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Exclusive Q&A with GP2’s Conor Daly

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After speaking to Alexander Rossi in Canada, MotorSportsTalk got the chance to speak with the other young American forging a path towards Formula 1 – Conor Daly – in England yesterday.

The son of former F1 driver Derek, Conor rose through the junior ranks in America before moving to Europe to race in GP2 and GP3. Having finished third in GP3 last year, he endured a tough winter as he went in search of a seat, but finally secured a place in GP2 with Venezuela GP Lazarus for 2014.

After a difficult winter and beginning to the year, we sat down with Conor to talk about his season so far, his career, his thoughts on F1’s revival in the USA and the role that his father played in getting him racing.

It’s been a difficult start to the season, but how do you think things have progressed since the beginning of the year and since last winter? 

Conor Daly: I knew it would be a big challenge coming in as a rookie. Fortunately I got to do the first race last year which was kind of cool, and it went really well, so I didn’t think that it would be going as badly as it has gone so far. But you know every team is different and every situation is different so it’s definitely been a challenge, but I feel like we’re definitely improving. To finish 10th in Monaco after qualifying at the back again; to make up so many positions there, I felt, as a driver, satisfied with the racing and the same again in Austria. I got good starts and passed a lot of people, and ended up 11th and right near the top ten again. It’s tough because last year having went so well and being so close to getting a championship and now we’re fighting again just to score points. It’s different but we can only do what we can do so we’re gonna keep trying to work at it and improve.

And you felt that the GP2 race you did in 2013 helped? You sort of knew what you were coming into when you stepped in the car this year?

CD: Well it did help because I knew I could get in the car immediately and be competitive and fight for the top five, so now, as difficult as it has been and as much as we’ve struggled with the car, I’m very confident in the way I’m driving these cars because of that first race. We have to do a lot of work with the car to get it in the game and get it in the zone, get it where we need to be competitive. It’s been a good kind of benchmark, that’s for sure.

How did the deal with Lazarus come about, because you had a really tough winter trying to find seats and it was quite a last minute thing…

CD: Yeah that’s kind of one of the biggest mysteries. It was the worst winter ever. A lot of things I thought I had never happened. This deal with Lazarus came up when they called me up to do the test, and I informed them of our situation, sponsorship-wise and all of that which is basically the main thing that anyone wants to know about. They were passionate to have me in the car and they wanted to get me in and after the first test they wanted to continue to have me there so we just tried to work with their partners, what they have and the Venezuelan partners that they’ve got and some business in America. Obviously Powerful Yogurt is on our car now, which is a business based out of Miami.

I’ve never really been with a European team that’s really worked on the business side to keep a driver in because for me, I still don’t have the sponsorship from my end. There’s a situation where I obviously still have to bring a portion of the budget, combined with what we’ve put together business-wise, and I don’t have what I need. But we’re all still working together constantly, and that’s great, but it’s kind of a shame at the same time because I wish that there was one year in my career where I could have total security. But it is what it is – that’s racing. I’m not fortunate enough to have governments behind me or oil companies, so it is what it is and I’m happy to be here and we’ve done every race so far so all is well. I can’t be more thankful to these guys for the opportunity.

So over the winter, what other avenues did you look at? Did you look at IndyCar or WEC? 

CD: I was actually totally ready for IndyCar. I was focusing on IndyCar because for GP2, I lost my funding, I lost everything. All the teams I’d spoken to are like “here’s how much it is, you have that, or we’re not going racing”. There was no team that was like “well we’ve got a little bit of sponsorship, we could maybe help you out”. It’s like money or nothing. In IndyCar, at least all of the teams know who I am and they’re really helpful in trying to put things together. However, I still didn’t have enough money for there either.

It was just a really sad situation to see rides that I’d been working on going to other people, just because of a money number. It was a difficult winter only because of seeing things that you’re close to going away, but then all of a sudden, a chance came up and I’m in GP2, which of course overall that was my goal. I just kind of put it on the side because I didn’t know exactly where I could find however many millions of dollars that I needed to get here. The right opportunity that I really wanted eventually came up.

So if I right now put an IndyCar contract on the table, would you take it? 

CD: That’s a difficult question. I get a lot of tweets about that. I can’t say yes or no right now, because I’m in the middle of the GP2 season and that’s my focus, and I don’t know what’s happening in Formula 1. Obviously Formula 1 is the dream for anyone, and still for me as an American because we need an American in the sport, but we also need someone to help an American get to the sport, so that’s the difficult thing. I love IndyCar, but right now, my focus is to get through the GP2 season and to finish that and see where that takes me, but I definitely have a love for IndyCar, for sure.

Of course you did the Indy 500 back in 2013, you couldn’t do it this year though. Was it something you were trying to work out? It clashed with Monaco GP2 of course, so was that the only thing in your way?

CD: Monaco was the only thing in the way, but it would have been good to just focus on GP2 as well. I could have got in the 500 at some 33rd entry, but I don’t want to do that again, I already did that with Foyt. That was an interesting deal, and it was awesome, but I’d like to go back there in a position where I’ve got the experience, I’ve got the testing going in, the right way. It was good to just focus on GP2.

Really looking ahead, is the next chance you’re going to have at the 500 going to be if you’re in IndyCar? 

CD: Yeah for sure. The only chance I’d do the 500 is if I’m in there full-time.

Between GP2 and IndyCar, what kind of differences are there between the two cars when you’re behind the wheel? Is there a big change?

CD: Not really actually. The cars are quite similar on road courses. A lot of people say that GP2 cars would be faster around a road course, but I’m not sure I believe that. I know that IndyCars are constantly getting a little bit quicker with a little bit more horsepower. They’re definitely very close. IndyCar is a little bit heavier, GP2 is a little bit lighter and nimbler but the tires are obviously completely different animals. I’d say they’re quite close which is helpful for me if I were to go either way.

Now the big thing everyone is talking about at the moment is Haas Formula coming into F1 as an American team. You must be excited as an American to see this possibly going ahead? 

CD: Yeah it will be really cool. Gene Haas has obviously done a lot in NASCAR which is really cool, and I like the guys that he’s got in NASCAR. Tony Stewart is a good friend of mine, he’s awesome. Kurt Busch is obviously very cool and him doing the 500 was awesome. I didn’t really get to talk to him much but I introduced myself at the banquet and that was cool for me because I’m a racing fan. We’ll see how it plays out.

Obviously it’s a big challenge, it’s a big thing to do, and it was unfortunate to see what happened with USF1 when they obviously tried to do it. I have a lot of confidence in him because he seems to be fairly gung-ho about going after it, so we’ll just see how it plays out. I would love to be a part of it as an American.

Have you spoken to Gene about it?

CD: I haven’t spoken to him personally, no, he’s very hard to get a hold of! I know my Dad met him in Montreal, but it’s gonna take someone else other than my Dad because he doesn’t want to be the one who’s just like “oh he’s just his Dad”, so we’ll have to kind of get in touch with them a different way. At least my Dad met him and said hello. I have to say he’s aware of both me and [Alexander] Rossi.

Yes of course, he has said he wants American drivers involved with the team, that must fill you with confidence?

CD: You know it does, but racing is a weird animal so I just never know what will happen. 

So say in 2016 if they offered you a role as a test driver and you could do that in tandem with GP2, would that work?

CD: That would be something for sure, depending on how it worked out, absolutely. You can be affiliated with a Formula 1 team and have a legitimate shot, not just being a reserve driver but having a legitimate shot at a race seat, that’s alright. But again, we’ll just have to see how it plays out. I’m ready for it if it comes, that’s for sure.

Being an American youngster at this time must be pretty fantastic. We’ve had Austin come back, New Jersey, Long Beach, they all get thrown around. You must be pretty pleased that you’re the ‘right’  nationality at the moment?

CD: People keep saying that but me and Rossi are still here in GP2, and we’re not getting those calls to jump up. I love being American, I happy being American, but we can’t keep seem to generate the support that other nationalities get from their pure countries – not moral support, financial support. I get so many people who are so passionate about seeing us there, it’s so cool, I love seeing all the tweets and messages I get because I love it too, I love what I do, I’m pretty thankful, and I would love to represent the USA in F1 or on a world level, but it’s gonna take a lot to get there.

It’s awesome that we’re in Austin because Austin’s a great race and the possibilities of more races, fantastic. We’ll just have to continue to see how it plays out, and even if it’s Alex and not me, that’s awesome, I’d love to see Alex there. I was just staying at his house over the weekend, so it’s gonna be cool to see how it plays out, but we cannot stress enough that we need help to get there for sure.

On your way up the ladder with racing, was it just a matter of karting and knowing this is what you wanted to do?

CD: Yeah. Through karting, it was like this was just something I was like “yeah we’re doing it”. But then when we got to the really high levels of karting, and then I started getting into cars and I was like “okay this is definitely what I want to do”.

Your Dad, Derek, must have been a huge influence. Were you pushed into racing at all or was it something you found on your own?

CD: Never pushed, that was one thing my Dad never wanted to do is never push me into something I didn’t want to do. It was actually one of our neighbors who wanted to start go kart racing and they obviously called upon the help of my Dad because they knew about him. So I was like “I wanna go too!” and sure enough I got in and I was like “wow!”. Sure enough, I went for it and the rest is history.

And even to this day he must be a huge influence and a huge help?

CD: Yeah, as soon as I got into it, he was a huge supporter, really enjoyed it, but he was very tough on me all the time, making sure this is what I wanted to do. He almost tried to talk me out of it because of how difficult it is, but that was to make sure that this was what I really wanted to do. As difficult as it was growing up, I’m glad I went through it because of how much I love the sport now and how much I love what I do.

If you’ve got a message for the American fans and people watching you race, what would it be?

CD: Just keep waving the flags, keep supporting us. All the tweets, all the messages, and any form of social media, we appreciate everything.

Valtteri Bottas fastest as times tumble on third day of Barcelona F1 test

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 28: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 28, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Valtteri Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes by topping the third day of Formula 1 pre-season testing as times tumbled at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Bottas split running with new teammate Lewis Hamilton once again on Wednesday in Barcelona, taking the reins of the Mercedes W08 EQ Power+ for the morning session.

The Finn was given the chance to chase fast laps, utilizing the quicker compounds in Pirelli’s range and even getting a run on the ultra-softs.

Bottas turned in a best lap 1:19.705 to finish two-tenths of a second clear at the top of the timesheets, with his time being the fastest of pre-season testing so far.

The time is also just 1.3 seconds off the lap record for an F1 car around the current layout of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, set by Felipe Massa during a test in 2008 during the V8 era.

Ferrari continued its strong start to testing as Sebastian Vettel finished second, completing his fastest lap on the soft compound tire and also dipping below the 1:20s mark. Daniel Ricciardo was third for Red Bull, 1.2 seconds further back.

Jolyon Palmer enjoyed an impressive run-out for Renault to finish fourth-fastest, although his running was interrupted in the morning by a spin at Turn 2 after getting on the power too early. Teammate Nico Hulkenberg was fifth, the pair having split the running on Wednesday.

Marcus Ericsson finished the day sixth for Sauber ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who enjoyed his first extended run in the VF-17 car after seeing teammate Kevin Magnussen take the opening two days of running. Lewis Hamilton followed in eighth for Mercedes.

Lance Stroll’s steep learning curve in F1 continued as he suffered two spins on Wednesday, the second of which caused damage to his Williams FW40 and ended the team’s running early (much as it did on Tuesday). The Canadian racked up 98 laps in total.

Fernando Alonso had a more productive day for McLaren after engine woes limited its running on the first two days, the Spaniard racking up 72 laps in total en route to P10. Compatriot Carlos Sainz Jr. was 11th for Toro Rosso, with teammate Daniil Kvyat 13th. The pair were split by Force India junior Alfonso Celis Jr.

Thursday marks the final day of the first pre-season test in Barcelona, and is set to see the track be artificially dampened to allow Pirelli to test its wet-weather tire compounds.

FIA confirms 2017 Formula 1 entry list

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MARCH 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during day three of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 1, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The FIA has confirmed the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship entry list on Wednesday, following on from the provisional entry list published in December.

There’s two notable absences on what is otherwise an updated entry list that goes as expected.

The first is in the engine column for Scuderia Toro Rosso. The team will run a Renault power unit for the STR12 chassis, but is yet to come up with a non-Renault badge for it, as they’ve been keen to do and to match the Red Bull Racing team which badges its Renaults as TAG Heuer.

The second, unsurprisingly, is the absence of Manor Grand Prix Racing Limited. The holding company was unable to find a last-minute buyer for the team after Manor, the team, announced its closure earlier this year.

The full entry list as published by the FIA is below:

Car N°

Driver’s Name

Company Name

Team Name

Name of the Chassis

Name of the Engine

8

Romain GROSJEAN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

20

Kevin MAGNUSSEN

HAAS FORMULA LLC

HAAS F1 TEAM

HAAS

FERRARI

 27

Nicolas HULKENBERG

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

30

Jolyon PALMER

RENAULT SPORT RACING LTD

RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM

RENAULT

RENAULT

14

Fernando ALONSO

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

2

Stoffel VANDOORNE

MCLAREN RACING LIMITED

MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM

MCLAREN

HONDA

44

Lewis HAMILTON

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

77

Valtteri BOTTAS

MERCEDES-BENZ GRAND PRIX LIMITED

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

MERCEDES

MERCEDES

3

Daniel RICCIARDO

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

33

Max VERSTAPPEN

RED BULL RACING LIMITED

RED BULL RACING

RED BULL RACING

TAG HEUER

11

Sergio PEREZ MENDOZA

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

 31

Esteban OCON

FORCE INDIA FORMULA 1 TEAM LIMITED

SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM

FORCE INDIA

MERCEDES

9

Marcus ERICSSON

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

94

Pascal WEHRLEIN

SAUBER MOTORSPORT AG

SAUBER F1 TEAM

SAUBER

FERRARI

5

Sebastian VETTEL

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

7

Kimi RAIKKONEN

FERRARI SPA

SCUDERIA FERRARI

FERRARI

FERRARI

55

Carlos SAINZ Jr

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

26

Daniil KVYAT

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO SPA

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO

TBC

19

Felipe MASSA

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

18

Lance STROLL

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING LIMITED

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

WILLIAMS

MERCEDES

Felix Rosenqvist adds Super Formula to his extensive driving resume

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Felix Rosenqvist will add Super Formula to his glittering and diverse range of machinery he’s raced in, having been confirmed in the Japanese open-wheel series overnight. He’ll race the No. 7 Toyota for Snoco Team Le Mans.

The Swede will be an intriguing driver to watch as one of six non-Japanese drivers in the series. His Toyota teammate at Snoco is Kazuya Oshima.

The non-Japanese drivers this year are Rosenqvist, the French Red Bull Junior and GP2 Pierre Gasly, New Zealander Nick Cassidy, German multiple-race Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer, English Nissan protege Jann Mardenborough and Indian ex-F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan.

Rosenqvist races full-time with Mahindra Racing in FIA Formula E and within the last year-plus, has raced in DTM, the Blancpain GT Sprint series, ADAC GT Masters, Indy Lights and the Macau Grand Prix, tested an IndyCar and was meant to race a PC class car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The season opens at Suzuka on April 23.

Telitz, O’Ward both formally confirmed for Indy Lights step-up

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Telitz tests No. 9 car. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The two protagonists for the 2016 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires championship, Aaron Telitz and Pato O’Ward, settled who’d win the Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship in September at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Telitz took the crown, and would be confirmed for his graduation into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in a Soul Red-liveried car.

While the graduation was known in September, it’s taken until today before all the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed on the formal confirmation of Telitz’s seat in the No. 9 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda, thus ending months of informal chatter about the seat and even a quick inside joke that Telitz’s team was “Real Big Secret,” a joke that spread to social media.

In another humorous twist, O’Ward, who battled Telitz all season with Team Pelfrey a year ago, has been confirmed for his own step up to Indy Lights in the No. 3 Pelfrey entry on exactly the same day. The 17-year-old Mexican will join Pelfrey’s Indy Lights program for this week’s Spring Training test at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course and the season opener at St. Petersburg.

Clearly, the two drivers still can’t get away from each other after pushing each other all last year in Pro Mazda.

The long and short of that background is that these two will round out the expected field of 15 cars for the season-opening weekend, which is only one car lower than 2016 despite the withdrawal of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and its four cars. Belardi (has grown from two to three cars), Carlin (three to four) and Andretti Autosport (three to four) have all added an extra car to pick up three of the four-ex-Schmidt Peterson cars.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz, the 25-year-old from Rice Lake, Wisconsin, was invited by Brian Belardi’s team to Watkins Glen last fall for the introduction, and completed a comprehensive testing program over the winter – primarily in Florida and also at Gateway Motorsports Park – in preparation for his step up.

“John Brunner, the team’s general manager, and [team owner] Brian Belardi invited me to the IndyCar/Indy Lights race at Watkins Glen last fall before the Pro Mazda season ended,” Telitz said. “I had a head-start in knowing the guys and seeing how the team works and knowing their cars are fast. They won that weekend and then again at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I just really enjoyed how the Belardi guys worked. They were really professional and Brian is from Wisconsin. It’s great to have that home-state connection, as most of my personal supporters are from Wisconsin.”

“All of us at Mazda are thrilled to have Aaron carrying Mazda’s Soul Red color in 2017 with Belardi Auto Racing,” said John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports. “To see a talent like Aaron achieve success in the Mazda Road to Indy is ultimately what the program is all about. When he pulled into victory lane after winning the Pro Mazda Championship last fall, I told Aaron that he needed to savor the moment and remember all of the challenges he faced getting there. We cannot play favorites in the Mazda Road to Indy, but we wish Aaron the very best as he opens this new chapter in his racing career and is one step closer to the Verizon IndyCar series.”

Telitz completes the team’s three-car lineup alongside Santiago Urrutia and Shelby Blackstock, series veterans who shift to Belardi from Schmidt Peterson and Andretti, respectively. Telitz’s additional supporters include Rice Lake Weighing Systems, Rising Star Racing, Morrie’s Chippewa Valley Mazda, Styled Aesthetic, Fred Thomas Resort, Team USA Scholarship, among others.

Photo: Team Pelfrey
Photo: Team Pelfrey

For O’Ward, the Indy Lights drive is a slight surprise as he’s also committed to a full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship PC class with Performance Tech Motorsports, confirmed after he was part of the Brent O’Neill-led team’s victory at the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

O’Ward is the third consecutive driver confirmed to a St. Petersburg-only weekend with Team Pelfrey. Scott Hargrove was confirmed for the same role last year with Pelfrey and in 2015 with the team’s former incarnation as 8Star Motorsports. Hargrove continued through the month of May with Pelfrey last year but only raced at St. Petersburg in 2015.

With O’Ward’s eight-race IMSA schedule, there’s only one conflict weekend between PC races and Indy Lights, the weekend of July 8-9. PC races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Indy Lights at Iowa Speedway both on July 9.

Interestingly, O’Ward parlayed a first two weekends-only announced deal into an eventual full-time role with Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda last year, so he’s got experience in succeeding despite no guarantee of further races. As last year, he carries support from Gap Guard and Topo Chico.

“I am back with Team Pelfrey in Indy Lights for the first official Series test and for the first race of the season in St. Petersburg,” said O’Ward, whose teammate is the very experienced Juan Piedrahita. “A big thank you goes to the creator of Gap Guard, better known as Dale Pelfrey, once again for the opportunity and the whole Team Pelfrey crew as well for the continuous support they have given me the last few years.”

“We are very excited to confirm Pato on the Indy Lights front,” added Team Pelfrey IL team manager, Gary Neal. “Not only does this mean we have an exceptionally talented driver, but it’s also great to see the Team Pelfrey ladder system in full swing. We are looking forward to a strong outing at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.”

Three other Mazda Road to Indy signings have come in in the last few days, as well:

  • Team Pelfrey rounds out its three-car Pro Mazda lineup with Russian driver Nikita Lastochkin and Brazilian driver Carlos Cunha joining the previously announced TJ Fischer, the young Californian. Cunha has Formula 3 Brazil experience while Lastochkin steps up after two years in USF2000.
  • Exclusive Autosport rounds out its three-car USF2000 lineup with karting veteran Dev Gore joining a pair of third-year drivers in Parker Thompson and Luke Gabin.

Testing continues today and tomorrow at Homestead-Miami Speedway.