Conor Daly didn’t get much sleep the night prior to the GP3 season-opening race in Barcelona, Spain. He tossed and turned with anticipation and excitement, not fear.
Preseason testing had gone well and he was anxious to embark upon his sophomore season in European racing. Yet the pressure was still lurking for the young American, relentlessly building despite his optimistic approach to racing and life abroad.
On May 12, 2012, the wait was over. It was time to qualify.
The session started out perfect, Daly’s first flying lap put him on pole position. It didn’t last, however, as he was quickly bumped back to seventh. Undeterred, he laid down another solid lap placing him second for the start of the opening race.
A misjudged start, a slipping clutch, and a misadventure at the exit of the chicane following minimal contact with a menacing curb during the opening lap quickly erased all hope of a win and instead forced Daly to fight for a top-10 finish.
Not that he was having a bad race. He wasn’t. In the ultra-competitive world of GP3 — a series chock full of young drivers hoping for a chance at F1 — a minimal mistake quickly compounds and appears much bigger than it really is, and that was the case in Daly’s opening lap of the season-opening race.
Still, he finished sixth and would start race two from third on the grid.
“I really beat myself up after performances like that,” Daly wrote in his Racer.com blog. “I was in a position to be successful and squandered it. However, I’m also quite a positive person and enjoy focusing on my next opportunity to make the best of my time on track.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Daly made the most of his next opportunity aggressively passing Romanian Robert Visoiu in the grass to lead the field into turn one during race two. His start was perfect, immediately erasing all remaining thoughts of earlier imperfection. He had a new task to focus on.
Following the fight for the lead in turn one, the race was over — at least at the sharp end of the field. Daly continually clocked fast laps leaving his formidable foes far behind during the 16-lap sprint race. As the race wore on, the gap grew. Then the checkered flag waved and his team — Lotus GP — handed him an American flag and he embraced his father Derek with a hug. Meanwhile, his mom screamed and cheered while watching on television in Indianapolis — having just received the ultimate Mother’s Day gift.
Daly had made history becoming the first American driver to win a GP3 race. Twitter feeds exploded with the news and Daly’s Facebook page was quickly littered with congratulatory comments.
Shortly after the race, Daly (@ConorDaly22) tweeted: “WE DID IT!! P1!!
#USA #USA thank you so much @ARTGP ! What an incredible day. Feels so good! Happy mothers day Mom :)”
Good friend American Josef Newgarden and former Indy Lights teammate at Sam Schmidt Motorsports — who currently races in IndyCar and spent the 2010 season in GP3 — picked up a few chuckles post-race when he tweeted : “Holy Santa Clause Sh*t, how about
@ConorDaly22 taking victory in Barcelona this morning! #America”
Needless to say friends, family, and followers were all proud of Conor’s achievement. The pressure was lifted and now that he’s earned that first win, many more are sure to follow.
This week, 20-year-old Daly is taking another step in his burgeoning career: testing a Force India Formula One car. Make sure to follow along for what is sure to be an illustrious career in motorsport. This is just the start and Daly has the holeshot.