Although the results haven’t necessarily shown it, one of the star drivers in Prototype Challenge this year has been Performance Tech Motorsports’ Conor Daly.
That above sentence wasn’t even fathomable to type about either party some six months ago.
Daly spent the winter readjusting back to coming home to North America after racing four seasons in Europe from 2011 to 2014, competing in GP2, GP3 and an assortment of other open-wheel series in pursuit of Formula 1.
But when an IndyCar ride failed to materialize for the full season despite a successful test with the Schmidt Peterson team, Daly turned his eyes to sports cars, where he has spent most of his 2015 season racing.
Performance Tech was in a fluid driving situation with its lineup changing twice at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Daly, who was on site with friend James Hinchcliffe during the race week, was still working to make something happen.
It finally did ahead of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, where Daly made his team debut and ended third with co-drivers James French and Jerome Mee.
In what would prove his longest sports car race to date (his RSR Racing entry retired early in the 2014 Rolex 24), Daly drove more than six of the 12 hours and came up a fraction off the fastest race lap in the PC class.
“Essentially my entire racing season was nothing, until Brent (O’Neill, team manager) called me about Sebring,” Daly told Sportscar365.
“It was one of those things, where I’m sure he wasn’t really sure about what I could do, and I had no proven sports car reputation. But he gave me a shot thanks to Jonatan Jorge’s recommendation.
“I had an opportunity and I think it went really well. Sebring was obviously a lot of fun. It showcased the passion I have for this sport, in any type of car.”
From there, Daly ran five IndyCar races – only one of which was planned more than a couple of days in advance – and then returned to the No. 38 Oreca FLM09 at Watkins Glen, again paired with Mee and French.
Consecutive sprint races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Lime Rock Park have followed.
“I haven’t been in something for a full season, but I have been racing for a full season,” Daly said. “I would have never guessed that six months ago.”
In all three, speed has been there, but luck and finishes have not, with three straight seventh-place results heading into Road America. Still, Daly has shown promise.
He pulled out to a one-minute lead over the rest of the PC field in mixed, worsening conditions at Watkins Glen and set the fastest lap at CTMP, but only achieved the latter after mechanical woes sent French behind the wall in his stint.
The cruelest race thus far has to be Lime Rock, where Daly was well positioned to win before a passing attempt on Christopher Haase on the Downhill went awry.
Daly was roughly 80 percent past Haase to the Audi driver’s inside, but with Haase needing to turn in at some point or else run off on his own, the two collided and both crashed heavily into the barriers.
The learning process about multi-class and multi-driver racing has been something Daly, a single-seater veteran, has needed to adjust to.
“The IndyCar races I have done, they were extremely high level, and extremely difficult to get up to speed,” Daly said. “Here, it’s a different style.
“There are so many ways the race can play out, with the different drivers, different classes. You have to take some chances.
“But in the end, it’s still extremely competitive. That’s the good thing about it. When you’re at the sharp end, there a lot of good guys.”
One of the faster pros – along with Colin Braun, Renger van der Zande, Bruno Junqueira and Tom Kimber-Smith, who have laid claim to that statistic this season at various points – Daly has been consistently within a tenth or two of them in similar conditions.
At Watkins Glen for example, Daly was lapping equal or slightly quicker than Junqueira, who had started that race, on the damp track. He also set fastest race lap at CTMP.
“We’ve been fast – the team has set up and developed a great car all year,” Daly said. “Every race we’ve been the fastest, or close. But these guys have a lot of experience in these cars, and I am trying to catch up.”
Daly will race at two of the final three events, confirmed at both Road America and Road Atlanta, with a schedule conflict currently slated for Circuit of the Americas (the Dan Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am race is that same day).
While initially hesitant to branch out into sports car racing, Daly is following the path of others who have added the discipline to their overall resumes, and making a respectable impression.
“Realistically, I want to be paid driving a race car, no matter what it is, for the rest of my career,” Daly said.
“If it’s IndyCar, great. But in sports cars, there are plenty of people making good money and having good careers. I’m super open to it.”