Having not led a single lap before, Conor Daly led the most laps of this year’s Indianapolis 500 but had his race hopes ended after Graham Rahal’s left-rear wheel broke loose — something he literally couldn’t see coming.
Daly hit the front for the first time on Lap 50 and was there again as the race reached halfway, but on Lap 119 Rahal — who had just pit from the lead — crashed exiting the pits after his left rear detached. Daly was comfortably away from the wreck on the inside of Turn 2 but his Ed Carpenter Racing No. 47 car struck the wheel as it bounced right in front of him.
REPLAY: A close call for @ConorDaly22 as he hits @GrahamRahal's loose wheel.
📲: INDYCAR Mobile – https://t.co/vyuISIgHnX#INDYCAR // #INDY500 pic.twitter.com/6coI4wu33c
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 30, 2021
“Honestly, I have no idea what happened!” Daly told RACER. “I thought we were avoiding everything and he was up top, but the way the aeroscreen is we have that visor strip, so I didn’t see the tire at all. I never saw it, and then it was like it fell out of the sky right in front of me. I was like ‘W,here did that come from?’ I had no idea!
“I have no other way to explain it — it literally just fell on top of me and I was like, ‘Oh, OK!’ We have a very small range of vision. We think we can see a lot but realistically if there’s stuff like coming down at us you can’t really see it.
“It just slammed the nose and I noticed there’s a chunk out of the sidepod too, so I don’t know what else happened. Our car’s in bits!
“It really is going to eat at me — I don’t know when that stops. I feel like we come out here, we execute, we do a good job, we’re having a great race, the car is good and a tire falls out of the sky. I’m like, ‘How does that even happen?’”
The tip of Daly’s nose was nearly broken off due to the impact and the damage meant from that point on he didn’t have the car to remain with the leaders, slipping back to finish 13th.
“We peeled so much rear wing out of it we should have been qualifying. The front lost so much grip, 2% COP — and that’s what made us so good, I think, in traffic was the use of the front wing, so it was just really hard from then on, man. I was working my tools like crazy, hanging on to it. Five laps to go I was nearly spinning the thing in Turn 2 — I at least wanted to savor a top-10 but you’ve got to be perfect and we just didn’t have everything go our way.
“But it was awesome. The car was so good and I think we showed what we really deserve to do is to be up at the front. I knew this car could do that. Oh well.
“Definitely one of the coolest experiences of my life and the fact that we didn’t just lead one, we led a lot.”
The Hometown Hero!
LISTEN TO THE CROWD ERUPT as Noblesville, Indiana's @ConorDaly22 takes the lead at @IMS! #Indy500 // @NBC pic.twitter.com/TltwcC7SSX
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 30, 2021
Daly led 40 laps in all — five more than Alex Palou who finished second — but says he will take the positives out of a strong run and seeing Helio Castroneves win a fourth 500, even running out on to the track to embrace the Brazilian.
“All I know is that this team is preparing incredible cars and we are fast — we’re constantly up front, at least qualifying at Barber, Indy GP; we’re in a good spot with this team now. We’ve just got to keep on pushing.
“You gotta be happy for Helio, what a cool deal. Even just to race with him out there too is awesome. Such a legend and such a champion — such a well-respected champion.”