It was not without drama, but Dale Coyne Racing’s Conor Daly and Luca Filippi were both running at the end of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix to earn valuable experience on a short oval – an important result for both drivers and the team.
A fuel mishap caused Daly to lose a lap to the competition and with 14 of the 22 cars completing all 250 laps without going a lap down, there was not a lot of room for error.
This was Daly’s first race on a short oval, and the team’s first Phoenix International Raceway race since 1995 when Eric Bachelart and Alessandro Zampedri finished nose-to-tail 18th and 19th respectively in the Slick 50 200.
“It was really nice to have a car to fight like we did,” Daly said. “I thought the car was well balanced, I could race people and I had really good restarts.
“We just made some mistakes in the pits, which is part of the game, but I felt like I passed a lot of cars out there! Sadly, we had a few issues but it’s still the beginning of the season and things like this are bound to happen.”
Just as there is no room for mistakes on a one-mile oval, there is very little room to race.
“It was more active than I thought it was going to be out there,” Daly added. “Certainly crazy when you got off line. Some really interesting moments and some really hairy moments but I’m just glad we made it to the end and made it through unscathed. We gained a lot of experience today for sure.”
Filippi could attest to the craziness of getting out of line. This was his first race on any type of oval and to get to the checkers he had to survive an early incident.
On lap 50, Helio Castroneves came up to pass the Italian driver, Filippi moved high to make room. He got into the marbles that accumulate outside of the racing groove and spun harmlessly to the inside—losing several laps after stalling his in the process.
Filippi ran competitively for the remainder of the race, but ended the event seven laps off the pace as the last driver running.
“Everything was going well and I was with a group and the pace was quite consistent, the same as the guys around me,” Filippi said. “Helio was a couple of laps down, faster than me, but when he made a move into Turn 1, it was a late move and in order to avoid contact I had to go on the marbles. I eventually saved it, but unfortunately the engine died and we lost a few laps, so the race was pretty much over at the time.”
Learning to deal with traffic is going to be critical later in the season when the IndyCar series rolls onto the short track of Iowa Speedway the weekend of July 10th.
“After [the spin], I was just trying to be smart on the restarts with the guys around that were racing each other,” Filippi added. “I was trying to gain experience and keep learning more about the car and racing on an oval but at the same time I was just staying away from trouble.”