Earlier this week, Harding Racing made headlines in the racing world by announcing Conor Daly would take Gabby Chaves’ place in the team’s No. 88 Chevrolet.
The only single-car team in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock iterated that the driver swap meant Chaves was only sidelined, and still a contracted driver.
Team president Brian Barnhart has been involved in IndyCar for a long time.
He’s the former race director of the series and former president of race operations. When it comes to tapping a new driver for your race seat, there’s probably no better person to make a crucial selection.
“I have a lot of respect for Conor with what he’s done in the car the last few years,” Barnhart told OnPitRoad.com on Saturday before qualifying. “I think it was two years ago he advanced the Fast Six in Dale Coyne’s car. We knew he had experience on this reconfigured Toronto circuit, which was one of the most important things we were looking for. Conor has a good reputation over the last couple years with his feedback and input. We were looking for both a best chance of doing well this weekend as well as a fresh perspective on what the car’s doing.”
And while Conor Daly is likely beaming with joy to be back in the cockpit of a race car, Chaves isn’t happy being sidelined.
“[He took the news] exactly how I hoped he would — he was not very happy. If you tell someone they’re stepping out of a car for a weekend and they shrug their shoulders and say ‘Ah, that’s okay.’, you have bigger issues,” Barnhart laughed. “He wants to be in the car every minute the car is somewhere and that’s obviously the right attitude to be in. He was not very happy about it but he was also very dignified and first class with the things he’s said both privately and publicly.
“He’s been very supportive this week. He’s been in here participating via the intercom and the radio while the car’s been on track. He’s participating in the debriefs. He’s fully engaged. Hopefully this exercise will be helpful for him as well. It’s validating a lot of what Gabby’s been saying all along.”
The fact that Harding Racing is the newest full-time team in the paddock is challenging enough. Couple that with the fact that they’re the only full-time single-car operation, and it’s enough to justifiably have them behind the rest of the field. Less on-track practice and testing time has made things tough for the team.
“As you continue to reduce and shorten [track time], the multi-car teams then have the economies to go different directions after one session,” he said. “Whether it’s suspension, geometry or spring setup on it, if one car goes out stiff, one car goes out soft and one’s in the middle, they get that feedback after one 45-minute session. It takes us three sessions.”
The goal for Harding Racing is to expand to a two-car operation in 2019.
Having a second car, team and driver to lean on eases the logistics for each weekend. In order to decide on a teammate for Chaves, they expect to continue having different drivers in the seat of the Chevrolet.
“There’s three or four guys on the [Indy] Lights side that have done a good job. When you look at the fact that the series only has seven cars in it; Colton [Herta], Santi [Urrutia], Pato [O’ward]. We’ve been contacted by Aaron Telitz as well. We certainly have interest in those guys,” Barnhart said.
Barnhart said the team is also seeking out some of the veterans in the paddock.
“We’ve also been contacted by a handful of guys who are kind of in Conor’s category that naturally are good at the feel of the speedway and have experience with this new aerokit, so we lean towards those guys,” he said. “You’re looking at guys like Sage Karam. We have a couple of ovals coming up with St. Louis and Pocono. Sage is from Nazareth, so there’s a good tie there. Sage has a pretty good track record on the ovals as well. We may look at doing something with him.”
As for the race in Toronto, Barnhart and the team aren’t asking much of Daly. They just want the team to keep making progress.
“Each session the track gets a little bit quicker. We’ve made the car better for him. I think that’s all we were looking at,” he said. “Someone who is familiar with this race track and give us a different perspective on the feedback to help provide a direction on where we need to improve in the future.”