Possibly a Blessing in Disguise

Like just about any fan of the NTT IndyCar Series, I have drivers that I really like and a few drivers that I don’t really care for. Over time, drivers may go from one list to the other. For example, when Graham Rahal came into the series through unification in 2008, he was not my favorite for a few reasons. Over time, he won me over. I was flat-out wrong in some of my criticisms of the second-generation IndyCar driver, and Graham also evolved in other areas. Today, I rank Graham Rahal among my favorite drivers in the series.

Alexander Rossi is another driver who pretty well fit the same criteria as Rahal. In some ways I read him incorrectly, and in other ways Rossi changed his demeanor. As most know (and have complained about), these days I’m a big Rossi fan.

Another driver that I didn’t warm up to immediately was Conor Daly. I think the fact that he spent so much time honing his craft in Europe led me to believe that he looked down on IndyCar. When he finally arrived to the series, I felt like it was more by default and desperation than that he really wanted to be here. But once he got here, I couldn’t help but like him. He performed in bad equipment on the track, while becoming a fan-favorite off the track.

For the 2017 season, Daly made a critical mistake – he accepted the ride in the second Foyt car, which is where driver careers go to die. A few drivers have survived driving the No. 14 car at Foyt, but so far, no one has driven the second Foyt car and lived to tell about it – not in IndyCar circles anyway. Jack Hawksworth has never even gotten a sniff at an IndyCar ride, and I’ll be surprised if Matheus Leist gets one for next season.

I really thought that Daly did a decent job in that car. It’s not like his teammate, Carlos Muñoz did much better. Muñoz finished sixteenth in points, while Daly finished eighteenth. Both were unceremoniously dumped at the end of the season, after only one year with the team. Muñoz drove in three IndyCar races in 2018 and none this past season.

Conor Daly has done better surviving his stint at Foyt. He drove four races with two teams in 2018, but has been kept fairly busy this past season – driving in seven races with three different teams.

Daly opened eyes in this year’s Indianapolis 500 when he was fast all month in a fifth Andretti Autosport car, and was up near the front for most of the day. His tenth place finish is not indicative of how well he ran all day. He really impressed when he made a previously uncompetitive Carlin car, suddenly competitive at Texas. He ended up driving four races at Carlin and made a favorable impression in each one.

After toiling in uncompetitive equipment for years, Daly was starting to be taken seriously as a legitimate driver who had to be considered for a full-time ride for 2020. After driving well for Andretti and Carlin and qualifying well for Schmidt at Portland (but getting caught up in the first lap crash), it suddenly looked like Conor Daly was going to have options for next season and that teams may actually be competing for his services. With Andretti Autosport expanding to five cars for next season, the two most likely landing spots appeared to be Carlin and McLaren.

Well, we learned last week that that’s not happening. Robin Miller reported last Wednesday on Racer.com that McLaren’s Zak Brown had notified Daly that he was no longer under consideration and that they will be going a different direction. A different direction. That’s the dreaded phrase that every job-seeker has heard at one time or another. That’s code-speak for “we don’t want to hire you”.

Unless Bobby Rahal runs a third car, which most seem to think will not happen – this was most likely Daly’s best shot at a quality ride. Although that’s debatable because what we saw from McLaren last May was anything but quality – it was a dumpster-fire. They may have actually done Daly a favor by not hiring him, but that still doesn’t really help him out at the moment. He will most likely have to settle for a ride at Carlin, which has not had the best of seasons in their two years in the IndyCar paddock.

Getting back to McLaren, this was a huge mistake in my opinion – and it has nothing to do with Daly giving them the best chance to win races. There are most likely other drivers here or across the pond that may or may not have a better shot at winning races than Daly.

Where Conor Daly could help them is in the court of public acceptance. I don’t see the way McLaren is coming in as being real popular with fans. Many, including myself, think that a popular owner in Sam Schmidt will be forced out of the team he founded. Even more likely is that popular driver James Hinchcliffe is being forced to find a new team that runs Honda engines. He had that with Schmidt, but because Zak Brown and McLaren ran their mouths and trashed Honda in Formula One – Sam Schmidt chose to end his relationship with Honda in order to bring on McLaren. Even if Hinchcliffe stays, most would consider him a lame duck going through the motions in a bad marriage simply to fulfill his contract.

Most of my IndyCar friends that I talk to think this whole arrangement has a very bad smell to it. When we all heard over two years ago that McLaren might go to IndyCar full-time, this was not the way we envisioned it. Before they’ve even turned a wheel in this new “partnership”, McLaren is already a dirty word among many IndyCar fans.

Hiring Conor Daly could have changed all of that – especially had he been paired with his good friend (and former landlord) James Hinchcliffe. That could have gone a long way with damage control to repair the bad image they’ve created for themselves. Daly is very popular among IndyCar fans – especially those living in the Indianapolis area, with Daly hailing from nearby Noblesville. Instead, he is probably being passed up in favor of some promising F2 driver that few have ever heard of.

While I’m looking for a reason to cheer for McLaren to have success in IndyCar, they continue to shoot themselves in the foot and give fans reasons to pull against them.

Many fans dislike Roger Penske because Team Penske has more resources than most other teams and they use those resources to win races, championships and the Indianapolis 500. But what’s worse – a team that utilizes what they have very effectively and win; or a team that has as many resources, if not more, and uses those resources to bully their way into a series and spend gobs of money in a very wasteful manner to fall flat on their face? I’ll take the way Team Penske does it every single time.

I’m sure Conor Day is disappointed not to be going to a big name like McLaren. But it might just be a blessing in disguise. Ending up with Carlin may be the best thing for Daly. Carlin has won in every series they’ve been involved in. They have worked hard to do things the right way. Maybe a good young driver like Conor Daly to build their team around is the final piece that they need. If Daly goes to Carlin full-time next season, I know who I’ll be cheering for. In the meantime, you can guess what list of mine McLaren will be on.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “Possibly a Blessing in Disguise”

  1. The best thing McLaren could do to make an Indianapolis 500 victory for their man Fernando Alonso more likely, is put Alonso in a full season ride, and hire Oriol Servia as his teammate, and keep the rest of Sam Schmidt’s team in place.

    McLaren might have something different in mind, as there have already been changes in the engineering department. But why do you think they would consider an unknown F2 guy when what they really need is drivers with previous IndyCar experience?

    SPM has always been amongst my favourite teams in the series ever since their FAZZT days. Andretti Autosport is another of my favourite teams, so cheering for the McLaren/Andretti effort with Fernando Alonso has been fairly locigal for me.

    However, I had my doubts last year, when McLaren announced they were going to go it alone this year. We all know how that turned out.

    It’s good to see Conor Daly has shown some good results again this year. His performances in the 2nd Coyne car were pretty promising when he drove for that team before his year with Foyt.
    Maybe, it’s the time now for him to go to sportscars with a manufacturer for a while and then come back, like Simon Pagenaud has done?

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I suppose it is good for Daly in that this news came out publicly, so no car owner thinks he is unavailable… but it cannot be a good feeling to see reporters discussing how you were not hired.

    For all that was bandied about early in his career about how Daly did not seem committed to being an Indycar driver (alleged partying and fitness issues), he’s certainly always appeared to work hard to find cars to drive… even back when he was hustling for part-time Indy Lights drives (he podiumed in one of Mark Moore’s underfunded sleds in 2013!)

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