Conor Daly – Sebring Race Week

Written by Team USA. Posted in Conor Daly, Driver Blogs

Published on March 23, 2009 with No Comments

Indianapolis, Ind. (March 23, 2009) – I arrived at the famous Sebring International Raceway on Sunday, the weekend before the 12-Hour race weekend. I was a bit tired because I arrived after suffering through an 18-hour drive with my Dad, Derek Daly, at the wheel. The problem was that he was driving something new to him which made the ride scary. This year I have a new sponsor, Optima, and my Dad was driving the new Optima RV. The RV is absolutely fantastic and an amazing piece of equipment, but when a former Formula 1 driver gets behind the wheel it becomes a whole new adventure!

After settling into our parking spot right next to my team, Andersen Racing, I went to sleep to get ready for practice the next day. It was the first day of one of the biggest weeks in my life. Every practice session in my Star Mazda car on the first day was a big learning experience. I was very pleased to improve every session. There is so much to learn about the cars that I have to try and do it as quick as possible if I want to be on pace.

By Tuesday I had continued to make improvements on the setup and my driving. My engineer, Mike Reggio, is very good at what he does and was able to understand what I needed from the car and adjust the car accordingly. Heading into Wednesday, we felt very confident because we had been slowly moving up the time charts.

Wednesday was the first day of official practice. I only had one session all day so it gave me some time to watch some of my friends in the Skip Barber National Series and the Mazda Atlantic Championship. When the time came for my session I was very confident that I could set a quick time. The session went very well with a couple pit stops for adjustments. However I felt as though I didn’t set a quick enough time for how well the car was handling. I was almost disappointed because I really wanted to be quickest. When I came in and got out of the car, I was told that I was quickest during the session. This immediately brought my spirits up and I was very satisfied heading into qualifying the next day.

Now we really started getting down to business. Before we qualified, there was a warm-up session. The session wasn’t as good as I expected because of some handling issues and a strange gearbox noise that I started to hear. I was still very confident and could hardly wait for qualifying. As soon as I went out for qualifying I could sense there was something wrong with the gearbox. There were several noises that did not make the race car sound happy! After six or seven laps, I came into the pits and while I was downshifting to enter pit lane I had no second or first gear. I rolled to the pits in third gear and my engineer and mechanic determined that it was best to stop before anything got worse. Unfortunately this put me 16th on the grid with a lot of work to do in the race.

I was definitely nervous before my first race in cars with big wings and lots of downforce. I was starting in the middle of the field; the danger zone. I knew what I had to do and I was on a mission. I wanted to put on a show and make up as many positions as possible. This situation was much like what I encountered at Brand Hatch in the Formula Ford Festival! I had to start mid-pack and work my way up. The Star Mazda Championship also does standing starts which I got practice doing in England.

As I rolled into my grid position I knew what I had to do and I knew it was going to be a lot of fun. The standing start went fantastic for me, and I made up several positions in the opening few corners. The race was much more intense than I thought. There were cars passing everywhere and I was one of them. I think I was up to sixth after only a few laps. Now things became difficult. I was doing my best to catch the cars in front when I got the help of a safety car period. This put me back into the fight. At the restart I was able to pass Peter Dempsey, who was very much a mentor of mine when I was over in England racing for Team USA. I was now focused on making it to the podium which was only one spot ahead. It was the final lap and I was pushing very hard. I attempted to pass the car in front of me but I was blocked heavily headed into Turn Seven. As I exited Turn Seven, I got right alongside of my competitor and was forced onto the grass which upset my car quite a bit and I was unable to make the pass. I came to the checkered flag in fourth, a little upset that I wasn’t able to get the podium. When I got out of the car I was told the person who blocked me was under review and could get penalized. Fortunately for me, he was penalized and I ended up in third position. I was extremely happy for my mechanic, Dave, and my engineer, Mike. They worked incredibly hard, along with the rest of my team, to give me what I needed to make such a great drive to the podium.

Overall I think the week was a great success and a huge learning experience for me. I had a great time with my whole team and I truly enjoyed being at Sebring. Now with some good points I can focus on making the best of my next race at Virginia on April 25.

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