The 2017 season was far from ideal for Conor Daly. Through it all, however, the 25-year-old from Indiana still found areas for optimism.
Daly’s homecoming to AJ Foyt Racing – the team where he began his Verizon IndyCar Series career in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 – came with an unusual division from a logistical standpoint. Teammate Carlos Munoz saw his No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet team continue operations in suburban Houston, Texas – the longtime home for four-time Indy 500 champion A.J. Foyt’s organization. Daly’s No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet was run out of a new shop in Speedway, Indiana, although the crews merged efforts at times during the season, including the month of May when activity was focused on Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Despite some early misfortune, the team began to find its stride as the year continued.
“Obviously, difficult in the beginning, but we started strong, actually,” said Daly.
“In St. Pete (the season opener), we had a really good car. The car was fast, we just had some electronics issues. In Phoenix, our car was fast again but we had random things – burned through a gear line there. So there was a lot of really bad luck at the beginning of the year and I think that really killed how it looked in the beginning.
“But the second half, we really eliminated everything that was impeding us. Luck no longer became a thing.”
The improvements were clear. In the last five races, Daly had an average starting position of 13.2, compared to 18.5 in the first 12 races. In turn, it helped him score three top-10 race finishes, including a season-best fifth at Gateway Motorsports Park on Aug. 26. He also led AJ Foyt Racing’s only laps of the season (three) in the series finale at Sonoma Raceway.
“We just kept getting better and kept being consistent at being there and qualifying better and that’s what it’s all about,” said Daly, who matched his first full-time season in 2016 by finishing 18th in this year’s standings.
“I think from where we are and from where we started, we can be really happy that the last four weeks really we’ve been running in the top 10. In Pocono, we didn’t finish in the top 10 and at Watkins Glen we should have – we finished 11th – so it wasn’t bad.
“I’m really proud of the team and how we all just stayed together and stayed working. I just hope we can get another shot at it next year.”
The former GP3 standout attributed much of his growth to becoming a better qualifier and bringing his car home clean in races.
“I think qualifying has been a big upturn for me in general, which is nice,” said Daly, the 2010 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires champion – the second rung of the Mazda Road to Indy. “Still not where we need to be, obviously, still did not make a lot of fast 12 (the second round of knockout qualifying on road and street courses), but we were right on the edge many times. I think the consistency, no crashes this year except for one. There was nothing, other than Indy, which is great.
“I think that then helps the team. It helps everyone, so we’re happy about that. I think I improved, it’s just step by step – it’s a process.”
The question remains whether Daly will get another run at it, since it has yet to be determined if he will return to Foyt’s team in 2018. The continuity would be beneficial, he said. Daly also believes it would help the team’s progression of being better prepared across the board, especially with next year marking the debut of the universal aero kit.
“Hopefully, we can (reach a deal for 2018),” said Daly. “I would love to be back with these guys, but we just … stay ready.
“I think the real key would be information collecting before we ever hit the track. You know, if we have the cars, let’s go to the wind tunnel. Let’s go to the shaker rig – how are they going to run in simulation. Stuff like that. I think preparation will be of an extreme importance.
“I think the team is actually on a very good route for preparation regarding next year.”