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The Way It Is/ Conor Daly's winning ways

by Gordon Kirby
Conor Daly has spent the last two years primarily racing GP3 cars in Europe. He finished sixth in this year's GP3 championship, winning in Barcelona early in the year. Daly won the Skip Barber National Championship in 2008 when he was sixteen and took the Star Mazda title in 2010 before setting off on his European adventure. Conor's goal is to break into Formula One and as he prepares to celebrates his 21st birthday at the end of this week Conor faces a critical step next year on the ladder to F1.

"It's difficult at the moment," Daly admits. "Either GP2 or World Series by Renault in Europe is going to be very expensive. GP2 is impossible. It's way too expensive, but World Series by Renault 3.5 is a possibility.

"I tested a World Series by Renault car in the middle of October and it's a very impressive machine. It's almost equal to an Indy car on lap time, and quicker than a GP2, so that would be a really good place to be. But right now, the sponsorship is very difficult to come by."

Nevertheless, Daly is full of youthful optimism and confidence.

"I really have no idea what next year holds," he adds. "It's going to be interesting but I'm confident that we'll be able to put something good together."

© GP3 Series photography
Daly ran this year's GP3 series with the Lotus GP team. He took five podiums and qualified in the top ten at every race.

"We had some problems, some mechanical issues and a crash at Monaco, but we had a good season overall," Conor says. "We failed to score on two weekends but it was much better than my first year. I learned an incredible amount and we were able to win, which is always a good thing to say you were able to do."

There's very little track time for the GP3 teams during race weekends so it's essential to make the most of pre-season testing.

"You run two races each weekend and there's not a lot of track time," Daly points out. "You only get one practice session per weekend. We did two days of testing in the middle of the season and six pre-season days. They were very important."

Conor reckons his best GP3 races this year came in Barcelona, where he won, and Hockenheim where he finished second and third in the two races.

"Barcelona for sure was a good weekend. I qualified second and finished sixth in the first race. Then I started third for the second race and won. I had a good start and had a good race. I got out front and led the whole thing. That race went really well.

"The race weekend at Hockenheim was very good as well because we had two podium finishes in the weekend and I was the first person to do that up to that point in the season."

Daly also made his Formula 3 debut this year in the F3 Masters race at Zandvoort.

© GP3 Series photography
"It was a last minute deal but it was good experience," he remarks. "It's pretty difficult to jump in one of those cars and go quick right away. But we were pretty quick, then I stalled at the start. My mistake, but I learned how to drive those cars."

In 2011, his first year in Europe, Conor drove for Trevor Carlin's team. His best results that year were a pair of fifth places and he believes he improved substantially this year.

"I think we made huge progress this year. I was a confident frontrunner this year. I made a few small mistakes that cost us a couple of results. But for me, I have to keep learning. It's still only my second year in Europe, so there's still a lot to be learned."

Conor has been fortunate to enjoy a homey atmosphere while racing in Europe. He's been living with Chris and Debi Berry in Bracknell, west of London. Debi is Bobby Rahal's first wife and Graham's mom.

"Chris is an awesome guy and I've known Debi since I was a kid. They live about forty minutes west of London so it works out incredibly well. I'm very appreciative of their generosity. They're great people."

After the GP3 season Daly headed to India to compete in the MRF Challenge, a new Dallara-Renault spec car series designed specifically for India. Daly won two of six races run so far, scoring a convincing victory in the fifth round, and he's currently second in the championship. The next rounds in the MRF series take place in January.

"It's not necessarily the greatest car in the world to drive," Conor remarks. "But it's good to be driving anything this late in the year and it's always nice to get a win. It's a brand new Dallara chassis with a two liter Renault engine and there are a quite a few decent drivers doing it. So it was good experience."

© GP3 Series photography
In 2011, Conor ran five Indy Lights races, winning at Long Beach and leading the championship after three races before heading to Europe. He's been invited to test one of A.J. Foyt's Indy cars at Sebring this week and it could be the beginning of Conor's return to racing in the United States.

"I'm really looking forward to testing an Indy car," Daly grins. "Growing up in Indianapolis, I've always dreamed of racing an Indy car. So it'll be really exciting to test one. I don't expect to race for A.J. next year, but it's really cool to get the opportunity to drive an Indy car and work with his IndyCar team."

Conor reflects on a possible change in his career course.

"Suddenly America has come back into play as well. So it'll be interesting to see what shapes up in the next few weeks and months."

Conor Daly has shown race-winning ability in a variety of open-wheel cars. He's also shown his commitment to racing in Europe and trying to put an American face on the F1 grid.

The next step in Conor's burgeoning career requires substantial sponsorship and I hope the excitement we saw last month over F1's successful debut at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas will help generate the support to push Daly's career toward his goal.

Surely it would do the Circuit of the Americas a power of good to put its brand and financial support behind a GP2 or World Series by Renault 3.5 car for Daly to race in 2013. Promotionally, it makes all the sense in the world, and would provide a bonanza if and when Daly ultimately graduates to F1.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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