Conor Daly on IndyCar ride for Texas: ‘I’m always ready to go’

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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FORT WORTH, Texas – Conor Daly is getting another shot in the NTT IndyCar Series this weekend.

The American driver takes over the No. 59 Chevrolet at Carlin for Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway – replacing the team’s full-time driver, Max Chilton, who has decided to stop racing on ovals this season.

Chilton will run the No. 59 in all remaining road and street course races. As for the ovals, the team has yet to determine who will run it for Iowa, Pocono and Gateway.

For Daly, this weekend is a return to familiar ground. He competed with Carlin in Europe during his early career.

“I’ve known Trevor Carlin for a very long time and I loved seeing Carlin come over to IndyCar,” Daly told NBCSports.com on the phone while he was at a Lamborghini test at Watkins Glen International on Wednesday. “It didn’t take a very long time to come to fruition. It was very recently when Max made his decision to step out of the car at Texas and I respect that decision.

“I always have my helmet and I’m always ready to go. The Indy 500 is still fresh in my head. It hasn’t been too long since I’ve been in an IndyCar. With this generation of Indy car and with the different tires, it will be a learning experience this weekend.”

Chilton (pictured left), a former Formula One driver, has struggled this season in the NTT IndyCar Series. Both he and rookie teammate, Patricio O’Ward, missed making the Indy 500 field last month.

As for Daly, he’s coming off his best “Month of May” as an IndyCar Series driver. He competed in an extra Dallara/Honda for Andretti Autosport at the Indy 500, and took it as high as fourth during the race before finishing 10th.

“We had a great month, we ran a ton of practice laps and a lot of great things happened,” Daly said. “I’m super thankful for that. The Air Force was the key to that program. I wouldn’t have been there without them. It was great. We had a couple of things go wrong in that race so it wasn’t all perfect.

“To finish the way we did and have the day that we had meant a lot to me. It continued to light my fire towards being back in the series full-time.”

Does that mean a full-time opportunity exists at Carlin?

“I really don’t know,” Daly said. “I don’t think it’s fair to judge, yet. The 59 car is a full-season car and the Leaders Circle Program is very important so that car cannot miss a race. I’m obviously available and I have the experience and the maturity to fit in there at Carlin for right now.

“I still don’t know what this means beyond really for this weekend.”

For the remaining ovals, Daly actually has no commitments with Carlin and has other obligations. He has an IndyCar two-seater driver obligation at Iowa in July.

“Unless Carlin is willing to pay me what Honda is paying me for the ‘Two-Seater,’ I have to look after my life here,” Daly said. “Iowa has never gone well for me because mechanical grip is super important there and the smaller teams have struggled badly at Iowa.

“We’ll have to see. Right now, it’s just Texas. I have a [Lamborghini Super Trofeo] race scheduled for Gateway so I might not be able to make that happen, either. We’ll have to wait and see on that.”

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.