Conor Daly, 25, enters the 2017 racing season looking to drive to the sport’s forefront. Son of ex-Formula 1 and CART Indy-car racer Derek Daly, Conor began competing in karts at age 10, later winning the 2008 Skip Barber National Championship and 2010 Star Mazda title. The American then spent several seasons racing in Europe with an eye on F1 before returning to the U.S. full time in 2015 and focusing on finding a home in the Verizon IndyCar Series. After struggling initially to land a consistent ride, he joined Dale Coyne Racing for 2016, with a best finish of second in Detroit. This year he moves to A.J. Foyt Racing and Chevrolet.
You’re a fun, humble guy who comes across as a bit of an everyman. Do you now feel you’ve broken through? Foyt has opened a race shop in Indianapolis to support you.
CD: I can’t really say I feel established yet or I’ve made it yet because I want to be here for a long time. That’s going to be difficult, but it’s just about putting in the work every day and trying to get better.
Three American friends — you, Josef Newgarden, and Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi — went through Europe at the same time, chasing the F1 dream. Now you’ve all trickled back home.
CD: It’s helped all of us. There’s really good experience to be gained over there. Josef and Alex are winners in IndyCar already, and I hope to join them. We came close last year. The European stuff is great, but there’s no one really willing to give Americans a chance unless you have a massive amount of money.
What is your take on that?
CD: No one still really believes we can do it. The opinions some people there have of Americans, there’s really no justification for. It’s a bit sad. We can absolutely do the job in F1. But I love IndyCar racing. The talent pool right now, the racing is the most competitive in the world.
Two years ago, you were still living with your mom and stepdad. How has your life changed?
CD: Ha! It hasn’t, really. I’m not making what drivers used to make, let’s just say that. But this is the first step. I don’t really have any plan to buy anything or do anything yet. I’m just happy I’m getting paid to do what I love.
What’s it like living with your IndyCar rival and friend, James Hinchcliffe?
CD: Well, I’m not going to live there anymore, but it was awesome while it was going on. We had a lot of fun. It was a good time. I tried to clean the pool, tried to take out the trash. I spent more time there than he did for a while because he was doing “Dancing with the Stars.”
Are you still banging around in your Subaru WRX?
CD: I still have it, 140,000 miles. I can’t buy a new car. Cars are expensive!
Speaking of IndyCar, it’s bucking a trend and experiencing some small growth in its popularity compared to other motorsports.
CD: What we deliver on the track is great. The challenge is getting it to the right audience. It’s tough right now for any sport. But IndyCar is doing a good job working hard to try and grow. It is an exciting time to be part of it because it’s a good product, it’s fun racing, and it’s really competitive.
So far for 2017, almost half of IndyCar’s full-time drivers are American. There was a period where that was not the case, and some fans criticized that. How important is this?
CD: That’s a good start, right? That’s a good start. We are going to need more young Europeans, too, and we are going to need more young Americans.
What was the biggest takeaway from last year?
CD: I feel much better. So many times we’d be in a race, we didn’t know what was going to happen. Then one yellow flag fell, and things were different. So just stay in the fight because you never know where you could end up.
Is there one aspect you’ll focus on this year?
CD: The ovals. Ovals are a big challenge technically, and we had a lot of bad luck on ovals. But we were doing better than a lot of people, and a lot of the results showed it. We’ve got a lot of potential on the ovals, we’re just not there. I just have to continue to learn.
A.J. Foyt is one of the greatest racers of all time, and everyone knows he doesn’t mince words. What have been your early experiences of him as your boss?
CD: With A.J., there’s not a lot of stuff you can repeat! It’s awesome driving for him. You can tell he still loves racing. He’s so passionate for winning and doing his part, whether it’s buying a new shock dyno or whatever he can do. He’s still as competitive as ever. That’s what I like and respect about him.
Does driving for him add more pressure to perform?
CD: No. You just go and do your job. It doesn’t matter who you drive for. You just have to go out and deliver your best performance no matter what the situation is.