SONOMA, California – Excellent strategy gave Conor Daly and AJ Foyt Racing a 10th-place finish in Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma and strong finish to the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The driver of the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet started the 85-lap event at Sonoma Raceway in 13th but realized early on he didn’t have the outright speed to match others. At that point early on, race strategist and team president Larry Foyt opted for a three-stop strategy to attempt to move up the order.
“We didn’t really have the pace to drive to the front,” said Foyt. “At that point, it was a fuel-mileage race. We were one of the earlier guys to commit to the three-stopper and then other guys started to do it as well.”
Daly stayed out longer than any of his competitors on the first stint and took the race lead on Lap 18 for three laps. It was Daly’s first time to lead a race this season, coming in the season finale.
After pitting for tires and fuel on Lap 21, Daly ran 12th. His second stint was eventful as he first went off track in Turn 7 on lap 22 while fighting for 11th with JR Hildebrand and Charlie Kimball. Still, he ran longer than others again on the second stint, climbing to as high as second place before a pit stop on Lap 43.
Daly’s crew later delivered a perfect final pit stop on Lap 65 that put him in 10th place, which he held for the last 20 laps.
The result was the third top-10 finish in the last five races of the season. It included a season-best fifth at Gateway Motorsports Park. Daly felt it was a much-needed positive close to the year following a tough start that saw him 23rd in points following the Indianapolis 500. Daly ended the season 18th in the standings.
“Overall, another top-10 for us is really good and I’m really happy with it,” said Daly. “A top-five, a top-10 and an 11th (on Sept. 3 at Watkins Glen) to end the year. We’ve been strong all the way through and it feels good to end the season on a high note.”
Foyt felt Daly probably didn’t have any more on the table at Sonoma’s 2.385-mile road course.
“The fight with Harvey cost us about 15 seconds. I think we would have had Bourdais for ninth, but that’s about it."
“It was a solid day in the pits and Conor drove a good race.”
AJ Foyt Racing teammate Carlos Munoz was also on the up and up the last three rounds, finishing ninth (Gateway) 10th (Watkins Glen) and 15th (Sonoma). Foyt noted the team struggled after starting virtually from scratch this year – making a late switch from Honda to Chevrolet engines and aero kits – but ultimately it helped build a stronger team.
“I think we just started too far behind,” Foyt said. “With new drivers, new engineers, new powerplant, new aero, we started so far behind. Everyone worked really hard and it started to pay off in the end of the year.
“We definitely went from really struggling to at least mid-pack and then (at) Gateway being up front. Just a solid effort from everyone, a tough championship to learn during the year.”