Mere days after he was named to the team’s Chevrolet for the final street circuit race of 2018, Conor Daly found the environment within Harding Racing to be one he enjoys.
As a new Verizon IndyCar Series team coming to grips with a new Indy car aero kit, the Speedway, Indiana-based, Mike Harding-led team has turned its attention to next year for the second half of 2018 by swapping Gabby Chaves for Daly at Toronto — and perhaps other drivers elsewhere — to expedite its grasp of the universal aero kit and decide on a potential teammate to pair with Chaves for 2019.
Part of that long-term process is learning as much as possible about the new car as the team’s first full year of IndyCar continues. While trying to make progress fielding only a single car will always be a disadvantage, parts of the Toronto one-off are familiar for Daly.
“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 the next level of setup and things that we need to do to improve and to make the car better overall,” Daly said after completing his first practice session in Harding’s No. 88 car.
This year’s edition of the Honda Indy Toronto will mark Daly’s 41st career IndyCar start. With only two full seasons on his resume, Daly has participated in the series on a part-time basis for no less than seven races, often as a last-minute replacement.
As one of several recent IndyCar competitors without a full-time ride, Daly’s history in the series since debuting at the 2013 Indianapolis 500 has afforded him experience at quickly finding balance and comfort within the confines of a race weekend.
“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,” Daly stated. “We did like 14 laps and it happens really fast.”
With only a trio of 45-minute practice sessions during which to find speed before ideally displaying it in Saturday’s knockout qualifying to secure an all-important strong starting position at a circuit where passing is at a premium, Daly and the Harding crew are leaving no stones unturned with their Dallara-built, Chevrolet-powered car.
“I really like the fact that the team is open to doing a wide variety of setup changes immediately,” Daly continued. “We made a lot of different changes already in the first session which is what we are trying to do is find a good direction for the balance and I’m pretty happy with that so far.
“We don’t have data to look at from last year, 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.'”
Daly improved his lap time throughout Practice 1, ultimately coming within 1.6383 seconds of Scott Dixon’s leading time on his 14th and final revolution of the 1.786-mile temporary street circuit.
“Obviously from the first session we immediately learned, ‘Alright, 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 the fact that we were even faster than some people — I think that’s pretty good for us so far.”
Along with all 22 of his competitors at Toronto, Daly improved upon his morning speed in Friday’s second practice outing. With 37 laps — good for 66 miles — complete on the day, Daly placed 17th in the field in his debut with the road course configuration of the universal aero kit.
Toronto a Fitting Location for Daly’s One-Off
Daly’s role in nailing the setup of the No. 88 Chevrolet on the streets of Toronto will be aided by his comfort at venues that are racetracks just once a year.
Most highlights of his erratic IndyCar career have come at temporary street circuits, including his lone podium that came on Detroit’s Belle Isle in 2016.
“I think it’s actually way better to come to a track like this than Road America,” Daly said. “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 6 here before … And no one has tested here, so obviously that’s somewhat better to be on that sort of playing field.”
Following a third practice session Saturday morning, Daly will qualify at 1:55 p.m. EDT to determine his spot in the starting lineup for the 85-lap race, set to go green at 3:42 p.m. Sunday.