Race insider Jim Ayello previews the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
LEXINGTON, Ohio – When Conor Daly realized he had advanced out of the first round of qualifying Saturday afternoon at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, he let out a shout of relief. Not a sigh. A shout.
In a perfect world, the young A.J. Foyt Racing driver wouldn’t celebrate qualifying 11th, which is what he did. In a perfect world, he’d be fighting for poles with Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Saturday’s pole winner, Will Power. But Daly’s world has been far from perfect this season. Before Saturday, he had only advanced out of the first round of qualifying once (Dual 2 in Detroit).
“All season, we’ve been fighting so hard, and you come out of a qualifying session and you’re like ninth or 10th; that means you’re starting 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st,” Daly said of his frustration-filled season. “We’ve started so far back almost every single time, so as soon as you make it to the next round of qualifying, boom, it’s top 12, and mentally, it’s just a huge relief realizing you can only do as bad as 12th.”
Not long after qualifying, Daly was asked by IndyCar Radio what made such difference for he and Foyt this weekend.
A few things, Daly said. The team tinkered with the dampers, and that was a big part of the progress. He added that Foyt learned a lot from its recent test at Mid-Ohio. But then Daly mentioned something else, something unexpected: weight loss.
Daly shared that he’s lost nine pounds since switching to a vegan diet after the race two weeks ago in Toronto.
Why did he do it?
“It eliminates an excuse,” Daly later told IndyStar. “If our car is a little overweight, and I can change that, then that’s what I have to do. I wish I had done it sooner. It’s been really eye-opening for me.”
Daly has always been a big guy. Just the way he’s built, he said. It’s never held him back competitively, though when he was younger, his teams in Europe used to complain he weighed too much.
“Staying light’s always been difficult for me,” Daly said. “Especially having diabetes, I never know what’s right and what’s not.”
But after watching a documentary on Netflix called “What the Health,” Daly thinks veganism might be a new way of life. He hasn’t eaten meat or any other animal product in 11 days, and said not only does he not miss it, but he feels great. Not necessarily better than before, he said, but it’s certainly nice to walk around nine pounds lighter.
“I’ll stay with it until I start feeling bad,” Daly said with a smile. “Technically, this is a healthy diet. But I’ll keep training, keep doing what I do. I still go to the gym every other day, so we’ll see what happens.”
Power wins fifth pole of season, 49th of career
Entering the weekend, Power had started on the front row at Mid-Ohio for the past five years, so when he won the pole and made it six Saturday, it came as a surprise to absolutely no one.
The pole victory — his third at Mid-Ohio and fifth this season — is the 49th of his career, which ties him with Bobby Unser for fourth all-time.
Power credits his qualifying success to a very a simple plan: “It’s just a matter of understanding what you’ve learned over that weekend and putting it all together during the qualifying, especially when it counts, the Fast Six, not use too much energy all weekend,” he said. “When you got to use it, use it. Don’t ever try to put it all out there in practice, then when I get to qualifying, especially the Fast Six, you got to really compete.”
Starting next to him on Row 1 is Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, whom Power edged by 0.2 seconds.
Takuma Sato and Ohio native Graham Rahal will line Row 2 to lead the Honda contingent. Joining those two in the top seven are Castroneves, series points leader Dixon and defending series champion Simon Pagenaud.
Coincidentally, the front seven drivers are the seven leading the points, so expect some hard racing from the front of the field Sunday.
Filling out the remainder of the front 10 are James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi and Friday’s practice session leader, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Follow IndyStar Motor Sports Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter and Instagram: @jimayello.
Weight loss responsible for Conor Daly’s qualifying session?