By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Following his harrowing crash a day ago, Simon Pagenaud has been ruled out for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course following an evaluation with the NTT IndyCar Series medical team.
With Pagenaud now on the sidelines, Meyer-Shank Racing has tabbed Conor Daly to fill in for the Frenchman in the 80-lap race on the 13-turn, a 2.258-mile road course.
Daly ran the first seven races of the 2023 season with Ed Carpenter Racing before he and the team parted ways following the race at Detroit in early June. In seven previous starts at Mid-Ohio, Daly has finished in the top-10 on two different occasions, with his best finish of sixth coming in 2016.
Team owner Michael Shank noted in a release on Sunday morning that he was thankful for the safety features in Pagenaud’s car that allowed him to walk away from the crash and for Daly being able to fill-in on such short notice.
“First and foremost, I have to speak to the safety of these cars,” said Shank. “To walk away from an accident like that is incredible and we cannot thank everyone at INDYCAR, the AMR INDYCAR safety team and the INDYCAR medical team for everything they did to get Simon out and evaluated as quickly as possible.
“This is obviously not a scenario that we had planned for, but everyone at MSR has pitched in to get our backup car ready for Sunday. It’s actually Helio’s Indy 500 car and the one he won the 500 with in 2021. We have to thank Conor for being here and stepping into this, he’s been super great through all of the chaos. Now we will get back on our feet and see what we can do in the race.”
Daly added his relief that Pagenaud was unharmed in the incident and his gratitude to the team at MSR for calling on him to take on the substitute role on Sunday.
“Obviously I have to think about Simon, you hate to see someone wreck like that,” said Daly. “The most important thing is to get him as healthy as possible, as soon as possible.
“This is his car and his group of folks and I am here to do the best job that I can for this team. I’ve known Mike (Shank) for a long time and I’ve tested for his sports car team many years ago. I’ve always had a lot of respect for this organization. It’s an honor to be a part of this group and fill in – we will just do the best job that we can.”
Daly won’t be going into the race completely blind as he was able to get in the car for the morning warm-up, making 14 laps during the half-hour session to get a feel for how the Honda drives compared to the Chevrolet he had been used to previously. When the session was complete, Daly timed in 12th fastest.
When the green flag flies, he will start shotgun on the field in 27th place.
“Great session this morning in warm-up, P12,” said Daly. “Nice to get in and feel some speed right out of the gate. A lot to learn. So much to learn. Very, very different from what I’m used to the last few years. Just excited to keep it going. One lap at a time we’re going to learn and try to move forward.”
Sunday’s race also marks the first race that Pagenaud has missed in his full-time IndyCar career, but he explained that he respects the decision of the medical team and despite the disappointment, he will be ready to lend a hand in whatever way he can.
“The toughest part was the realization earlier that it wasn’t happening today,” Pagenaud said. “I’m a racer, man. I just want to go race. Honestly, I’ve raced feeling much worse, but it’s part of the deal. Part of what we do.
“It’s definitely going to be tough today to watch from the bench, but it’s what’s best for the team. It’s what’s best for me. I respect the decision from the doctors. “I hope Conor can do a really good job. I’m happy for him to get that opportunity today. Like I always say, as the leader of my team, I’ve got to show leadership.”