tow and the obvious question was asked about whether Vautier had earned the right to keep No. 18 for Texas. “Yes,” said Coyne.
Huertas could be back from his inner ear infection by Toronto and, like Daly, Vautier only has his helmet, talent and youth to offer the rest of 2015.
“I am available to run for Dale whenever he wants – I have no conflicts,” said Vautier, breaking into a grin. “I also have no sponsor.”
KARAM GOT HOSED
The most impressive moment from a young American driver at Detroit got washed out in a questionable decision.
Rookie Sage Karam set quick time in the first qualifying session Sunday morning during a steady rain but had his initial pole position taken away when IndyCar decided to scrap the second session because of the conditions. So, instead of starting first, the 20-year-old from Nazareth, Pa., had to line upo 22nd because of entrant points.
“Obviously it changed the whole race for me,” he said after finishing 12th in the Big Machine Records Chevy of Chip Ganassi. “And I don’t think it was any worse conditions for the second group than we had.”
Dario Franchitti agreed. “A couple guys with brooms aren’t going to get rid of the water but the cars running would have done it in a couple more laps,” said the three-time Indy winner who is coaching Karam. “But that can’t diminish what Sage did. He was excellent in tricky conditions, never put a wheel wrong, and I was really proud of him.”
Karam says he’s always liked rain. “The only street race I ever did before was in Star Mazda but I ran a lot of go-karts in the rain and I loved it. When I wake up and see it’s raining, I’m happy.”