Conor Daly happy to be iRacing goof: ‘Clint Bowyer of virtual IndyCar’

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Conor Daly is a big gamer.

In his free time, the 28-year-old enjoys playing popular games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Apex Legends and Forza Motorsport 7, often streaming his gameplay live on Twitch.

But despite his occupation, Daly surprisingly has not been an active competitor on iRacing, at least not until recently. He currently does not have a proper driver’s seat to race and only recently set up his steering wheel.

“The steering wheel and pedals have basically been sitting in my house for a year in the box,” Daly told NBCSports.com. “I only got them out two weeks ago. I never used it before but it is what it is.”

While he might be inexperienced with the simulation, Daly still doesn’t mind participating in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (where he’s ranked an unofficial 16th in the standings after a 23rd at Barber).

MORE: Dale Jr. joins Saturday’s iRacing Challenge (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

The virtual series still provides an opportunity to compete and also have some fun.

“Despite what people may think, I’m definitely giving it a shot,” Daly said. “I want to go fast. I want to do well. But there’s only so much I can do limitation wise. There’s some serious simulators out there that provide a better feel for what’s going on but I also don’t mind that.

“I’m totally happy with what I got, so I’m going to stick with it and basically try to be the entertainment guy. The Clint Bowyer of the virtual IndyCar Series.”

As an “in-race analyst” for FS1, Bowyer has played the role of court jester in the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series. On the IndyCar side, Daly certainly has lived up to his reputation as a jokester, too.

During last Saturday’s virtual race at Barber Motorsports Park, Daly delivered plenty of laughs on his Twitch stream with special guests Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta, and he views the opportunity to create new fans.

“For now, this is the best thing that we’ve got going, and I think for me this is still brand building,” Daly said. “I’ve been on Twitch for over a year and a half, almost two years already. Now all of a sudden it’s getting attention.

“We’re giving people something to check out with. Because we’re all locked in our houses, this is all we’ve got. So why not have some fun with it?”

No rage quitting

Daly might not be the best at iRacing, but he has no intention of dropping out of the iRacing Challenge. While he said that IndyCar drivers are not forced to participate in the virtual series, they are greatly encouraged, and he understands why.

“I think common sense encourages us (to participate) because it gets more attention potentially for our sponsors, more exposure for our team, and it gets people talking,” he said. “It’s only negative if you don’t do it. I think it’s positive for us no matter how well it goes because in reality, this is purely for entertainment.

“Yes, it is competitive. We’re trying to beat each other, but realistically, so many more things can happen than in real life that you just sort of have to take it for what it is.”

Daly finished 23rd and a lap down in last Saturday’s race at Barber Motorsports Park, two laps down. While the end result was likely not what he hoped for, he still continued to race all the way through to the checkered flag. While iRacing gives drivers the ability to leave the session (and some IndyCar drivers have dropped out of the first two races), Daly chose to continue.

The next day, Bubba Wallace generated a small controversy when he left the server of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

After being involved in a wreck, Wallace told viewers on his Twitch stream “That’s it. That’s why I don’t take this s**t seriously. Peace out,” before leaving the game.  Wallace’s sponsor Blu Emu did not care for his actions and decided to end their sponsorship of the Richard Petty Motorsports driver.

While Daly thought the incident was “weird”, he had mixed thoughts on the situation.

Have I done that in video games before? Thousands of times,” Daly said. “Literally thousands of times.

“But you have to think about what stage you’re on. There’s a lot of people tuning in to try and watch. I understand how he feels a thousand percent, but also I think people overreacted a bit as well.”

Ready to return to real-life racing

While the iRacing Challenge provides a nice distraction while the whole word remains on lockdown, Daly admits that he cannot wait to sit behind the wheel of a real Indy car again.

“Honestly, it’s really tough to be not doing anything right now,” Daly said. “You get all the preseason hype, you get everything ready to go, you get everything finely tuned, you get your body ready to go physically and mentally, and then you have to just sit around for a really considerable amount of time longer. This is hard.”

Daly is supposed to compete in his first full IndyCar season since 2017 this year, splitting time between Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 21 car and Carlin’s No. 59 car.

“It is challenging, but I definitely can’t wait to get going. There’s a lot I want to do this year. There’s a lot of success we want to have as a team and a lot of success that I need to have for my career. I’m ready to do that. I feel good. I feel ready.”

The real NTT IndyCar Series is currently scheduled to begin on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, while its virtual counterpart will resume action this Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. Live coverage begins at 2:30 pm E.T. on NBCSN.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”