SEBRING, Fla. – Conor Daly wore his “lucky” shoes and a fresh firesuit, and patted the nose of the stark white No. 7 Dallara chassis bearing his name on either side of the cockpit “for luck.”
But luck is really the confluence of preparation and opportunity as Daly auditioned for a 2015 ride with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Sebring International Raceway alongside regular driver James Hinchcliffe.
“I’ve never prepared more for a day in my life,” said Daly, who made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race with A.J. Foyt Racing. “It is the dream and the goal to be competing full time in IndyCar. This is a great first start with this opportunity to test.”
Daly, 23, of Noblesville, Ind., matched Hinchcliffe’s lap time in the morning session on the 1.65-mile short course and provided the feedback engineers seek with two cars on track.
“It’s been two years since I’ve been in a car on a road course but to be right on pace with Hinch for me personally is great,” he said. “It’s just so nice to be back in a car and working with these guys is so cool.”
Daly, who competed in selected 2011 Indy Lights races for team co-owner Sam Schmidt with a win at Long Beach, has driven in the GP2 Series the past few seasons, waiting for the right opportunity to join the Verizon IndyCar Series grid.
“I know it’s quite late in the offseason and Sam has a lot going on, but I’m here to make the best impression I can and do the best that I can,” he said. “Sam has had a lot of faith in me since I drove for him back in 2011, and even though it was only five races we led the championship after the first few races and I really enjoyed working with his guys.
“I think he’s always kept an eye on us. I put on my Instagram that’s it’s a dream ride scenario. Whether or not it happens, it’s still a huge opportunity and big step for me.”
The “lucky” shoes (photo right) were a gift after he won the 2010 Star Mazda championship, and he wore them in the Indy 500.
Though Hinchcliffe was working on his own preseason program, he frequently inquired about Daly's lap times and caught up with his friend during the lunch break.
“It’s really the start of the new year and the new season. We did our one (on-track test) day back in December, but that was kind of get to know you and now we’re really getting to work," said Hinchcliffe, who signed with the team in September after three seasons with Andretti Autosport. "Obviously, we don’t have the bodywork kits yet and that’s what we’re all excited for but there is still enough items for us to run through and it’s been a productive day.
"It's been great having Conor here; he's been doing an awesome job and really proving his worth. Hopefully, it will lead to some good things."
Rahal sees colors that he likes
Graham Rahal stood on pit lane before the morning session snapping photos of the orange with blue trim No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car.
The accent blue along the wings and sidepods along with the numbers were a tribute to the Bruce McLaren cars of years gone by. Rahal ran a similar paint scheme in Star Mazda.
“It’s like the original McLaren sports cars. That’s where the dark blue comes from,” he said. “You look back at the old pictures and he had dark blue wings and wheels. I doubt that some of our sponsors would want to run a bright orange car. For now it looks good.”
In the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 24-25, Rahal drove one of the BMW Team RLL cars in the GT Le Mans class (finishing fourth). The race marked the 40th anniversary of BMW’s first race in the U.S., and the BMW Team RLL Z4s had Nos. 24 and 25 in honor of the BMW 3.0 CSL race cars that debuted at the same race four decades ago.
Rahal enters his third season with the team co-owned by his father and is working with engineer Eddie Jones for the first year.
“This is the start of the whole season for us,” he said. “We have a few test days with this aero kit and then be put on hold until the new aero kit comes out. It will be busy when that times comes, too.”
Three Andretti Autosport cars work through programs
It was a bit strange, Ryan Hunter-Reay acknowledged, getting back in the No. 28 DHL car.
“We’ve been testing the aero kit and now we’re back with the old package,” the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion said.
Hunter-Reay was the primary test driver for the aerodynamic bodywork kits developed by Honda. The road/street and short oval kit will make its competition debut in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27-29. He was at Sebring with teammates Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz.
“It’s great to be back with the whole team,” he added. “We’re working on quite a few things we found over the winter and some questions we had from the end of last season so having all three drivers here, running through it will give us a good direction to start the season.”
Vince Neil headlines concert at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Vince Neil, the lead singer of Motley Crue, will headline the April 18 "Rock-N-Roar" Concert at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The concert will take place on the stage adjacent to the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center at about 6:45 p.m. (local) and is free to ticket-holders for the day’s on-track activities featuring Verizon IndyCar Series practice and qualifications. For tickets, head to www.gplb.com or order by phone at (888) 827-7333.