Daly prepares for more practice days, qualifying for Indy 500

Conor Daly leads the field in the Angie's List Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Submitted photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)

Conor Daly leads the field in the Angie’s List Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Submitted photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)

By Zach Dunkin

Prior to Conor Daly’s debut in the Angie’s List Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May 14, the Zionsville driver described his rookie Indy Car season as one filled with lots of  “ups and downs” with “a lot of learning to do.”

A few hours later that rollercoaster ride was definitely on the upside as the 24-year-old son of veteran driver Derek Daly steered his No. 18 Dale Coyne Honda through the twists and turns of the Speedway road course to finish sixth in the third annual race. What made the ride even more impressive was that he had started 22nd to climb to the front for a 14-lap lead.

“I would have loved to have hung onto the top three (finishes), but sixth was better than we expected,” said Daly, who grew up in Noblesville but now lives in Zionsville with racing friend James Hinchcliffe. “Sixth was way better than we expected. And it was really cool to lead laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

The post-race euphoria was short-lived, however. Anxious to ride the momentum into preparations for an even bigger climb — qualifying for and competing in the 100tth running of the Indianapolis 500 – Daly had his day cut short on the first day of practice May 16, as his car experienced a gear box problem.

“Our day is done,” said a disappointed Daly. “We hope to get out their tomorrow.”

Daly’s leap to the front of the Grand Prix field came on a restart on Lap 46, when his Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality-sponsored car rocketed past three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the first turn. Daly pulled away, gradually building a 3.37-second lead. He couldn’t stay up front, however.

“Our rear tires were going away at the end,” he explained. “We have a good car, but we still have a lot to work on. We’re doing our jobs and getting better. We have to keep improving.”

Practice at the Speedway continues through the week with qualifying May 21-22. The race is on May 29.

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