Daly shows well on short notice for MSR

#60: Conor Daly, Meyer Shank Racing Honda
#60: Conor Daly, Meyer Shank Racing Honda

Conor Daly shined on his unexpected return to the NTT IndyCar Series on Sunday at Mid-Ohio and sent a nice reminder to the paddock on the way to leading the Meyer Shank Racing team home in a clean drive from 27th to 20th in the No. 60 Honda.

Standing in for Simon Pagenaud, who suffered a brake failure and violent crash Saturday morning, Daly climbed into an unfamiliar car with a team he’d never driven for Sunday morning and made short work of the warmup session, firing the No. 60 into 12th, two spots behind new teammate Helio Castroneves in 10th.

Starting last in the 27-car field, the former Ed Carpenter Racing driver made a mistake-free run as many of his closest rivals spent the afternoon running into each other or running off course. Daly also managed to pass Castroneves at the end of the race and crossed the finish line less than one second behind his ECR replacement, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

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For those who forgot about the immense natural talent that led Daly to IndyCar in 2013, the sharp performance in trying circumstances at Mid-Ohio can only serve to help the 31-year-old find his way back into the series.

“The first time I subbed, I still had qualifying and everything after for Dale Coyne Racing back in the day,” Daly told RACER. “Then when I subbed for Marcus Ericsson at Schmidt [in 2019 at Portland], I had the whole weekend, so this is definitely the latest that I’ve got into a car. There’s a lot there to try to get up to speed with in one session, and we got a few laps, then it was straight into the race.

Despite minimal prep time and some unfamiliar elements, Daly was quickly up to speed in the Meyer Shank Racing Honda. Phillip Abbott/Lumen

“There were a lot of differences to the car I was used to, but the Meyer Shank car suited my driving style for sure. Simon uses a little bit bigger of a steering wheel than I do; the clutch setup is way different on the wheel, so there’s a lot there that’s challenging to program your brain. I didn’t quite get the most out of everything because it’s just very different. But overall, I think it was a very, very fun day once we got past some of the traffic that we obviously had to start behind. Then we could start pushing and getting clear some track and just went hammer down.”

For the first time in a long time, Daly left the track feeling happy and satisfied.

“I really have to thank Mike Shank, because on the Saturday, we obviously didn’t know what was gonna happen with Simon, but Mike was very, very supportive of making sure that I could be as ready as possible,” he said. “So all day Saturday, I was able to get locked in with the engineers and mechanics — I already knew a lot of them and I consider them like my friends, and they wanted to give me whatever I needed to be prepared.

“The car was great to drive and it just put a smile on my face and renewed my spirit. I’m really thankful for that chance to just feel what that feels like again. No one’s ever going to be heroically shouting about finishing P20, but the last part of the race where we made up the five seconds to almost catch Ryan at the end, that was satisfying. I was driving my heart out and enjoying the fact it just felt so good and fun.”

Daly doesn’t want it to be the last time those feelings are experienced.

“I do hope that the folks in the industry are able to see what we did; I haven’t forgotten how to drive,” he said. “I want to be in IndyCar in 2024 more than anything in the world, especially after today.”

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