LONG BEACH, Calif. – In a race that saw Dale Coyne Racing drivers Francesco Dracone and Conor Daly cross the finish line without incident, both had achievements for which they can be proud. Daly was able to race in his first Verizon IndyCar Series street course race and Dracone completed his first race in the top American open wheel series without an early retirement.
Dracone made his third consecutive start for the team and Daly made his first. The circumstances of Daly’s race were quite unexpected but gave him the platform to show his road racing skills.
The weekend started with Rocky Moran Jr. in the No. 18 Trench Shoring Honda, but a second practice session spin and slight contact with the wall injured his left thumb. A Saturday morning x-ray revealed a fracture that ruled him out of any further racing for the weekend. Coyne was left to make a driver change just a day after Moran was announced.
The 23 year-old American Conor Daly was eating breakfast on Saturday morning when his phone rang. Coyne asked him to drive the No. 18 Trench Shoring car for the remainder of the weekend and, without even finishing his meal, Daly was off for a seat fitting just 45 minutes before the morning practice session.
Daly’s pace increased with every lap he turned and, despite having less than an hour on track, Daly registered a faster qualifying lap than reigning Verizon IndyCar Champion Will Power and former Long Beach race winner Takuma Sato. Daly started the race in 21st position.
With only one caution period in the 80 lap race, making up significant track position would be difficult but Daly showed the road racing skills he has longed to demonstrate to the world.
Despite finishing 17th place, Daly can hang his hat on one, perhaps surprising, statistic. He ran the second fastest lap of any Honda powered car in the race. In addition, he missed being fastest by only 0.0469 of a second.
“I am very happy for the opportunity and thankful for sure,” said Daly. “I am grateful Dale thought of me for the drive this weekend and also want to thank Rocky (Moran, Jr.) for allowing me to drive the 18 car in his place.”
Francesco Dracone’s race weekend started as a challenge having never turned a lap at Long Beach but by the qualifying session, he had improved almost three full seconds from his first morning in Southern California. He started the race in 22nd place.
Dracone showed great racing professionalism by being mindful of the leaders all race long after going down a lap. Staying out of trouble allowed him to finish the race in 21st position in front of fellow Italian Luca Filippi fellow rookie Stefano Coletti. “We finished the race and stayed away from trouble, which was the goal,” said Dracone. “I tried to be mindful of others and at the same time save fuel.”
“It was a much improved weekend for our team,” commented team owner Dale Coyne. “My heart goes out to Rocky Moran Jr. after his injury on Friday. He showed very competitive times for not running an open wheel race in several years and should walk away proud of what he did here on Friday. As for Conor, he was perfect, he was professional, and showed increased speed with every lap. He did a great job and we are proud of all of our drivers this weekend here in Long Beach.”
The next Verizon IndyCar race will be the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. The 2.38 mile purpose built road course should give teams the first opportunity to race with plenty of aero kit data as the entire series tested there just a few weeks ago. The race will air live on NBCSN at 3:00 PM EST and can also be steamed on NBC Live Extra.