Editor’s Note: We once again have the terrific opportunity to bring you this exclusive piece from American driver Conor Daly. Conor has offered a real glimpse into what it takes to become a professional driver in the world of motor sport (especially open-wheel European classes, Formula 1 and even Indycar). With all of the talk of cost-cutting, financial stress and paying drivers in Formula 1, Conor reveals that the struggle permeates the racing world in myriad series and mere talent, of which Daly has in spades, is not enough to secure a ride. We hope you enjoy this rare look into the world of racing from one of America’s truly talented drivers.
The 2014 season begins…late
The last few months have been an interesting ride. They were some of the worst months of my life with stress levels and uncertainty about what was going to happen this season. It was also difficult because the situation I was in was not a driving challenge; it was all about the lack of funding. Sure enough though, I’ve managed to find myself two weekends into the GP2 season of all things. If you would have asked me four months ago, would I be preparing for the Monaco Grand Prix right now, I would have said that you were crazy!
After last season, I was facing a difficult funding situation in Europe for 2014. I had shifted my focus to IndyCar for 2014, and put everything I had into trying to put something together for the full season. In the winter, that effort started to become very frustrating. No matter how much time and effort you put in, it is all for nothing should you not be able to come up with the right amount of sponsorship money. In the end that is what happened. The time passed and I could not get the dollar figure I needed to secure an IndyCar ride, which I was pretty upset about to be honest. I think the IndyCar teams were in a tough position during the off season though with some uncertainty about the title sponsor and how everything was going to play out. But with the Verizon deal in place, I think it puts the teams in a more flexible position for driver selection in the future.
As the IndyCar season started and I looked on from the sidelines, I was contacted out of the blue by the Lazarus GP2 team about doing the preseason testing. Of course I jumped at the opportunity! It was great to finally get back in a proper race car and start working. The team made it very clear that they wanted me there for the season and that really meant a lot to me after the uncertainty of the off season.
I have never seen a team work as hard as Lazarus does to bring their own sponsors on board to work with the driver hand-in-hand to try and put the full program together. It’s a great feeling because it shows my sponsors and potential sponsors the dedication that the team and I have to working together for a successful season. We worked through the tests in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain and learned a lot, but we knew we still had a long way to go for the first two races in Bahrain and Barcelona. Racing in GP2 was always Plan A, but for several months I thought it wasn’t going to happen. Now suddenly I was scrambling to put a full season agreement together at the last minute!
I was extremely happy to continue working with Lazarus at the first race in Bahrain even though we didn’t have any agreement yet for the season. It was a surprising weekend for a lot of the teams including us, but in the end, it all just came down as usual to the Pirelli tires. We could make the soft tires work really well, but could not get the grip in the hard tires. This caused us to do half the race on the soft compound tire, which is really unheard of. In the end, we just missed scoring points in Race One. Sadly, a mechanical failure took us out of Race Two. All in-all it was a shame to leave without any points but we learned a lot that should help us for Barcelona, the next race.
While all this GP2 stuff was going on, there was still a lot of interest in me running the Indy 500 again. This would only be possible if I wasn’t doing the full GP2 season though because GP2 races in Monaco on the same weekend as the 500. After Bahrain I still really had no idea where I’d end up, but because I still had lack of funding, I had to play both sides of the table. As time narrowed down yet again, it was a high stress situation. I really didn’t know what I could do when one day it clicked in my head. I had a GP2 opportunity for Barcelona and a contract offer which laid out the framework for the full season. The Indy 500 deal was going to be last minute at best, with nothing certain for the rest of the IndyCar season. I worked with the Lazarus GP2 team and came to an agreement announcing a full season of GP2. I will be learning much more as a driver for a full season in GP2 than I would be by putting it all on the line at the 500 in a last minute effort.
To be clear about it, my plan is to keep focused on developing as a driver, delivering results, and hoping that a door opens for Formula One. Even for the very best drivers, I know that getting to Formula One is super difficult and that all of the circumstances have to come together. But, it won’t happen if I don’t put in the effort and focus on GP2 now. Everyone that knows me also knows that I love IndyCar and REALLY want to race at Indy again. Driving in the 500 was the highlight of my life so far and Indy is a magical place, but I want to do it properly and be fully prepared to have an opportunity to compete for the win. For that, I have time.
Full season…sort of
So on to Barcelona we go. The GP2 announcement said that I was in for the full season, which is true, however I still need to come up with certain sponsorship requirements which I am still working on. It’s a shame because I am trying to put my full focus on performing as a driver. When I am constantly questioning myself “Will I even be able to make the next race? Who can I call to help get me to just the next race?” It is stressful, but it’s all part of the game these days!
I was still very happy to be in the car in Barcelona even though it happened to be one of the worst weekends in a long time. About as much went wrong as it could have, and it was mostly stuff out of my control. Starting from dead last in Race One was going to be a tough experience for me, but it turned out to be really good. I was able to have a really strong opening stint and make it up to 4th place before our pit stop. I was really pleased with how our hard tires were working this race compared to Bahrain, we made a big step improving the grip and durability of the hard tires. I came out of the pits on the soft tires with 10 laps to go and just could not get the grip out of them. They only last around 3 laps before they started dropping off big time. The frustrating part was that I finished P17, but the group I was in at the end, from P8 to P17, was nose-to-tail all within 5 seconds. I lost too much time right at the beginning behind another driver on the soft tires and had I got around him earlier I think we could have come out in the battle for the top 10. It’s amazing to see how things work out after the race, every tenth of a second is crucial.
Our bad luck continued in Race Two. After a great start and opening lap, I was side by side (on the outside of course) with Vandoorne in T3, who ended up finishing 10th, when the cars directly in front of us made contact sending one of them directly into my path leaving me nowhere to go and ending my race. It was such a sad end because our car was so good on the hard tires that weekend. I was really looking forward to progressing through the field. This is racing however, and it was time to head back to Italy with the team to start preparing for the golden egg of the season, Monaco.
Watching Indy from Italy
It has been a great week in Italy with the team. It’s always nice to spend time in the work shop with the engineers to make sure we are as prepared as possible for the next event. The chemistry with the Lazarus team is just fantastic. We all know that we are going to make some very good things happen this year. I have also been keeping watch every day on what’s going on back home in Indy! It’s hard being away from the hometown during the greatest time of the year, but I know there will be plenty more months of May in the future, and hopefully more that I can participate in. By the way, I think it’s so insanely cool that the qualifying speeds are in the 230MPH+ range. Every year growing up, whenever I saw a faster speed than the year before or the fastest of the month on those old video boards, it was like I was given a Christmas present early! I had the same feeling watching the live timing during qualifying at the dinner table over here in Italy (sorry for the impoliteness at the dinner table).
So that has been what’s happening in this American’s life: wheeling around Italy driving some shifter karts, prepping for Monaco, learning Italian, and trying to bring more people into the support corral for this GP2 program! It’s been a strange and difficult year so far, but we will get there as a team and I’m looking forward to doing battle in the streets of Monaco again. And to all those people tweeting me saying, “try not to end up in the fence again”… I realize that it is something to avoid folks, don’t worry.