Daly talks with Dale Coyne. Photo: IndyCar

Daly, Honda Racing launch new video series for grassroots racers

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If you’ve made it to the top level of open-wheel racing – Formula 1 overall and worldwide or the Verizon IndyCar Series in the United States – you’ll have done something right from a preparation, persistence and performance process to get there.

However, navigating your way to the top weeds out a ridiculously high percentage of drivers, who don’t make it for either the lack of opportunity, timing, results or budget – or some combination thereof.

One of the ways Honda Racing/HPD is working to develop young drivers is via a new five-part video series that will launch at the start of next year, created in partnership with the Derek Daly Academy.

hpdlogoDaly, who raced in both F1 and IndyCar before becoming a broadcaster in both championships, and himself having helped guide a number of young driver careers, is seeking to reduce the confusion and provide more clarity for how young drivers can make it to the top in what’s a complex labyrinth of an industry to attempt to navigate.

unnamed-11“We’d had the academy in Las Vegas, with when it was still Barry Green and Team KOOL Green in the 1990s, and we’d put 44 young drivers through the program in two years,” Daly told NBC Sports.

“All of them are different people with different styles. Then I had it myself, with my son Conor starting to come through the ranks, and I had parents ask me, ‘How do you do it?’

“I realized very early on we have a very unstructured sport. Stick-and-ball sports feature talented athletes, scouted from the early days in high schools, then into college, and then they get drafted into the pros. It has all the finances and coaching right there, and it’s a completely structured sport. We don’t have that.”

Daly explained that making it to the next step of competition beyond a driver development program or ladder series requires foresight and the five-year model, which is where the video series and the “X Factor” comes into play.

The “X Factor” targets grassroots racing in particular, aiming for young drivers to build their resumes and their accolades early on so they’re a well-rounded driver after five years.

The breakdown is talent and matrix for year one, technical and funding in year two, communication and branding in year three, marketing and mental growth in year four, and finally sponsorship and physical strength in year five (see visual of it below).

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“You have to figure out early on to ask the question of how you’re going to raise the money,” Daly explains. “Figuring out the structure of approaching people to convince them to support your racing program early on is key. You need to have the driver skills, but you also need the support skills; that’s how the whole ‘X Factor’ came about, before they converge down the road. It took on its own natural growth.”

One of the areas I wondered about – and I’m sure others do as well – is whether “branding” has taken precedence over performance for younger drivers trying to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Not so, Daly says, because in his view it’s highly challenging to become a “brand” without having the results on track first.

“To me, branding… is part of the peripheral. It’s still talent and winning races that drives everything,” Daly explained. “That’s why my concentration is more on becoming the fastest possible driver. That drives everything.

“You have to get yourself started. Your on-track success drives your off-track success. In that order! Most think it’s off-track driving the on-track. But without the on-track, you can’t drive your off-track, because you haven’t got any results. Most people mix that up.”

The video series is targeted to hit the natural progression of growth over five years.

Concentrating on hitting the ground in the first year then shifts to a greater technical understanding of the car and focusing on raising money from friends and family. By year three, with the building blocks from the previous two years, interacting with engineers becomes the start.

Daly would like to see new parents understand the racing business and environment better, for them to appreciate the experience as much as their kids can.

“It’s a huge guessing game, because it’s so unstructured,” Daly said. “But Honda have become more and more invested and more interested in, ‘How do we give grassroots families a realistic chance to get their highest return on investment.’ Let’s face it: families are the first investors in these careers. The hope is whatever you invest, there’s good value in it.

“So the goal for us is, ‘How do we lay a platform for a family to understand the basic high performance principles?’

“The X Factor got developed into something real, and with the video series, they can sit here and say look, here’s the steps it takes.”

A pre-release of the video screening is part of Daly’s annual “What If It’s You?” seminar, which will be Saturday, December 10, at 8 a.m. in Room 244 of the Indiana Convention Center. The seminar is free of charge and requires neither a show credential nor pre-registration. This year’s seminar focuses on budget raising.

Australia SuperCar Champion gets IndyCar Test at Team Penske

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Scott McLaughlin’s latest reward for winning the 2019 Virgin Australia SuperCar championship is an INDYCAR test at Team Penske.

“Scott has been incredibly successful for DJR Team Penske over the last three seasons and he has become a true champion of our sport,” said team owner Roger Penske, who will become the owner of INDYCAR, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in early January. “He certainly embraces new challenges and we think this is a great opportunity to utilize the IndyCar Series rookie testing program so Scott can experience what it is like to get behind the wheel of one of our Indy cars.”

McLaughlin, who has scored back-to-back Virgin Australia Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP), will participate in an INDYCAR Rookie Evaluation test at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. on Monday, January 13.

“I am always open to new challenges and I’m thankful to Team Penske for providing this opportunity to test an Indy car,” said McLaughlin, who established a new Supercars single season record with 18 victories this past season. “We had an amazing year in 2019 and I’m looking forward to defending our Supercars championship next season. I’m also excited to grow as a driver and being with Team Penske creates cool opportunities to try something new. Although I have spent a few hours in a simulator earlier this year, it’s going to be a blast to see what one really feels like at a place like Sebring.”

McLaughlin joined DJR Team Penske in 2017 as one of the brightest stars in Supercars. He has produced 35 victories and 44 pole positions over the last three seasons while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019, the driver’s title each of the last two seasons and the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in October, along with co-driver Alex Premat.

McLaughlin will defend his Supercars title for DJRTP in 2020 in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford Mustang.  He will build on his already successful racing career by driving a full-sized open-wheel car for the first time.

Team Penske enjoyed another successful IndyCar Series season in 2019. The team earned its record 18th Indianapolis 500 victory as Simon Pagenaud captured the checkered flag in May, while Josef Newgarden won his second series title in three years and the team’s 16th INDYCAR Championship. Team Penske will once again compete with three full-season entries in 2020, featuring series champion drivers Newgarden, Pagenaud and Will Power.

Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 540 major race wins, over 620 pole positions and 37 Championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. Over the course of its 53-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win, overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring along with a win in Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000 race. Team Penske currently competes in the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team also races in the Virgin Australia SuperCars Championship, in a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, as DJR Team Penske.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500