A Good Problem To Have
Well, IndyCar fans finally got their wish this past weekend. Conor Daly was in an IndyCar racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series – if only for one weekend. Through the rumor mill, the likable Hoosier has been linked to every open seat that has come available for the past three seasons. If it were left to fans, Daly would already be an IndyCar veteran at his ripe old age of twenty-three. Fans have been clamoring for a talented American to be added to the series for years.
Conor Daly has so many boxes checked that fans would want in a driver. He is young, likable, talented, well-spoken and down to earth. Not only is he an American, he is an Indiana native and seems to have that Midwestern work-ethic and sense of values.
He also has the pedigree. He is the son of former Formula One and CART driver Derek Daly, who drove on CART from 1982 to 1989 and drove in the Indianapolis 500 six times, with a best finish of twelfth in 1985. The elder Daly has also been a successful broadcaster, serving as an analyst for CART, Champ Car and Formula One. Daly’s stepfather is IMS President Doug Boles. To say Conor Daly grew up around open-wheel racing is an understatement.
But there is only one problem. Conor Daly has very little money – at least the kind of money it takes to land in the seat of an IndyCar. There are very few fully funded teams that hire drivers without bringing any sponsor dollars to the table. The top teams are mostly fully funded, but the funding pretty much stops at the halfway point of the grid. After that, most of the other cars are pretty much open to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, Daly does not bring the kind of funding a team needs to run a full season.
Last week, Curt Cavin reported on Trackside that Sam Schmidt was seeking $600,000 to run a third car at Indianapolis. I don’t know if that counts the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis also, but you see what kind of money drivers need to bring. Just imagine how much it costs to run a car for a full season.
Dale Coyne has always been somewhat of a mysterious figure, but he has outdone himself in three races this season. I’m assuming that Francesco Dracone is paying Coyne a lot of money to drive the No.19 car for the first four races of this season. How else could you explain Coyne turning one of his cars over to a very unqualified driver like Dracone? Francesco is an easy target, so I’m not going to go for the low-hanging fruit and bash him further. Most everyone knows the story, so we’ll just leave it at that.
Although he won a race last season, I’ve never been overly impressed with Carlos Huertas. It’s a good thing, because his funding didn’t come through before the Long Beach race and he found himself out of the car. Rocky Moran, Jr. was not the American driver that everyone was hoping Coyne would go with as a replacement. I wish Moran no physical harm, but I think most were happy to learn Moran could not compete this past weekend, even though the cause was due to a broken thumb sustained in a practice crash on Friday afternoon.
On Saturday morning, Dale Coyne finally gave IndyCar fans the news they had been hoping to hear since May of 2013 – Conor Daly would be competing in an IndyCar race. We all now know that Daly rose to the challenge. He had virtually no seat time in the car, started twenty-first and finished seventeenth.
I really like and admire Dale Coyne. He has given a lot of opportunities to a lot of drivers over the years. But it has been hard to pull for the Coyne drivers in the first two races. Before, Coyne always had the affable and worthy Justin Wilson in one of his cars, with an inexperienced driver in the other. But this season, he had Dracone and Huertas in his stable. Neither of those are drivers you can rally around. Depending on who Dale Coyne has in all of his cars at Indianapolis; Pippa Mann may be the most seasoned veteran on the team, as she is the only one confirmed for a ride at Coyne for May.
But for the first time, Conor Daly may find himself in a strange predicament. Fans are urging Dale Coyne to sign Conor Daly now for the remainder of the season. Word was that Coyne wanted to do so; but we got word yesterday afternoon that Rodolfo Gonzalez (who?) would be in the car at Barber. But Robin Miller reported in Sunday’s race that Conor Daly may be in line for Sam Schmidt’s third car at Indianapolis. Last night on Trackside, Curt Cavin wasn’t so sure. He says that Daly has the least amount of money of the drivers that covet that ride. But he also said that Schmidt’s two favorites of the available drivers were Ryan Briscoe and Conor Daly. Like him or hate him, Robin Miller is rarely wrong. So what’s the problem, you ask? In my opinion, Sam Schmidt’s third car in a one-off at Indianapolis is a much better ride than Dale Coyne’s car for the season. In a perfect world, Daly could take the Schmidt ride and then join Coyne at Belle Isle for the balance of the season.
But where does that leave Dale Coyne? Even though he has seemingly filled the seat at Barber, he still needs to fill a seat for the two races at IMS in May. Will a quality driver take such an offering knowing they have to give up the car to Daly immediately following the “500”? It depends on what your definition of quality is.
There is no shortage of drivers who would jump at the chance, but if you’re Dale Coyne; do you opt for more of the Dracones and Gonzalez’s of the world – especially at a place like Indianapolis – while you wait for Daly to have a go at another team?
And if you’re Conor Daly, if Dale Coyne offers you the full season starting at Indianapolis – do you take it? As I type, I keep going back and forth. I’m glad its not my decision, because I’m not real sure what I’d do. But if I’m Conor Daly and someone sticks a gun to my head to force a decision – I think I’m taking the remainder of the season with Coyne.
Being only twenty-three and having only two starts almost two years apart – Conor Daly needs seat time – and a lot of it. In short, he needs a ton of seasoning. Daly is very talented, but I’ve always believed that experience trumps talent in almost every walk of life – racing included. He can get a lot more seasoning at Coyne than he would in a one-off situation at Schmidt.
Let’s be honest. Conor Daly is highly unlikely to win the Indianapolis 500 this year, no matter whose car he’s in. After Barber, there will be twelve more races this season. Daly will benefit much more by racing in twelve races including the Indianapolis 500, than he would in one race in the “500” in a better prepared car
Of course, every bit of this is conjecture – but that’s what we lowly bloggers do. We dwell on the hypothetical. Dale Coyne may have the No.18 car filled with Gonzalez for Barber and he may have other plans for Indianapolis and beyond that do not include Conor Daly. But Dale Coyne is not a stupid man. He may walk to a different beat than most of the owners, but he is certainly not stupid.
I think Dale Coyne liked what he saw on Sunday and will do what he can to get Conor Daly into his car for as much of the season as possible. Sometime soon, Dale Coyne is likely to give Conor Daly a call. Then the ball is in Daly’s court to work his way out of an unexpected predicament. It’s a good problem for Daly to have, for once.