The saga of Coyne’s No. 18 at Long Beach: Moran’s lost debut leads to Daly’s long overdue chance

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Conor Daly has finally had his “pound the pavement” pedigree pay off in a big way, even if it was, for now, just a one-off IndyCar start with Dale Coyne Racing at Long Beach.

The American hopeful has long been in search of an opportunity – any opportunity – arise to actually race in the Verizon IndyCar Series since his first and, prior to Sunday, only previous start in the 2013 Indianapolis 500.

I’ve lost count of how many races I’ve seen him at, always keeping his face out there.

If seats were determined on pluck and persistence alone, Daly would have been in a seat two years ago.

Alas, even he couldn’t have foreseen the circumstances that led to his first start since Indianapolis and his first of his IndyCar career on a road or street course.

Rumors swirled in the paddock on Thursday that Carlos Huertas would be missing the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and that an American driver would be replacing him.

It turned out the first American set to do so was Rocky Moran Jr., who despite his promise in Formula Atlantic in the early 2000s, had never made an IndyCar start, and hadn’t started an open-wheel race at all since the Atlantic race at Long Beach in 2005.

MotorSportsTalk broke the story that Moran Jr. would replace Huertas for the weekend in the now No. 18 Trench Shoring/King Taco Honda, alongside Francesco Dracone, which left Daly on the sidelines once again.

Or so we thought.

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Photo: Tony DiZinno

Almost Stig-like, Moran Jr. made a last-minute seat fit Thursday night, and was debriefing with the team Friday morning.

His “R. Moran” name was added in white font with a blue background on the roll hoop, instead of black font on the white background, as Dracone’s was.

He had a mere plain, black helmet and participated in the autograph session wearing his plain, white, unbranded firesuit.

At the autograph session, that same white font/blue background last-minute decal was taped on over a whited-out banner of Huertas’ name.

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Photo: Tony DiZinno

He was, for a moment, the living embodiment of “TBA” – the oft-discussed driver listed in one of Dale Coyne’s cars on the entry list, without us knowing who he or she may be.

To his immediate credit, Moran Jr. exceeded any realistic expectations in the first practice session.

He was 2.4 seconds off session leader Scott Dixon, only two-tenths off Luca Filippi in 21st, and a full 1.3 seconds clear of Dracone – this in his first ever running in the Honda aero kit, and first time on these streets in nine years.

Interestingly Daly and I were watching second practice from pit lane, with Moran Jr. fitted last-minute in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and now looking to improve from the first session.

After he and I broke off, we heard there’d been a red flag, and go figure, it involved Moran Jr. He and Carlos Munoz had collided in Turn 1, with Moran Jr.’s car done on the spot after hitting the barrier.

It was unfortunate, but considering the circumstances, it had been a respectable day’s effort from the driver who was set to make his debut.

A text I got from a source the following morning then read the following: “Poor Moran.”

Moran Jr. had been diagnosed with a broken thumb following the collision, and his debut was axed.

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Daly with Coyne (far right). Photo: INDYCAR

Daly was the replacement, called by Coyne Saturday morning. He had his trademark green and black helmet and his GP2 firesuit all ready to go, and breakfast devoured quicker than he had anticipated. He’d also be using Marco Andretti’s seat.

Daly had a single 45-minute practice session to get up to speed, and get used to the aero kit after testing a previous-spec Dallara DW12 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports over the winter.

Daly did rather well in qualifying and had an even better race day. The GP2 and GP3 veteran had to reacclimatize back to a full-length, nearly two-hour race with pit stops, and noted the physicality of the day.

While 17th doesn’t sound impressive on paper, Daly delivered Coyne the team’s first lead lap finish of the season and brought the car home in one piece. More importantly, and impressively, he posted the second fastest race lap for a Honda-powered car.

“It was fun. It was cool,” Daly said post-race. “To be at the Long Beach Grand Prix, I mean, this is a race that I’ve come to for the last 8 or 10 years. I love it. I love Southern California and I’m very happy.

“Obviously 17th is not really great but from what we came from and where we started, I’m very happy. To be that competitive pace-wise, that is the best part to me. We were very quick compared to the other Honda’s around us, so, I just want to do this more often.

“I did all I could do. I went out and brought the car home and did all of the laps we could do, which was the goal in the first place. I am very happy for the opportunity and thankful for sure. I was hoping this would happen at some point to get a call to race on a road course and I did and it was on one of my favorite road courses.”

NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter Robin Miller had two good interviews with Daly, both posted to RACER.com. The first is a chat with him on Saturday on how it all arose, and the second is Sunday post-race.

Daly was thankful on Twitter post-race, and Moran Jr. even reached out in support of his efforts.

Coyne’s lineup for Barber Motorsports Park next week is TBA. Daly made a significant impression during the race, and Moran Jr. was better than expected in practice.

Dracone is set for his fourth, and right now, final scheduled race next week. Rodolfo Gonzalez may be his teammate; the Venezuelan driver tested for Coyne in the offseason and this post from enOriente.com hints at a likely race debut soon.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.