Conor Daly is no stranger to obstacles in the NTT IndyCar Series. The 27-year-old from Noblesville, Indiana has been a fixture in various driving roles throughout his career, amassing 44 starts with five different race teams since 2013. And both his starts and ‘homes’ will increase by one when he takes the green flag for tonight’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
However, there is a different feel this time around as he slides into the cockpit of the No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet — having only been confirmed thus far for TMS weekend — in replacement for Max Chilton, who has opted to step aside during oval events for the remainder of the 2019 season.
Unlike previous years, Daly is displaying a calm and confident demeanor, which could simply be brimming over due to his 10th-place performance in a one-off ride with Andretti Autosport in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 last month. Additionally, that could simply be down to feeling an added investment of responsibility since he previously drove for the UK-based squad in 2013 when competing in GP3 (now known as the FIA Formula 3 Championship).
Regardless, he appears ready to help navigate a second-year IndyCar team that has endured a tumultuous past month, which included only one of three cars making the field of 33 for the aforementioned Indy 500. The team has also had to deal with the recent departure of the No. 59 entry’s lead engineer, Geoff Fickling.
The challenges have been daunting, to say the least, as Daly paced last among 22 drivers in a rain-shortened opening practice Thursday night. Staying on point with the program tasks, the group managed to improve slightly to qualify 19th with a two-lap average at 216.175 mph on Friday evening.
“We tried to trim out a little bit, but to be totally honest I just can’t feel the rear of this car at all,” said Daly. “That’s hard, but it’s a process. We’ve only had an hour to work on it and it’s a completely different just way the car feels. Sometimes different teams work in different ways. There’s nothing wrong with it. Obviously, Charlie (Kimball, teammate in the No. 23 Carlin Chevy) can make it work because this is a car that he’s comfortable in, but for me, for my driving style, it’s really, really difficult.
“So, just going to try and use the race as a good test session and try and figure out some more things for my driving style.”
After taking over the lead engineering role last weekend in Detroit with rookie Patricio O’Ward, Steve Barker has been called on to do the same with Daly at TMS. Barker has been a part of the Trevor Carlin-led organization since 2014, having previously engineered Matheus Leist during the 2017 Indy Lights season and moving up to be the performance engineer for Kimball last year.
Even with a trusted background, there are still communication nuances that can get lost in translation. For example, Daly admitted he likes to work with a “1-5 system” that breaks down the handling characteristics he deals with on track. Due to a lack of chemistry though, those items are difficult to check off at the beginning stages of the acclimation process.
“The team has been awesome,” said Daly. “They’ve welcomed me. I know a lot of these guys. Trevor (Carlin)’s a great guy, but you have to realize how hard this is, what we’re doing. These full-season guys are in here all the time and it’s so hard jumping from one team to another — but you know, I’m the guy who does it.
“So, I’ve got to keep trying to keep my expectations in check because you really want to do well. Indy was so fun and it was so great to do well, but you’ve just got to try and keep your brain in check here and just make sure that it’s a good, solid weekend overall and safe.”
Although Daly only has two starts at the 1.5-mile superspeedway, both of which pre-date the current universal aero kit era, he did manage a seventh-place finish for AJ Foyt Racing back in 2017.
“The thing about Texas, I think nowadays, certainly with the tire wear that people are expecting, it’s just about staying in the hunt,” added Daly. “Last year, this team finished 10th and 12th and you wouldn’t have really thought that if you saw the beginning of the race. Sometimes you get better as you go, right? And I think that’s our goal, is that we’re going to start tomorrow conservative, try and get through the first half of the race and start to just tune on the car and see what happens.”