Harding Replaces Chaves With Daly In Toronto

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 13 2018

Conor Daly, who drove for A.J. Foyt Racing a year ago, will be in the Harding Racing car this weekend.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

American Conor Daly will contest Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto for Harding Racing, temporarily relegating Colombian Gabby Chaves to the role of spectator.

The team fronted by former INDYCAR executive Brian Barnhart and owned by Indianapolis businessman Mike Harding is in the midst of its first full season after competing in three events in 2017. Chaves is 18th in points with a best start of eighth and a pair of 14th-place finishes during the season’s first 11 events.

Daly made his only previous start this season in the 102nd edition of the Indianapolis 500. The second-generation racer started 33rd and last and finished 21st at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the No. 17 United States Air Force Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing. A 26-year-old native of Noblesville, Ind., Daly finished 18th in series points last year driving for AJ Foyt Racing with a best finish of fifth on the Gateway Motorsports Park oval in Madison, Ill.

“The team is giving me a great opportunity here,” Daly said during a news conference Friday morning. “Obviously, I think there’s a lot to be learned at this track when it comes to the technical side. It’s a very bumpy, wild place, and I think…I’m trying to do the best I can to put some building blocks in place for the race on Sunday and then just see what happens. I think it’s very much a fact-finding mission for us both, and very thankful to just be here in general.”

Daly participated in both practices Friday on the Streets of Toronto’s Exhibition Place, an 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary course. His best lap was recorded in the second session at 1-minute, 4114-seconds/106.430 mph. Four-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing topped the session with a lap in 59:0751-seconds/108.838 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.

Chaves, a 25-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia, remains under contract with Harding through 2019. Team President Barnhart told RacinToday.com at IMS the organization was working to secure funding to hire an experienced driver as a teammate to Chaves for 2019. Earlier this week, Barnhart told RACER that Harding also wants to test drivers currently competing in the Indy Lights Series.

The 22-car field will qualify Saturday for the 85-lap/151.81-mile event. The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network Sunday at 3 p.m. (EDT).

An edited transcript of Daly’s presser after the opening practice follows:

THE MODERATOR: The team is wanting you to bring in information to help them grow and develop as they navigate their first full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. How do you respond when somebody comes to you and says, “Conor, we feel like you’re somebody that can help us out?”

CONOR DALY: “I mean, it’s really cool. I appreciate that. As a one-car team, they’re the only one-car team, and it’s really hard. This is a really competitive series that we have here. Most teams have at least two cars, and it’s double the information, double the amount of setup changes you can make to try and find the appropriate balance. This series is so competitive, everyone is so close that you almost need that, and I think to have me in and to have sort of my…I guess my technical knowledge. I’ve dealt with situations last year where we had a lot of new people and a lot of new stuff and a whole new aero kit to deal with all in one year, so I’m sort of used to the situation of really needing to find sort of the next level of setup and things that we need to do to improve and to make the car better overall.

I’m going to do the best I can in that situation, and we’re all being realistic about this situation, and I think we’re going to try and have some fun with it and enjoy the weekend and hopefully it turns out with a good race, too.”

THE MODERATOR: What are some things you’re noticing about the track and about the team and how it operates and the people behind it?

CONOR DALY: “Well, obviously the car is very different immediately. So much less downforce than last year. But it is fun. I think it’s a fun car to drive. I think the brakes for me are a lot actually better this year than what I had last year, so that was really nice to get a feel for.

But 45 minutes is not a lot. We did like 14 laps and it happens really fast. Definitely some differences, definitely. I really like the fact that the team is open to doing a wide variety of setup changes immediately. We made a lot of different changes already in the first session, which is what we’re trying to do is find a good direction for the balance, and I’m pretty happy with that so far.”

QUESTION:  Talk about being with a new team, getting situated, how they do things. What is the process of trying to fit yourself into the Harding scheme?

CONOR DALY: “Well, I mean, I’ve been in these situations before. I’ve jumped into multiple different cars last minute and I’m used to getting into these things pretty quickly. But for me I’ve known a lot of these guys since I was an infant. I’ve been in this paddock for a very long time, so I’m very familiar with a lot of the guys, so it’s a great group of people.

I really like the outlook on what we’re trying to do here. I think it’s very reasonable. I like the place that we’re in because I think everyone is just trying to enjoy the weekend and accept everything that we’re going to throw at the crew, whether it’s a lot of setup changes or whether it’s a lot of different things we can do with the gears, different things we can do with the car just to try and make it go as fast as it can possibly go, and that’s in the end what we all want to have happen.”

QUESTION:  It used to be if you were called into a meeting with Brian Barnhart as a driver, it would mean _it was like going to the principal’s office. Now he’s your boss. How is that dynamic working out for you?

CONOR DALY: “I like Brian. His voice on the radio, it’s really assuring. I think he’s very stern in the way he talks, but I know he’s got a lot of passion for this sport. We’ve all seen that. And it’s a great group to work with. I think all the guys are good leaders. I think there’s some really strong leaders on the pit box there, and even having Al Unser Jr. there, as well. I think that’s really cool to have that as part of the team dynamic without a doubt.”

QUESTION: A lot of fans around here remember your dad (Derek) being here, so there’s a heritage element to this. You’re aware of that?

CONOR DALY: “Yeah. I mean, dad has been here before. I’ve had a lot of people ask if he’s going to be here, but I think all my family is not really going to be able to be here because we didn’t really know until Tuesday whether I was going to drive. That’s kind of cool, but they’re all obviously paying attention, texting me all the time, seeing what’s going on, and yeah, Dad has had a lot of runs around here himself.”

QUESTION: What sort of progress has the team made through the first half of the year that you’re kind of glad they did with the car that helps get you up to speed this morning?

CONOR DALY: “I think every weekend they’re learning. We don’t have data to look at from last year, right, so what are we looking at before the session? Not a lot. We’re just like, ‘Hey, I think this is where we’re going to start, this is what we’ve got information-wise,’ and I’m like, ‘Absolutely, sounds like a great idea.’ Obviously from the first session we immediately learned, all right, this is what we didn’t like, this is what we did like. We improved our lap time every single run, and we didn’t have another set of new tires to use, and still the last lap was our fastest lap.

That’s realistically how you want it to go, and now we have another set of new blacks to run and another set of reds, too, in Session 2, so really excited to see what that has for us. It’s just step-by-step progress and the fact that we were even faster than some people, I think that’s pretty good for us. To come in and having not driven an Indy car on a road course since September of last year is pretty cool.”

QUESTION: Conor, how difficult is it to come into a track like this that’s not very forgiving? Would you have preferred it to be maybe someplace like Road America? And do you know if you’ll be doing any other races between now and the end of the season for the team?

CONOR DALY: “Well, to answer the second part of that first, we’re just starting with this weekend. Don’t know what else is going to happen in the future, but I’m used to that. I’m going to use every session as best I possibly can.

But the first part of that question, I think it’s actually way better to come to a track like this than Road America. The forgiveness level really never comes into your head because either way you can make a mistake at any racetrack. But Toronto and street courses in general, that’s my bread and butter. I love that stuff. We’ve been on the podium at street courses before. We’ve been in the Fast Six here before. So there’s a lot of good things that have happened on street courses. And no one has tested here, so obviously that’s somewhat better to be on that sort of playing field.

And I like this place a lot. They’ve done a great job with the paving here. I think Turn 1 now the brake zone is fantastic. You’re no longer …your face isn’t bouncing off the steering wheel as you brake for that corner, so I think that’s really awesome. Yeah, I’m a lot happier with the changes that have been made to the track for sure.”

QUESTION: How resilient have you had to be over these last couple of years, because I’m sure that every time another driver gets hired by another team, you’ve got to think to yourself, “Well, I know I can do better than them.”

CONOR DALY: “Well, I don’t know about that. ‘Hired’ _ there’s a lot of asterisks around that word these days. But for me, I know what I can do. I know there’s a lot of people that still do have faith in me. I think there’s a lot of people in these teams that have seen what I can do, seen what I have done in certain situations. We’ve had a rocky road for sure over the last four years. But I do feel like I have delivered at the level that is needed to compete in the IndyCar Series and I’ve been super-thankful to have these chances to do that.

“I think there’s an incredible group of people at this Harding Racing team that have seen enough to at least give me the opportunity here, and I’m super-thankful for that. I’m just going to keep doing what I can do, keep trying to learn every time I get out on the racetrack. And if I can get more chances to race, I’m going to continue to do everything I can do to have a job more often.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 13 2018
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