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Conor Daly scratched off the list for potential McLaren IndyCar ride

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INDIANAPOLIS – Scratch Conor Daly’s name off the list for a ride at Arrow McLaren Racing SP for next season, the driver told NBC Sports.com Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Daly was one of several NTT IndyCar Series drivers and team members that were at the Speedway for Wednesday’s Aeroscreen test. Those tests were conducted by drivers Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Will Power of Team Penske.

Daly, Felix Rosenqvist, Jack Harvey, Tony Kanaan and 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden along with numerous rival team engineers and personnel were interested onlookers at the Aeroscreen test.

“McLaren had some people on their list, and I did not end up being at the top of that list,” Daly told NBC Sports.com “That’s fine. It was good to at least be in that conversation and talk to Zak Brown and Gil de Ferran and Sam Schmidt. I have a lot of respect for all of those guys.

“In the end, I don’t think the Portland situation helped. They wanted to see me race there for that team and in that car. That hurt the situation.”

The “Portland Situation” was the first lap of the September 1 Grand Prix of Portland. Daly was driving the No. 7 Arrow Honda filling in for Marcus Ericsson, who had a Formula One commitment that weekend. McLaren became a partner of the operation in August and team officials were using Daly’s race at Portland as a chance to evaluate him as a driver to join James Hinchcliffe on the Arrow McLaren team in 2020.

Daly’s dream ride, however, didn’t make it through Turn 1. He was one of several drivers involved in a first lap, first-turn crash. The others included Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and Zach Veach.

Rahal accepted responsibility for causing the crash, but the residual effect on Daly’s audition led McLaren to consider other drivers.

“It’s a huge letdown when you start up front and crash early in the race,” Daly said. “It came up multiple times in conversation, where they say, ‘We would have liked to have seen what you could have done in Portland.’ That has come up.

“All I can do is what I can do, and I did what I can do, and it was out of my control what happened there. It is a shame, but it played a big factor in what happens in the future.”

2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

So, what is next for the popular driver who is a fan favorite but never seems to find a full-time ride in the NTT IndyCar Series?

“That’s a great question,” Daly said. “I really don’t know. We are working away at everything. There really aren’t many seats left for a full-time ride. Rahal Letterman Lanigan doesn’t look like they have anything. I have some help with the Air Force, but there needs to be some other pieces there to make that happen and it doesn’t look like they have those pieces.

“I don’t think McLaren is where I’m going to be at. They are going to go a different way. It was cool to be in the talks of being there.

“Other than that, I’m trying to see what else is out there and what might work. There are potential opportunities there, but it’s super early.

“At least I know where I’m not going to be.

“I’m always on people’s lists, but I never seem to be the top person on that list. I’m going to keep working on trying to be on the top of that list at some point. In McLaren’s situation, they know what they have and want to pick the people they want.”

Daly has some funding from the United States Air Force. The military recruitment sponsorship funded his effort at Andretti Autosport in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and at the season’s final race in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on September 22.

Daly probably has enough sponsorship for a half-season.

“I would like to think I could fund a half-season, but that’s not enough,” Daly said. “You have to hunt for more or find the best position now and wait for a ton of driver’s contracts to come up next year. Things change. You don’t want to wait until 2021 because you need to be racing all that you can.

“Andretti is full for next year. There are still things on the table. I can’t really say what they are. We are not out of the fight, that’s for sure. It’s too early.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500