The odds on Conor Daly claiming a spot on the 2018 IndyCar grid are lengthening by the day.
Dropped by AJ Foyt Racing after a single season the likeable American is banking on a return to Dale Coyne following confirmation that former F2 driver Jordan King will deputise for Ed Carpenter as his street/road racing specialist.
Whilst Daly’s results from two-and-a-half seasons do not exactly scream “sign me”, the series will be missing out if IndyCar’s favourite Twitter meme is on the sidelines this March.
Daly’s unfulfilled potential
After two full seasons in IndyCar Daly has 5 top 10s and 2 top 5s – including a podium at Detroit in 2016 – to show for a lot of hard graft. On paper the results are underwhelming but when considered in context they suggest Conor is due one final shot at success.
Daly has been measured against some fairly strong competition over his two full time IndyCar seasons.
Though Dale Coyne Racing operated a familiar revolving door policy for Daly’s teammate in 2016, there was plenty of talent in the sister Dallara-Honda.
In Gabby Chaves Daly faced an IndyLights champion and Luca Filipi – though an IndyCar rookie – is a GP2 and AutoGP championship runner-up. 2017 teammate Carlos Munoz is a proven race-winner, superb on ovals and was good enough to hold Michael Andretti’s attention for 3 seasons.
Measuring up against top talent
Daly may not have made them eat his dust but neither was he embarrassed by his admired teammates.
In fact towards the end of the 2017 season it was Daly and not Munoz who appeared to have the Chevrolet package figured out for AJ Foyt Racing.
Writing off 2017 with AJ Foyt Racing
The 2017 season for Foyt can and probably should be completely expunged from both Daly and Munoz’s career resume. Foyt cleared the decks for 2017 in almost every sense and the results were poor.
Daly joined as part of a completely refreshed driver line up. This coincided with Foyt Racing switching to a new engine/aero package and bringing in new faces in the engineering department.
Such wholesale changes during a single off season proved to be a mistake and neither driver stood much chance of looking anything other than mediocre. Certainly not in the competitive ranks of IndyCar and definitely not when it coincided with a relative upswing in Honda performance.
IndyCar’s digital ‘brat pack’
Daly will also be important as the championship continues in its quest to draw in younger audiences.
Rumors persist that even as soon as IndyCar’s next broadcast deal – from 2019 onwards – significant if it not comprehensive online streaming could feature.
Daly is one quarter of IndyCar’s own social media ‘brat pack’ along with James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi. They are the generation that will carry IndyCar for the next decade as the likes of Castroneves, Kannan, Dixon and Bourdais bow out.
Though he tends to be the whipping boy for the brat pack’s jokes – consider Alexander Rossi’s ‘rent is due’ gag this week – the fan engagement offered by Daly could contribute to the success of growing a younger fanbase for IndyCar.
Be of no doubt, IndyCar will need to embrace alternative broadcast media sooner rather than later. The presence of Daly and the rest of the brat pack will go some way to helping secure a smooth and strong transition to the online streaming so beloved of their fellow millennials.
Daly – the sporting underdog
Though American’s love a sporting champion, they also love an underdog.
From the 1980 ‘Miracle on ice’ hockey win over the USSR to Tom Brady and the underdog Patriots at Superbowl XXXVI (remember when they used to be the underdogs?), sports fans like to root for the David vs Goliath story.
Daly – despite his famous father and Indianapolis Motor Speedway connections – epitomises the hard working sporting underdog. Conor is usually found scrapping for every opportunity and driving for next to nothing. Almost literally busting his buns trying to make a mark on IndyCar.
Will the right opportunity emerge?
Motorsport is probably the cruelest of sports when it comes to an athlete’s return on their invested efforts. It owes no one, nothing.
In the case of Daly however it is hard to stomach that a rookie season at Coyne and a disaster of a year at Foyt is fair return for the 25 year old Indiana native.
Let’s hope that, this time, the right opportunity presents itself to allow Conor Daly to show IndyCar what he can really do.