A rough start, a challenging set of tires, intermittent rain and a chaotic finish were no match for Conor Daly as he rebounded to finish fifth Saturday in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
It was Daly’s first top-five finish in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in nearly five years, dating back to his fifth-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2017 driving for AJ Foyt Racing. It was the fourth top-five result of his INDYCAR career.
The finish is his best in any circuit configuration at IMS, which made it even more special for the Hoosier driver.
“I think I've only finished sixth here before if I remember right, but it's awesome,” Daly said. “I love this place. I really want a trophy from here. But this is a great way to start the month. I mean, we wanted to rebound here. This is the goal. We knew we had a fast car. We had great qualifying. We executed all weekend, which is exactly what we wanted.”
Daly started up front, qualifying fourth in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing. It was his best NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying effort since qualifying sixth in this race last year and eighth for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on the IMS road course last August.
But things quickly went south for Daly after the green flag waved. The race started on a damp track in light rain. The start was declared wet, so Daly and the rest of the field had to start on Firestone rain tires. But on Lap 3, Daly pitted to switch to Firestone alternate (red) tires.
The used tires didn’t agree with Daly’s car and driving style, and he dropped through the field immediately. At one point, Daly was running 23rd of 27 cars.
“I thought it was just another day in the office, but I never give up in this series, and I tell the team that,” Daly said, referring to his seemingly often bad luck. “I said, ‘It doesn't matter if the day is going bad, but I will always be fighting until the end.’”
Daly said once he shed that set of tires for another set of alternates, his car was “perfect.” And that began his rally back to the front of the field.
The off-and-on rain throughout the day challenged the NTT INDYCAR SERIES field. Daly said he was proud of the performance by himself and his fellow drivers as they kept up with the ever-evolving racetrack.
But the different stages of wet on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile racetrack and the varying tire strategies that came with it allowed Daly to climb through the field.
He re-entered the top 10 for the first time on Lap 48 of the 75-lap race. On Lap 62, Daly pitted his car for another set of rain tires as the moisture picked up. That proved to be a very beneficial move.
Daly rose to as high as fourth as the final minutes of the GMR Grand Prix closed in, but Marcus Ericsson was able to work his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda past Daly before the final caution came out to end the race.
“I truly don't think I've ever been through anything like that,” Daly said. “This was truly strange. I mean, it was raining, then it was sunny, and then it was raining again, and then you couldn't see anything. So, it was really, really interesting today.”
Though it wasn’t a career-best day for Daly – his second place in 2016 at Detroit holds that honor – it was his best finish at the Racing Capital of the World. Previously, his best on the IMS road course was sixth, and his best on the IMS oval is 10th.
It was monumental moment for Daly, who grew up in nearby Noblesville, Indiana, resides in Indianapolis, drives for Indianapolis’ Ed Carpenter and is the stepson of IMS President J. Douglas Boles. And the strong day has fueled his drive to keep the momentum going as the series transitions to Indianapolis 500 mode next week.
Last year, Daly led a race high 40 laps in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge before the loose tire of Graham Rahal hit the nose of his car and impacted the rest of his day.
This year, Daly is looking for redemption.
“I mean, I'm confident every race, but these are the two biggest ones for me,” Daly said. “God, I love them. We know we have a great car at Indy, so we're going to come out swinging next week and be ready for it.”
Opening day of Indianapolis 500 practice is Tuesday, May 17, with oval veterans practice opening the day from 9-11 a.m. (ET). Rookie Orientation Program and veteran refreshers are scheduled for 1-3 p.m., and open Indianapolis 500 practice takes place from 3-6 p.m.
Tickets for Indy 500 practice are available at IMS.com, and all on-track action can be seen live on Peacock Premium.