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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Conor Daly

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. Conor Daly and A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ lone season together failed to produce the desired outcome for either party after a tough campaign.

Conor Daly, No. 4 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet

  • 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
  • 2017: 18th Place, Best Finish 5th, Best Start 10th, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 3 Laps Led, 17 Avg. Start, 14.8 Avg. Finish

Conor Daly’s second full-time year could go down as one where results and stats don’t tell the full story of his campaign. Ending as strong as he did seemed to reveal a hunger and desire to improve from a very challenging first portion of the year, but it wasn’t enough to save his ride.

The obvious thing to note was he and Carlos Munoz were entering into an almost no-win situation, as a pair of new drivers with new engineers devoid of much Chevrolet aero kit experience in a year when the Foyt team was also switching from Honda to Chevrolet. Daly’s circumstances were tough enough, as he switched teams, while his team was based in Indianapolis and Munoz’s was based in Waller, Texas. For an added degree of difficulty, Daly got a last-minute engineer switch mere weeks before the season started with veteran Mike Colliver replacing Daniele Cucchiaroni.

Inevitably there were growing pains, although a promising run through the field at Phoenix was cut short by gearbox issues. Other than a seventh place in the attrition-filled Texas race, Daly had precious little to show for his efforts.

A combination of team president Larry Foyt moving to call his race strategies along with his own dietary switch, becoming a vegan, in the run up to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course produced a welcome change in form. A solid 10th at Mid-Ohio in a race of little attrition was promising, and capitalizing on the Chevrolet aero kit as well as Colliver’s strong setup sheet at Gateway was huge. Daly was a deserved fifth there after a spirited battle with Helio Castroneves in the closing stages, in quite possibly his best race yet in IndyCar. Finishes of 11th and 10th in the final two road course races in Watkins Glen and Sonoma were also welcome results.

Daly only out-qualified Munoz once in the first six races but did so in seven of the last 10. He finished ahead of him in three of the last five. Munoz took the results when they were there in the first half of the season but Daly seemed to close stronger. It was a character-building season for both 25-year-olds, who as of early December were still free agents.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).