Q And A with Conor Daly
You have had a really interesting season with dual programs in the US and Europe, do you think it was the right decision for you?
Definitely that’s a yes, and a resounding yes. I absolutely loved the first three Indy Lights races and they were followed by a severe reality check in Europe. I have never had to work so hard to be competitive as I did in GP3. I had to actually keep my frustration under cover because, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I was struggling to be competitive, but the margins were so small it just seemed so difficult to put all the pieces together to qualify well and then race well. I’m still trying to pull the qualifying together but in the races I’m now enjoying being able to race with the front runners.
With just four races to go in GP3, has it been more difficult than expected and what has been the difficult part of GP3?
Probably, yes! We expected it to be difficult because everything was so new, and I had to learn everything from the circuits, to the way people work and how teams operate and how the events are run, which is very different to what we do in America. It was a lot to handle with the information flow almost becoming “overload” in the early races. We always thought that it would be towards the end of July before I began to feel that I was getting the hang of things, what we didn’t expect was that it would be quite as difficult as it was at the start of the season.
You went from the front of the grid in Indy Lights to the back of the grid in GP3, why?
By far the biggest thing I did not understand was how to use the Pirelli tires properly. I was qualifying more like I would in America and it was completely wrong. The rear GP3 tires are so soft that their time of high grip when new came and went before I ever had the front tires up to temperature, so by the time I had the fronts ready I had no rear grip left. How to get the four tires into their operating “high grip” mode at the same time and then get a clear lap has been very difficult for me – and for lots of other drivers also.
When you won at Long Beach, you were the Indy Lights championship leader. Did you ever regret the decision to leave, especially with GP3 being so difficult?
No, it was never an option to stay anyway after we put the season plans together at the end of 2010. Indy Lights has been a great time of learning for me and I do not regret the decisions that were made for the 2011 season. I’m trying to become the very best professional driver I can become. Although it’s very frustrating sometimes in Europe, the amount that I’m learning can only make me a better driver in the end. Leaving Indy Lights was an unusual thing to do but doing GP3 was also an unusual thing to do. The hope is that within the next three seasons I can learn and develop enough to get an opportunity in big fast racing cars and at that time, I hope to have the knowledge and experience to make the very best of any opportunity that might come my way.
At Trois Rivieres you made a mistake that cost you a possible win or at least a 2nd place finish – was it too aggressive a move?
Well yes, but only because it didn’t come off. I followed Guerrieri for about 43 laps and knew that because the circuit is so tight that the opportunities to win were going to be hard to find and maybe I might have to force the issue. I tried to do at turn two in the wet what Hamilton did to Vettel at turn two in the wet in Hungary. Hamilton however had to make three attempts at it before he pulled it off; maybe my lesson is that I should have been more patient. I can tell you that I definitely learned a lesson. I wonder what Hamilton would have done when he was 19 years old trying to pull off a similar move and I wonder what I will do when the same situation arrives again. I will say that Esteban Guerrieri is one of the best drivers I have come across this season.
Do you think all the travelling across the Atlantic has affected your performances?
No, look what happened at Long Beach. I don’t think anyone could have had a more difficult travel schedule than me between Barber and Long Beach. I was in a race-car nine of ten days on two different continents in three different time zones and missed all of Friday’s running in Long Beach, yet I won. Maybe adrenalin is more valuable than sleep. The fact that the first three Lights races were before the GP3 season started also helped – we would not attempt to do two series where I had to travel back and forth regularly. I could have skipped Long Beach but I insisted that no matter what travel was involved, I wanted to race at Long Beach.
Will you try to do a split schedule again next year if the dates allowed it?
I don’t think so. The split schedule was not planned really. It happened after IndyCar and Mazda announced the Road to Indy ladder program and when Bryan Clauson was awarded the oval scholarship. At that time Sam Schmidt did not want to run just half a program for Clauson. Mazda was in a transition period with their ladder system because the Atlantic series had collapsed and therefore my program after winning the Star Mazda championship in 2010 was in limbo for a while. My GP3 program was already agreed and adding the road races as the other half of Clauson’s program became possible because Mazda saw the opportunity for me to be part of their new Road to Indy ladder system – it has been a great addition for me.
As an American in Europe, have you blended in well, are American race car drivers well liked?
I would say yes in general, but Americans have a lot to prove in Europe and they like to let you know that. At the GP3 level it’s very much a dog eat dog environment. I can’t say I have many friends from GP3 – it just seems that there is more of a professional courtesy amongst some drivers off track rather than friendships. The driver I have seen and spoken to most of all away from the track is Robert Wickens. During race weekends we are so busy with de-briefs and meetings that it is difficult to do anything outside of your own team.
What is the European driving style like compared to America and who do you think is the best GP3 driver?
It’s a harder more difficult type of racing. Europeans are taught that blocking is a part of racing. It’s a race and a fight all rolled into one. Managing the tire degradation is very important in the races. The good drivers stand out and there are dirty drivers even in the mid pack who think nothing of brake checking you in a 120 MPH chicane. I think what makes it tougher is that there are just so many quick guys in GP3. I would say that the most complete GP3 driver is Alexander Sims – mind you he is also the most experienced. Valtteri Bottas who is Finnish and managed by Mika Hakkinen (who turns up at some of the races) appears to be very good also.
What are your plans for next year?
The plan will be to stay in Europe. I don’t want this to be a “one and done” season. I am trying to meet as many people as possible and mingle with as many teams as possible to see what opportunities might be out there. It’s not easy but it’s worth the time and effort.
Most of your friends are in college preparing for their future, are you ever nervous that you have stepped out of the normal education road and have taken such a big risk with your future?
Not concerned in any way – I’m receiving my college education at the same time that my friends are, I just go to a different and faster paced college. This window to attempt what I want to do comes maybe just one time in my life and I want to at least commit myself to giving it all I have. There are many of my friends who would love to be doing what I’m doing right now.
What has been most difficult and the most enjoyable things about living in England?
Difficult would be; cold weather and rain – cooking my own meals - the local shops closing at 6 pm - Enjoyable would be; generally higher speed limits, great events like The Goodwood Festival of Speed and access to circuits like Spa and Nurburgring within driving distance.