Conor Daly has plans to crash the party at the front of the field for this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series doubleheader at Iowa Speedway.
In 2020, the last time North America’s premier open-wheel championship visited the 0.894-mile oval, Daly, making one of five appearances with Carlin to compliment the rest of the schedule with Ed Carpenter Racing, captured the only pole of his IndyCar career and led 13 laps en route to finishing eighth in the first of two races that weekend. He started third, led four laps and ended up 13th in the second race.
Now, the 30-year-old Hoosier, finally free of bouncing between teams to make up a full-time schedule, braces to make his first start at Iowa with ECR, who has a strong history of success that includes one win (Josef Newgarden, 2015) and two runner-up results (JR Hildebrand, 2016; Spencer Pigot, 2017). Combined with how Daly’s oval prowess has grown, including a sixth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 in May, it’s all the more reason why he is eyeing podiums – possibly his first career IndyCar win – this weekend.
“I’ve been looking forward to this all year, and especially since the test,” admitted Daly, during a media availability on Wednesday. “The test we were really strong. I mean, we want to have two podiums. We want to win. So we’ll see.
“But we also have to beat Josef Newgarden here, which is quite challenging, and he, I assume, is probably going to be right up front again. It’s going to be tough, but honestly, just getting on the podium for us is big just to start, but we want to win. We don’t come here to the racetracks to lose. Yeah, so we’ll see.
“I think it’s definitely our best chance, other than the 500. The 500 I think we had a great chance, but it was definitely going to be tough to beat those Ganassi [Chip Ganassi Racing] cars.”
The bullring based in Newton, Iowa is notoriously viewed as Newgarden’s playground, and rightfully so with three wins, five podiums and one pole in 10 starts.
For Daly, there are fond memories of his time with Carlin, with many of the team members now with rookie Callum Ilott at Juncos Hollinger Racing. However, there is plenty to look forward to as Daly leans on ECR teammates like driver/owner Ed Carpenter, who has two top fives and seven top 10s in 14 starts at Iowa, and Rinus VeeKay.
“Really enjoyed my time with Carlin, and most of those guys are obviously on Callum’s car, and they’ve got our pole setup there for sure,” said Daly, driver of the No. 20 ECR Chevrolet. “But I definitely know what made that car fast and kind of what I like about that car, and so — it was a great experience. But we were only a one-car team, like Callum is, and he’s been doing a great job with those guys.
“But now to have Ed and Rinus, going to Iowa, you feel like you definitely have more of a — I would say a strong outlook on potential on different setups, right. Ed and I drive a different car, Rinus and I drive a different car. We all drive a little bit differently, but if we find a few things that work all together, it’s a strong thing to have, because Iowa is such an interesting track because I feel like it never feels great except for maybe like those two qualifying laps that you do, and so like you just try to make it feel less worse. So that ends up being the challenge all day long, because when you’re 45 laps in and you’re sliding around, you want to be sliding around just less than a few other people. So that’s kind of the goal.
“I learned a lot from Carlin. I brought a lot of information with me, obviously, because as any driver would, you take notes, you remember things, you remember especially when you go fast what helps you. I’m excited about this weekend.”
Daly currently sits between Graham Rahal and Romain Grosjean at 14th in the championship standings, and 45 points behind 10th-place Simon Pagenaud (243-198). With seven races to go, the focus is strictly on closing the gap and putting his name in the top 10.
“That’s the goal,” Daly said. “We want to be in the top 10 in the points when it comes down to the end of the season. When you look at the guys that we’re around, you’ve got Rahal, Grosjean, guys that we know are obviously good or at least people that I’ve been told are better than I am, and I’m excited to go out there every weekend.
“These races are so interesting, you see guys that are in the top 10 in points, all of a sudden in the back, and then at the front. One podium or one top five finish vaults you forward in the points. We have two races in front of us, we finish in the top five in both, you might be in the top 10 right then in the points, depending on what everyone else is doing.
“It’s definitely what we want to be doing. We want to be in the top 10 in points. I want to be trying to be the lead car for Ed Carpenter Racing, as well, but obviously Rinus is going to be extremely competitive at every race just like he always is. So yeah, that’s the goal for sure.”