The American F1 Dream: Conor Daly’s push for the top

3 Comments

Formula 1’s recent revival in the USA has been wonderful to see. The return of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin has been a complete success, and an American team is set to join the grid in 2016 courtesy of NASCAR team owner Gene Haas.

However, there is still one thing missing: an American driver. You have to go back to Scott Speed in 2007 for the last US F1 racer, but there are two very young and exciting talents coming through the ranks at the moment.

First up, we have Alexander Rossi. The Caterham test driver is perhaps the closest to F1 at the moment, but he is still yet to make the full-time step up. We spoke to him about his chances a few weeks ago in Montreal.

The second is Conor Daly. The two drivers took different routes up the junior ladder, but the ultimate goal remains the same: Formula 1. Therefore, with the sport becoming increasingly pro-American, surely it must bode well for an American driver?

“People keep saying that,” Conor explains, “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 morale support, financial support.”

And this has been what has held Conor back all too often: finances. After what he called “the worst winter ever” in pursuit of a race seat, he eventually secured a last-minute drive in GP2.

“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,” he said. “I can’t be more thankful to these guys for the opportunity.

“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, but we cannot stress enough that we need help to get there for sure.”

The fact that Formula 1 has become so business oriented has been to the detriment of drivers such as Conor. Strictly speaking, the sport should involve the best 22 drivers in the world. However, the rise of the pay driver means that sometimes the size of your wallet can mean more than the trophies on your shelf.

Daly, Rossi, and even Gene Haas have all had to deal with the difficulty of being an American trying to break into a Euro-centric sport. “For me as a driver, you had to come to Europe to try to get to F1,” Conor said. ” I think no matter what he’s going to make the right decisions when it comes to the time to do it.

“I think if you have a base of operations in America, you can also just as easily – maybe not have one big one but two small ones. I’m sure when the time comes they’ll make the right decision either way.”

Haas Formula appears to be Conor’s best chance of stepping up into an F1 role in the near future, but after seeing many opportunities come and go over the years, he is unwilling to say for certain that he will make it into the sport.

“Some day you could be at zero percent, and the next day you might get a call and things are at 95%,” he said. “I thought I was gonna be a Formula 1 driver when USF1 came up. All of a sudden we thought ‘wow, life is good’.

“I thought everything was going to be fine when I had a contract with Gerry Forsythe for ten years. He was one of my original investors, and then after 2010, my best season in Star Mazda, he decided that he wanted to pull out.

“I’ve known a lot of things, and it’s all gone well, but then it’s all gone up in flames too so I can’t put any percents on anything.”

What Conor said next summed up the sometimes brutal and uncertain life of a racing driver trying to make a break into a top-line series.

“You have to be confident that opportunities are real, but for sure if any opportunities come up you have to chase it to a certain point to make sure whether it’s real or not,” he explained.

“But for sure you hear a lot more things in racing that never happen then actually do happen, so that’s the shady part. There’s so many people who promise so many things that never actually happen; that’s the sad part of racing.”

It is sad. It is sad that drivers without the necessary funding see their F1 hopes go up in flames. Conor currently races in GP2, which is technically F1’s direct feeder series. However, the last two champions – Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer – are not racing in F1, nor is Sam Bird or James Calado, who came second and third respectively last season. Some of the drivers currently in Formula 1 did not come close to winning the championship.

Nevertheless, Conor is pleased with where he is. “GP2 is a pretty high level championship. I’ve got so much experience now that I can take it really anywhere and I think people would benefit from it, so for sure there are opportunities anywhere.

“I think there are opportunities in sportscars, I obviously have to meet the right people, get in the right meetings, do all this, do all that, as you normally do. IndyCar, I think I would love to do for a very long time if that’s something that I need to do. Long shot left field, if NASCAR, there’s something there I’d take that too.

“Anything, so long as I’m driving and going fast I’m happy.”

Formula 1 remains the ultimate goal, naturally, but it is refreshing to see a driver making himself open to other avenues. Be it F1, IndyCar or sportscars, Conor will be sure to impress.

Amid the flux of pay drivers, reserve roles and billionaire backers, both of our American drivers are fighting hard to get to the top; the hope of hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” ring out in F1 once again still burns brightly.

Follow @LukeSmithF1

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Indy Carb Day Special (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Alongside NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, we have the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, which this week features interviews from Indy 500 media day leading into Carb Day.

Anders Krohn is back in action, ahead of a busy day for him as he will be in the booth calling the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100.

Interviews took place with Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s coverage highlighted media day, as there was an absurd number of people populating around his station on Thursday.

Dixon has the pole for Sunday’s race, with Carpenter starting second, Alonso fifth and Andretti eighth.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


It’s ‘Indy Leist’ – Matheus Leist, Carlin dominate Freedom 100

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Brazilian rookie Matheus Leist has his first career victory in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires following a flag-to-flag victory in the No. 26 Carlin Dallara IL-15 Mazda from pole position in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It was a tough race, we had the pace and the car was just amazing. It was just an amazing race. It’s my first race on an oval and I couldn’t be happier,” Leist told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt.

The usual photo finishes that have been a staple of this race ceded to Leist’s dominance, with a win by 0.7760 of a second over Aaron Telitz, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion posting his second podium finisher of the year.

Telitz edged Dalton Kellett for second at the line by just 0.0641 of a second. Both drivers took shots at Leist but were unable to pass him.

“Definitely an exciting finish. I was trying to get around Matheus. Our car was good in traffic but they were more trimmed out. When I got alongside, I couldn’t get him,” Telitz told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis. “I had limited opportunities. I wore off my front tires, then went more aggressive on my roll bars. We had a great car but not the car to win.”

“It was a great move by Aaron. I had a big run on Leist and have another photo finish. I was trying to play with the apron. Aaron got me – it was great pass by him,” Kellett told Hargitt. “We go slower. It makes for great drafting.

Meanwhile with Kyle Kaiser and Nico Jamin having anonymous finishes in ninth and 10th, and with Colton Herta crashing out on the first lap, it’s brought the championship even tighter.

Herta’s boom-or-bust rookie season in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing car rolled on. After starting second, the 17-year-old ran on the outside of teammate Dalton Kellett through Turn 2, but spun after contact between the two – and collected teammate Ryan Norman in the No. 48 car in the process. Kellett was lucky to avoid damage to the right front wheel and suspension, which touched the left rear of Herta’s car to send him spinning.

It shifted the order with Zachary Claman De Melo moving up to second off the start behind Leist, with Kellett third, Neil Alberico fourth and Aaron Telitz in fifth. Kyle Kaiser and Nico Jamin noved up to ninth and 11th from 11th and 13th in the incident, respectively.

“Well, I don’t know if I can say what he was thinking!” Bryan Herta, Colton’s father, told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “It’s a shame. They both had great cars. Looking at it, maybe he didn’t know Dalton was still on the inside. It’s not how you want to start the race. Unfortunately he is out early.”

Both drivers were understandably disappointed, but relieved to be OK after being checked and released from the infield care center, cleared to drive.

“I’m fine. Little X-Ray. No problem. I saw (Kellett) but I don’t really know what happened. I need to look at the data and video,” the younger Herta told Beekhuis.

Norman told Beekhuis, “I’m physically fine, but just really disappointed. It was our highest starting position. Wrong spot at the wrong time. Andretti gave me a great car all month. We’ll come back stronger at Road America.”

Kellett, post-race, told Hargitt about the incident: “I’m on the inside, it’s the first lap, caught some dirty air, I understeered up into him and that collected him, and collected Ryan. You never want to have contact with your teammates. At least we’ve got a podium finish.”

The restart occurred at the conclusion of Lap 5, and start of Lap 6, after the first and only caution flag of the race.

By Lap 15, Leist led by 0.6077 of a second but Kellett, Telitz and Alberico had moved up to second, third and fourth with Claman De Melo falling back from second down to fifth.

At half distance Telitz moved within striking distance of Leist into second. At the halfway mark it was Leist 0.3486 of a second ahead of Telitz with Kellett, Alberico and Claman De Melo in the top five.

Leist pulled away from there and the only photo finish this time around was for second, as Telitz got Kellett right at the line. The gap was a huge one by recent Indy Lights standards, 0.7760 of a second to Telitz and 0.8401 to Kellett.

Alberico and Santiago Urrutia, who started 12th but moved forward during the race, completed the top five.

Forgettable races occurred for points leaders Kaiser and Jamin, who ended ninth and 10th. Unofficially they still sit 1-2 in points with 151 and 137, Herta falls to third with 129 while Telitz and Alberico (122) and Leist (121) are within range.

Bourdais, Coyne upbeat during Carb Day practice check-ins (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais hopes to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, just over a week after his accident left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an accident in qualifying.

The Frenchman has already been released from IU Methodist Hospital on Wednesday and during NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day practice, checked in with the booth crew to update his recovery progress.

“I think I’m doing as well as I could have ever hoped for,” Bourdais told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “My surgery went well. I was walking two days after the wreck. It’s been a little weird! But the pain is managed.”

Team owner Dale Coyne also checked in on Bourdais’ progress as well.

“He’s feeling good. He moved out of hospital Wednesday,” Coyne told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “If all goes as planned, we’ll get him out here Sunday.”

As for when Bourdais can return to the cockpit?

“The surgeon said he’s out for season… of course Seb says he wants to do Le Mans!” Coyne laughed. “It’s going to be a long recovery. But Sonoma? Maybe.”

Also during the segment, NBCSN pit reporter Jon Beekhuis noted an older specification rear wing configuration on the back of Bourdais’ replacement, James Davison’s No. 18 GEICO Honda. This should help Davison on Sunday.

Hinchcliffe engine issue hits Carb Day practice, as Castroneves leads

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves has led the final one-hour practice session ahead of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, but it’s a Honda that made the bigger news during the extended session.

Another Honda engine issue – at least the eighth this month between the INDYCAR Grand Prix, practice and qualifying – now struck James Hinchcliffe during the final 20 minutes of the session in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Heading into Turn 3, Hinchcliffe’s gold and black car took on a distinctly white hue by contrast, as smoke billowed out the back of the car. It littered the track between Turns 3 and 4.

Yet as Hinchcliffe, the 2016 race polesitter explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, the timing was as good as it could have been considering had it happened later it would have been in the race itself.

“I felt what the engineers would call a suboptimal rapid negative acceleration heading into Turn 3,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN. “We’ve had some issues across the Honda camp. It’s less than ideal.

“I felt bad going into 3. I hope we weren’t leaking too badly. I’m happy it didn’t happen 20 minutes later, that would have been Lap 5 of the race. We’ll get an engine, we’ll put it in. But that was by far the best we’ve felt on the 5 car all month. Let’s put this thing to bed. The car feels really good in traffic.”

Hinchcliffe will start 17th on Sunday. He ended his truncated practice in 14th.

Photo: IndyCar

Behind another gold car – the gold-and-white No. 3 car of Castronves – Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan completed the top three, with Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso completing the top five.

Speeds are below.