INDIANAPOLIS — As qualifying gets underway for the Indianapolis 500, the stakes are high.
Conor Daly, said the whole year is based off the race.
"Our entire year is based off the 500. Qualifying for it is, without a doubt, the most important moment I think of the year, until you get to the race," Daly said.
Daly wants one of the 33 starting positions again this year. He not only has to turn fast laps during the 500 qualification weekend, Daly also has to know how the weather will affect his car and run for the pole.
"I've fought to make it in the race," Daly said. "But I've also fought to try and be in the fast nine too, so there's been several different scenarios, and I hate bad weather, purely because I just like when the schedule runs."
But that schedule can be impacted by rain and the racecar has to adjust to wind, humidity and temperature.
"So the weather and what we do for qualification preparation is massive," Daly said. "If it's hotter, our cars have less downforce. If it's cooler, we have more downforce and more grip. You know, 'we trim for conditions' is a phrase that we use. So for qualifying and on qualifying, you want to be as trimmed out as possible."
Daly said the temperature has a direct correlation to drivers' ability to control the car because "you want to have the car in as low drag of a setting."
Cooler days add some grip, while hotter temperatures make it a little slicker.
"When you're trying to trim out the car, it's a lot harder because you're not getting that natural downforce from the air — from the temperature and from just everything that's going on — basically to create that feel of security," Daly said.
It's not just the heat, even the threat of sprinkles disrupts the team's strategy.
"The rain can play into it massively because if you're not in the field and you have to get it a run in, you have to line up as soon as possible," Daly said. "If they've gone through the whole field, and you still need to get in the race. You've got to be able to make that run before it rains."
And the weather changes quickly, not just hour by hour, but minute by minute.
"We see the rain all of a sudden come in, changes the track and then now the winds go in a different direction," Daly said. "The car can completely feel different from morning to afternoon, especially if it rains."
Race spotters are above the stands watching out for weather, from the north and south, the east to west, and all can play a critical role on qualification days.
"We use two spotters at Indy because the track is so big," said Chris Simmons, the director of performance for Chip Ganassi Racing. "Whenever there's weather coming, yeah, we're on the radio to the spotter. 'What are the clouds looking like? How close is it?'"
Daly said the wind at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the enemy, and he's constantly looking at the flags around the track to see how the wind is changing.
"If it's very windy on qualifying day, that is your nightmare, that is your ultimate nightmare. For qualifying, that downforce is as rolled out as possible, and you're trying to go as fast as possible, and so when you pin the front with the wind, there's not as much to catch you in the rear with the rear wing and everything else that you're running," Daly said. "So that makes it even more sketchy and way harder to drive on a qualifying day is when it's windy. It's essentially the worst thing ever, but sometimes you have to deal with it."
So what is the dream weather for racing? Daly said most want a cloudy, cool day.