An Early Christmas Present From Dale Coyne
Christmas came early this year for Conor Daly, Bryan Clauson and Most IndyCar fans everywhere when Dale Coyne announced some of his plans for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. A Dale Coyne press conference in December is a rare thing. Normally, Coyne doesn’t announce his driver lineup until the Thursday before the season-opening race. So you know something is special to bring Coyne out in public before Christmas.
In case you live under a rock and missed the announcement, popular driver Conor Daly will pilot the No.18 Dale Coyne entry for all of next season with primary sponsorship from longtime IndyCar sponsor Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality & Restaurant, except for the Indianapolis 500; when the sponsorship will shift over to a one-off Dale Coyne entry for Bryan Clauson, who will run the No.88 Coyne car in next year’s “500”.
Most fans, myself included, cheered the confirmation of a rumor we had been hearing for days – that Daly had finally snared his long sought-after fulltime ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It seems as if Daly should be older than he is. For years, we’ve been hearing about his success in various ladder series across the pond and his struggles to find sponsorship for a ride at home. But believe it or not, Daly will only be celebrating his twenty-fourth birthday tomorrow, December 15th.
Daly certainly has his fans, but also some detractors. Well – they may not be detractors; but many attribute the hoopla over Daly to being the son of former driver and TV racing analyst Derek Daly, as well as the stepson of IMS President Doug Boles along with the fact that he is a native Hoosier. A few consider Daly to be born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as opposed to his fellow Hoosier and now, one-race teammate Bryan Clauson – who represents a throw-back to a driver coming up through the USAC ranks to drive a car at 16th and Georgetown.
But if you think Conor Daly hasn’t paid his dues, you haven’t been paying attention to his career. Daly has driven in practically every form of racing that features cars with a rear engine and exposed wheels. He began karting at the age of ten and won the World Karting Association Grand Nationals in 2006. He won the Ski Barber National Championship in 2008, before moving to Star Mazda in 2009 and winning that championship in 2010.
In 2011, Daly drove only five races in Indy Lights for Sam Schmidt. In those five races, Daly had one win, a podium and a pole, while also running full-time in GP3. 2012 saw Daly earn a win in GP3 on his way to a sixth place finish in the championship; while doing double-duty in Formula 2000, winning four races and the championship.
The next year saw Daly spend time in four different series. He ran two races in GP2, ran the full season in GP3 and finished third in the championship. He ran one race in Indy Lights, finishing third at Houston. That was also Daly’s first year to drive in the Indianapolis 500, finishing twenty-second in a one-off with AJ Foyt.
Daly had a tough year in 2014. He ran eighteen races in GP2, but could only manage a best finish of seventh at the Hungaroring.
This past season, Daly focused primarily in getting seat time in an IndyCar. He was literally a last-minute replacement at Long Beach when Rocky Moran, Jr. broke his hand in a practice crash while driving for Dale Coyne. With little notice or practice; Daly jumped in the car, and proceeded to out-qualify and outrace his teammate Francesco Dracone – qualifying twenty-first and finishing seventeenth.
Daly secured the ride in the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry with sponsorship from Smithfield and the tagline “fueled by bacon”. That tagline proved to be a bad punch-line about grease fires as Daly’s car caught fire on the Parade Lap and never took the green flag. His day was done before it started.
But due to the Hinchcliffe injury, Daly got the call three more times from Schmidt. He drove the No.5 car in both Detroit double-headers, where he earned an IndyCar career-best finish of sixth, along with Toronto where he finished twelfth.
But it was his last-minute drive with Dale Coyne at Long Beach that raised eyebrows and attracted a lot of attention in the paddock. With no practice or time to gel with his crew, Daly just strapped himself in and relied strictly on his raw talent. That performance won Dale Coyne over and apparently Jonathan Byrd II and eventually led to Friday’s announcement that Conor Daly was finally a full-time driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
With the news of the one-off for Clauson, I was a little concerned that Coyne driver Pippa Mann might not get her regular one-off spot with Coyne in the “500”. But based on comments from Coyne, it looks like Pippa will more than likely have her ride in a fourth car at Coyne for the month of May.
Other items that were not ready for announcement on Friday included Daly’s primary sponsor for Indianapolis, since the Jonathan Byrd sponsorship would move over to Clauson. And then of course, there was the unfinished business of who might be driving the No.19 car for Coyne throughout the season. Something tells me that we may be waiting until March to learn the answer to that question.