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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Conor Daly

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Conor Daly earned an overdue first full-time season in IndyCar and generally maximized his opportunities with Dale Coyne Racing.

Conor Daly, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2015: 28th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 6th, Best Start 10th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 18.6 Avg. Start, 17.4 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 18th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 7th, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 56 Laps Led, 18.1 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Conor Daly was, as one article I read earlier this year, “The bro we didn’t realize racing needed until he arrived.” Damn if a kid hasn’t worked harder and stayed persistent enough to beat down that door to a full-time IndyCar seat in five years, and after his tortuous, confusing, convoluted and winding road to get here, he finally achieved his dream with Dale Coyne Racing and the Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality group support this year. All honesty, I was overjoyed for him, and judging by the amount of positive reaction from fans I saw, I wasn’t alone.

Daly’s year was a strange one. When he qualified well, he didn’t finish well. On the contrary, when he qualified poorly, he got in good finishing position thanks to Coyne’s “wizardry” – Daly’s term – and his race pace was arguably his strongest component of the 2016 season. The podium at Detroit was fully deserved, as were the rest of his top-10 finishes and all 56 laps he led this year. In actuality, he outscored his fellow full-season rookie Alexander Rossi once you excluded the two double-points races. In the 14 races that paid standard points, Daly ended ahead of Rossi 275-246, but lost the top rookie honors by way of being outscored a seemingly unfathomable 184-38 margin in the two double points rounds.

Drivers will make mistakes at this level though and that’s part of the learning process. A would-have-been top-12, maybe top-10 finish at the Indianapolis 500 went begging when he spun trying to avoid Mikhail Aleshin’s accident. Then there was that crash at Texas when he overcorrected and was saved from a head-on appointment with the wall only by Josef Newgarden’s car being there. On the bright side, it meant he got to play TV reporter in the makeup race in August.

There were a couple other tough moments, too. An outright top-10 – say sixth place – went begging at Road America after a suspension component failed and sent him into the gravel at Turn 1. The spin in practice at Watkins Glen was a tough setback. The combination of an engine failure and an exhaust issue at Sonoma made for a nightmare final weekend. Then there was the fact that while Daly had the measure of more experienced teammates Gabby Chaves and Luca Filippi most of the year, when fellow rookie RC Enerson arrived the final three races, Daly was perhaps taken aback by the freshman’s performance.

The year proved Daly has talent, which was never a question. His “aw, shucks” demeanor and outward goofiness is actually a benefit to the series – other than Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe, no driver put himself out there for the fans and promotional aspects more. His Indianapolis 500 banquet speech thanking Christopher Columbus entered legendary status. The way he handled Pocono, representing late teammate Bryan Clauson with the BC Forever signage and Clauson’s No. 88 on his car, was nothing short of admirable. He had a decent rapport with engineer Michael Cannon and the Coyne team. It was a properly good first full season for the young man who screams “’Merica” at every opportunity, and fully deserves a second year.

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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