Whether it’s sons trying to better their fathers or nephews attempting to emulate their uncles, famous families have often been a difficult burden in motorsport.
Where the likes of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve succeeded in proving themselves more than just a name, there were others, such Christian Fittipaldi or Michael Andretti (and numerous others) who could not hit the mark of their namesakes.
As the son of former Formula 1 and Indycar racer Derek, Conor Daly is aiming squarely for the former category.
A former Karting champion in North America, Daly moved to the Skip Barber National Championship and Formula Ford in 2008, enjoying considerable success on both counts.
There followed a move to the Star Mazda Championship in 2009, where Daly claimed the title in 2010 in emphatic style, by taking seven wins from nine pole positions in thirteen races, along with four 3rd place finishes and a 4th.
After splitting his racing between the Firestone Indy Lights Series and GP3 throughout 2011, the 20-year-old is firmly committed to running in the GP3 for the coming season.
So with the opening test at Portugal’s Estoril done and dusted – Daly was 5th on both days of running – I checked in with Conor to ask him about racing in the US and Europe; swapping machinery; having a racing father and his thoughts of 2012.
The Motorsport Archive: 2011 saw you venture into Europe full-time with Carlin in the GP3 Series. In terms of competition and environment, how did you find the transition from US-based racing, such as Star Mazda and Indy Lights?
Conor Daly: It was definitely a whole new world for me. I only described it to people saying it was like playing a completely different sport. It’s not like the drivers in America at the front aren’t as good, but in Europe, especially GP3, there are more drivers all capable of running extremely close and at the front.
TMA: Compared to what you had raced previously, could you give a quick description of a GP3 car’s characteristics? Did it take long to settle in to this type of machine?
Daly: The cars are also very different because every car you race in America on the ‘ladder’ system towards IndyCar are actually quite old cars now. The Star Mazda car and in the Indy Lights cars have been around for quite a while.
I really enjoyed driving both but jumping into a GP3 car was definitely a change. The GP3 car is one of the latest Dallara chassis and has a lot of great high tech equipment. I could go one for quite some time really but overall racing on both continents is very different.
TMA: Last year, you competed in Indy Lights alongside your GP3 commitments. That’s a long season with a lot of flying – how did that feel in terms of the physical attributes?
Daly: The only reason we really did the Indy Lights races is because it actually helped secure funding for our GP3 program, which I wanted to focus on as my main program.
It was difficult only at first because the GP3 testing was going on around the same time as the first three Indy Lights races. I did a lot of flying and a lot of driving but it went quite well considering I was leading the Indy Lights championship after the third race!
TMA: How did you cope with swapping cars in such a manner?
Daly: That didn’t effect (sic) me though because, yeah it was great, but my main focus was learning as much as possible about GP3 and doing as well as I could in that. Once the third Indy Lights race was over I moved to England and lived in England all summer as I raced throughout Europe in GP3.
TMA: After a rather tough first half season in 2011, it appeared, from the outside at least, to come together as the year progressed. From your perspective, could you describe your first year in the GP3 Series?
Daly: It was a very difficult first half of the season no doubt, but every weekend I was learning an incredible amount and each session I just tried to build on what I knew and what I was learning and I just kept improving every weekend.
TMA: What lessons can be taken from that campaign that you can use in 2012?
Daly: I also gained a lot of confidence every weekend because I was overtaking A LOT of cars and I really proved to myself that I could compete with these guys. It was cool because by the end of the season we were in a position to win a race in Monza until getting taken off the road by Bottas in the final race.
TMA: You are moving to Lotus (formerly Lotus ART) – the team that have taken the first two GP3 championships. From your limited time there, have you found an element (or elements) of the team and your relationship with them that may lend you an advantage against your competitors?
Daly: It has been a great relationship so far. The team are very professional and as soon as I got in their car it seemed to suit my driving style much more so than the Carlin car did. It will be very interesting to continue to learn from them before putting it all together for the first race weekend in Barcelona.
TMA: Your father, Derek, is a former racer – and a very experienced one at that. Has Derek had much of an influence on your career and if so, can you give an indication of the type of lessons passed on and influence he has had?
Daly: My Dad taught me a lot about pure driving back when I was karting and now he has moved into more of a mangers role. He wants nothing more than to see me succeed so he works incredibly hard every day for me and I can’t thank him enough for that.
He has also become very good at recognizing how drivers need to develop and improve so to have him helping me improve my weaknesses is very nice. He can’t always be at all of my races but when he is there it’s always helpful.
TMA: Obvious question, but what can viewers of the GP3 Series expect from Conor Daly in 2012?
Daly: I want to win the championship. There is no excuses (sic) this year, I’m with the best team I could be with and I’ve had a season to learn a lot about GP3.
There are only two tracks I don’t know this season, Monaco and Hockenheim, so if I can get a handle on those tracks as quick as possible I’m going to be in a good position to be quite competitive this year.
The second pre-season GP3 test commences today at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. The opening race of the season takes place at the same track over the weekend of May 12th and 13th, as support to the Spanish Grand Prix.
My sincere thanks to Conor Daly for his time with this Q&A session.