A few young Americans aim for Formula 1, but here's one who's committed enough to be packing his bags at year's end.
On the face of it, Conor Daly is traveling a conventional path for emerging American open-wheel racers aiming for the sport's top echelons. After an impressive karting career that saw him win three World Karting Association Nationals and a Pro Invitational race in the TAG World Championships at age 14, Daly moved to cars and won on his debut in the Skip Barber Regional Series. A year later, he won the 2008 Skip Barber National Championship before moving into the Star Mazda championship last year.
After a rookie season that produced a victory and third place in points, Daly is back in Star Mazda gunning for the 2010 title. Apart from that seriously impressive record, it sounds like a pretty conventional approach to American open-wheel racing's ladder system, right?
Not so fast. What about spending his “off” weekends from the Skip Barber National Series winning Rookie of the Year honors in the 2008 Ontario FF1600 championship? “Fortunately, only one weekend conflicted with the Skip Barber series,” Daly says. “I learned so much doing both at the same time – race craft in the Barber cars, more the technical side in the Fords – setup adjustments and what I need from the car to enable me to do my best. What I learned in one I'd apply in the other. It helped me learn as much as possible in a short amount of time. That's my goal in anything I do.”
Let's not forget Daly's Team USA Scholarship trip to England that produced a famous win in the '08 Walter Hayes Memorial Trophy race at Silverstone. If all goes to plan, it could be the first of many wins across the pond. “I plan to be racing in Europe next year,” he says. “My preference is GP3. Although that requires a big budget, I hope to spend the rest of this year finding that budget because that'll put me on a path to Formula 1.”
The fact that, at age 18, Daly already enjoys long-standing relationships with sponsors like INDECK, The College Network, Merchant Services Ltd. and Tom Lange Company suggests he has a good chance at finding the funding. The fact that he has already won against top young global talent suggests he'll have a strong chance at using the money to good effect.
“The Team USA Scholarship shows Americans can be successful in Europe,” he says. “One of the reasons we haven't had much success in the past is that it's hard to find an American who is 100 percent committed to Formula 1. But I am. I'm dedicated to representing America on a worldwide stage and helping to bring Formula 1 back to the United States.”
First things first, however. In Daly's case, that means winning this year's Star Mazda Championship. He's off to a fine start, leading the points table after a third place at Sebring followed by four consecutive wins on a variety of circuits – street course (St. Petersburg), a road course (Laguna Seca) and two ovals (O'Reilly Raceway Park and Iowa Speedway). That's a good selection to have on your résumé and demonstrates his progress in just a year.
“This is the first time in my career I've been in a series for a second year,” says Daly, “so I know how the car works, how the series works. Junco Racing is really strong. Everything we do together is fully dedicated to winning and being successful. The guys know what they're doing; they know what I need out of the car. We go into every weekend with a step-by-step plan, we execute that plan and then we see what happens.”
So far, what's happened for Daly and Junco Racing has been very good. Which is precisely according to Daly's plans, conventional or not.