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.

Vandoorne re-upped with McLaren for 2018

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Heading into his first home Grand Prix, Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne will continue with McLaren Honda into 2018. Perhaps more notable was the continued inclusion of Honda as well within the confirmation.

Vandoorne made his Grand Prix debut at Bahrain 2016 and scored a point filling in for Fernando Alonso. He now scored his first 2017 point last race in Hungary, ending 10th as he did in Bahrain.

The Belgian was always expected to continue and it’s been confirmed the team won’t waffle on that.

“I’m delighted that the team has now formally announced that I will continue to race for them next year, because I’ll be able to approach the second half of my rookie season with total focus on the job in hand: namely getting the very most I can out of my car, my engineers, and everything and everyone around me,” Vandoorne said.

“I’ve already learned such a huge amount in the first half of my first season in Formula 1 – from my engineers, from my mechanics, from Eric [Boullier], from Zak [Brown] and from Jonathan [Neale], and also from Fernando [Alonso], who is a brilliant driver and also an excellent team-mate.

“Last but not least, I want to say thank you to McLaren’s partners and fans for their loyalty and enthusiasm – they are the best in the business – and also to McLaren’s Executive Committee Principals, [Shaikh] Mohammed and Mansour [Ojjeh], who continue to put their faith in me.”

Boullier added, “When we announced at the end of 2016 that Stoffel would be a McLaren Honda race driver for 2017, we indicated that our plan was that he’d race for us for a number of years.

“That plan hasn’t changed, and I’m very happy therefore to be able to confirm that he’ll continue to race for us next season.

“Like all rookies, he’s had to learn a lot in the first half of his first Formula 1 season, but we have great confidence in him, and he’s getting better and better all the time. His team-mate is a tough opponent – that’s an understatement in fact, because he’s arguably the best driver in the sport today – but Stoffel’s robust talent and fierce ambition make us sure that he’ll achieve great successes with us in the future.”

Brown confirmed the multi-year number without putting a specific number down on it.

“Echoing Eric’s words, I’d like to add only that I regard Stoffel as a super talent – a future Formula 1 world champion in fact – and that’s why I’ve always been adamant that he should race for us on a multi-year basis,” he said.

“Before anyone asks me any questions about duration, we don’t want to go into that kind of confidential contractual detail, but let me put it this way: when we signed Stoffel, we intended that he would race for us for a significant number of years, and that remains our firm intention.

“We all know Stoffel’s potential, and when we have a package fast enough to win grands prix again – and we will – Stoffel will be in the right place to score his first Formula 1 victory.”

Alonso’s future, of course, remains a hot button topic set to be decided in September at the earliest.

Toro Rosso extends contract for technical director James Key

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Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key will continue with the team for the foreseeable future, following a contract extension announced on Tuesday.

Key joined the team in 2012 and has seen the Faenza-based squad solidify its role in the upper midfield, with occasional surprise finishes that have pushed the team near the top three or four teams on the grid.

“I am delighted to continue with Toro Rosso and remain part of the Red Bull family,” he said. “This is a team which I have great respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed working with for the past 5 years; now I look forwards to continuing our project into the future.

“STR is unique, facing the challenges of being spread over two countries and fulfilling the roles of both a team in its own right and an important part of the Red Bull driver program: they are challenges that the team takes in its stride and, whilst doing so, continues to grow and improve year on year.

“Most importantly, the people I have had the pleasure to work with at STR are second to none: professional, ambitious and focussed, they have all worked incredibly hard to improve the team’s performance and will continue that hard work with the same dedication and optimism in the coming years too. I would like to thank Franz Tost and Red Bull for their continued support and confidence. We have more work to do, and I look forwards to taking the next steps with Toro Rosso towards our goals.”

Team principal Franz Tost added, Formula 1 is a team sport, but one in which an individual can still make a difference. So far, in his time with us, James has proved that he can indeed make that difference, leading the technical side of the operation.

“Not only has he been adept at producing chassis-aero packages that are well regarded throughout the paddock, he has also shown the management skills necessary to get the most out of all the various departments that work together both here in Faenza and in Bicester. I am therefore delighted that James will be with us for the foreseeable future to continue this fruitful process.”

Teams load up on supersoft tires for Italian GP

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There’s almost no variety in team Pirelli tire selections for the Italian Grand Prix, with nearly all teams going with two sets of softs and 10 sets of supersofts for next week’s race. All teams have selected just one set of mediums.

The only variance comes with Mercedes, Force India and Haas going with three sets of softs and nine supersofts. The rest are all the same choice, two softs and 10 supersofts.

Monza comes a week after Spa this week.

Pirelli’s tire breakdown is below.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee to serve as Gateway grand marshal

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline will feature quite an excellent grand marshal, in the form of three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The full release from the track is below.

An Olympic champion has been selected to give the command to start engines for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline comes to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois on August 26. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, will serve as the grand marshal for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

“I am humble,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. “I do not take this honor for granted to be the INDYCAR race’s grand marshal at Gateway Motorsports Park. Very few people are asked to give the command and I am grateful to be one of the few. Thank you!”

Track-and-field star Joyner-Kersee has won three Olympic gold medals, as well as one silver and two bronze. She was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships for consecutive years and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. During her junior year, she set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. In 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon — an Olympic track-and-field competition comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.

Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively, and is currently the heptathlon world record-holder.
Following her retirement from competition, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to instill youth in the a Greater East St. Louis area with the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. “Winners In Life.”

Chuck Wallis, Vice President of the Bommarito Automotive Group, will serve as honorary starter and will wave the opening green flag.