Derrick Walker with Arni Sribhen

DERRICK WALKER, IndyCar President of Competition, had a relaxed, informal and open Q&A with the media at Tuesday’s 2014 IndyCar Media Day, held at the Amway Center (sports arena) in Orlando FL. Walker’s discussion included some levity, which was a refreshing change for an official’s meeting with the press; and it was well-received.

Walker’s session was moderated, as were all the sessions, by DAVE LEWENDOWSKI, IndyCar Editorial Director.

Walker touched on several topics of interest, including upgrading Race Control, establishing a new mobile Race Control, standing start for the IndyCar race at the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, 2015 aero kits, Indy 500 Qualifying, rules, Rookie’s extra testing sessions, and his relationship with his Falken factory sports car team.

NEW ROLE: Walker described his new role and his approach. “I don’t see myself as being the guy who’s micromanaging the whole show. We’ve got a good group at IndyCar. I don’t think they’ve always had management that supported them and gave them the tools they need to get better. Budgets have been tight. We haven’t spent the money on some of the things we could have done over the years. But I think we’ve got a good nucleus there. I think we just need to keep adding to it and tuning it up.

The procedures, how we look at penalties, how we judge them, how consistent are we. All those are well within our capability with the group we have now. It’s really just hunkering down and spending the time on it.”

RACE CONTROL: “One of the first things I looked at when I joined IndyCar was Race Control because it seemed to be a huge amount of interest on the part of the competitors and the fans to basically point out all the imperfections that it had. I was pretty keen to actually get inside and find out how it works ’cause I’ve always been on the other side of Race Control, never actually spent any time around it.

“When I joined IndyCar after the 500, I had the pleasure of sitting in Race Control for pretty well all of the races thereafter to actually observe how it all happens, see dramas unfolding, how we tackle them.

“There were a couple of things that seemed pretty obvious. That was we couldn’t always see what we needed to do for Race Control to be effective. It looked pretty obvious we needed to upgrade our equipment and needed to have more eyes on the job.
In addition to that we needed more procedures and probably guidelines is the best way to describe it so that we were as consistent as often as possible. That was one of the shortcomings of Race Control.

“So for this year we’ve invested a tremendous amount in equipment so we have a lot more views and better-quality views, better replay, trying to capture all the views that are possible.

“A lot of times Race Control, and I see it in other series, they make decisions based on a few views, but don’t have them all. Sometimes the fan gets better views than we do in Race Control. The simple fact were the limitations on how many screens we’ve got, how many inputs we actually tap into.

“We’re addressing that. This year, to start with, we have a whole new load of equipment. When I say ‘equipment,’ we’re talking a lot more flat screens, HD. The reason for more of them is because we don’t always get all the views that the cameras around the track gets. We haven’t always got that. We’ve been caught out many times where we made a call and afterwards saw a different view that would make us think twice. Also the replay equipment, the ability to bring it up really quick. There’s some more add-ons to that. Looking to car data a lot quicker. Quite often you wouldn’t get back to the truck until you managed to see the car data. Looking at car data is quite often very helpful. So we’re moving in that direction, as well.

“In addition to that is putting more cameras, static cameras, that are on locations that the TV doesn’t always get. The cameramen are always looking to entertain, and we’re just looking to watch what is going on. If he spins off into the grandstand, he sees a nice-looking girl in the grandstand, it’s great for the TV and the fans, we’re looking for something coming up, but we’re looking at a pretty girl in the stands. When it comes down to managing the show, we need to have our own cameras.

“Looking out the window isn’t necessary if you have enough camera views. You get a much better view on a camera view. Even at the ovals we have spotters on the roof to catch the yellows. The boys are looking out the windows, they still can’t see it from there. So it’s something that is a long-term upgrade which is necessary.

“With these extra cameras, it is expected that those camera shots to be available to the television broadcast.

“We’ve established some criteria which we’ll roll out between now and the first event. We’ll explain some of the differences of how it actually works internally. Long-term, hopefully by this time next year, we’ve actually got, I would call it, state-of-the-art race control which is a mobile unit.

“We have a lot of equipment. We have to cart it upstairs, everywhere you go. The space you have isn’t always enough. We’re just getting going on the 2015 Race Control, which as I say will be mobile. We’re going to put it in a trailer, give it enough room and stability and have it at all of the races. That’s a big undertaking and huge investment on the part of the IndyCar.

“The Race Control upgrades we’re dealing with now is just the beginning. There is a lot more to come.

“During my short stay at IndyCar, I’ve been lucky enough to go around and talk with a lot of different series, look at what they do. They’ve been very open in sharing their ideas. We’re all very similar. Some of us have a little bit different this way, a little bit different that way. It’s not that we have to throw everything out the window; we just need to tune it up a little bit more and get better equipment.”

Walker sees the new Race Control Center also providing transparency for the fans. “We have to be that. While it isn’t available yet in Race control, we will have Race Control videoed. We do video it, record it. One of these days that should be available to the fans. We need to have an open agenda. We want to be perceived as doing the best for the sport, not hiding away in some room somewhere making dumb calls.”

RULES CONSISTENCY: Having seen it from both sides now, I would say it wasn’t good enough. It needed to be upgraded. It needed to be improved. It needed to take a good look at itself.

“I mean, that’s really what racing is all about, is continual improvement. I don’t think you ever have the perfect anything. You never touch it. We’ve made some changes to the cars, increasing safety, which the car when it was designed a couple years ago, it wasn’t on the radar.

“Now as the cars have evolved, we’ve looked at things that need to change, because that’s what racing does. Race Control’s no different. It was maybe good enough one time, but right now it needed an upgrade. It was really as simple as that.”

STANDING STARTS: “Like every question, there’s a lot more that goes behind that question. If you can keep your eyes open long enough, you’ll get the answer on Long Beach.

“When you look at standing starts, we’re currently doing them at different locations. Pretty well none of them are ideal. The idea of standing starts has some merit. Fans like it. They give us good feedback on that. The locations we have don’t always give us enough room.

“From the management of the event side of things, competition side of things, the worst-case scenario is when the lights go, everybody ends up at turn one on top of each other, or two or three cars hit and block the race, it’s a fiasco. That’s the danger you live in with standing starts with very little room.

“They’re exciting when they work, but long-term we need to look very hard and specifically about where we can do them and where we can’t.

“Long Beach wanted to get on the schedule of standing starts last year. Actually went as far as cutting all the grooves for the sensors that go into the racetrack. We were all ready to do it. IndyCar made a decision it would try a few standing starts to begin with and then make a decision finally on Long Beach.

“Long Beach wasn’t entirely happy with that because it really wanted standing starts, and we put them on hold. When I come onboard, our promoter at Long Beach was quick to point out to me that he was standing in line and what about him.

I’ve been down there in Champ Car, and we did standing starts in Champ Car. We looked at all the data, how we could spread the field out a little bit, what would it mean. The location is an important location for IndyCar. If we can put on a good show, including a standing start, we made the decision we’re going to do that.

“Part of the problem with Long Beach is getting the field coming round, getting all the field on the front straight, letting it loose. It never works very well. If you do a standing start, I think it will be a much better start. We’ve spread out the field to give them enough gaps, stagger the lines. So I think we’ll see a good race and a good start.

“We have Long Beach onboard and of course the Indy road course is also on the calendar as a standing start.

EXTRA TESTING: Regarding the extra tests ‘gifted’ returning open-wheel driver, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/Team Penske Chevrolet, “Some guys would say he needs them. Maybe not.

“Actually, he does have more test days. He gets refresher days which I know a lot of drivers, probably a couple in this room, say he doesn’t need any refreshers, he’s good enough as he is.

“When he (Montoya) first came on the horizon, the team asked, ‘Could we get some extra days to help give him time?’ We just looked at it and said, ‘It’s great to have him back, and really it’s about what goes on in the races. Going over picking days or not days.’

“So we gave him a little extra to get tuned up. I think if you had him here, he would say he’s glad he got them. It’s not easy to step out of IndyCar, come back, familiarize yourself that well with it all. I think it’s all about the fans, helping him get back in the saddle. Glad to have him back.

“It wasn’t just a Montoya favor. We’d take care of everybody coming in the series. It’s all about the series. Sometimes we get too bogged down in the regulations, this and that, forget about the show and the fans. I don’t think anybody wants to see Montoya come into the series and take about half a year to get acclimated to it. Maybe he’ll go out and do it sooner, more power to him.

“But it’s all about the show. Anybody out there like him, and I can think of a couple, we’ll be trying to do everything we can to make it a better experience for the fans.”

AERO KITS: “To be clear, what the project is, next year we have aero kits, body panels. This will produce probably quite a lot of downforce. The cars will have a lot more grip.

“We looked at it and said that it was worth trying to experiment with the floor area, reduce the floor area. When the car gets in the air, resisting it from getting airborne. We asked our manufacturers, engine manufacturers, who have all the aero capability, to join us and try and help us solve the reduction in the floor without destabilizing the car.

“So we came out with an experimental floor which we’ve tried once on track. It’s clear that when you put a couple of big holes in the side of the car, it’s not the same. It took away a lot of downforce.

“Then again, we don’t have the advantage of the aero kit downforce to put back in. We knew there would be a lack of grip which would have negative feelings.

“What we didn’t account for was the turbulence that came with it. Those floor designs are going to continue to be developed. We had hoped to put it in in 2015. Because the manufacturers were really ready to go and make their aero kits finally, we had to pass on doing it for the first issue of the aero kit. So it’s going to continue to be developed and whenever it’s ready, we’ll put it back into service.

“It’s not an easy one to solve and it’s not going to happen overnight.

“The design of the aero kit isn’t ready for display. The manufacturers are working very hard and secretively on it. They don’t show us, either. We may see it just about a day before you see it. It will be interesting to see what happens. You have two different entities in their own world doing their own thing. One would hope they don’t come out with something similar.

“I think you should see some different shapes. That presents a challenge for IndyCar because here we have to gear up manpower-wise to be looking at that.

“Right now we measure a Dallara as a Dallara. When you put different panels on it, it’s a Dallara-plus, a Honda-plus or a Chevy-plus. We have to be in position to understand exactly what the downforce and drag is. As we regulate the series, we can’t be completely out here not knowing what the real car potential is. We’re going to spool up with some more capability to start looking really closely at what the car generates in downforce and drag.”

INDY 500 QUALIFYING FORMAT: Walker joked that it might take a couple of hours to explain his requested review on the format for Indy 500 Qualifying. “When he came onboard, Hulman & Company’s CEO, MARK MILES, had asked me to take a look at the qualifying procedure for Indianapolis. What Mark’s view was or reason for it, he looks at the month of May like everybody; some days it looks great, and other days it looks like the fans are not seeing what they used to see there. The magic was maybe not as exciting as it could be.

“So with a very clear intention that we weren’t going to try and mastermind excitement, what we were trying to do is try to make the month of May at Indianapolis something the fans will really embrace.

“When you look at the road course one weekend, a new event, changed the track from the Formula One design, very subtly; but I think it will make better racing. We had the drivers over there. They went round and round the track, gave us some ideas. The track has modified those corners. I think you’ll see a better road course race than the first road course race there which I think will be an exciting affair.

“In addition to that, when it came to qualifying weekend, what do we do? Two days of qualifying, what is the procedure? We’re looking at how to make that two days of qualifying mean something, make it worth it for the teams to get out there and do it, compete. At the end of the day, make the fans come away thinking they saw something.

“We’re now coming down to the final choice, which I would say probably by the beginning of the month, we’ll have it across the street. The executive group will look at it and make a decision.

“I think we all want to try and have a better qualifying procedure, but we don’t want to throw the history out of what qualifying means there either. Then the Indy 500, of course, the next weekend, those of you who watched it last year, it was about as exciting as it can get.

“It’s trying to bolster the experience of being in Indianapolis in May without taking anything away from history or qualifying.”

Walker forsees the day when everybody can get on one page for the Sunday before Memorial Day and make a double doable for both series (IndyCar and NASCAR.) “I think we’re ready. We’ll take those little puppies anytime they want to come up. Probably give them a thrill. They might not want to go back. I think if one of those guys comes up and has a good experience, a lot more will come.”

NEW POSITION/TEAM OWNERSHIP POSITION: Regarding his progression from Team Owner to IndyCar Competition Director, Walker said “Basically the team told me one day, Go get a day job and leave us alone to run the team properly, so I had to look for another job.

“But seriously, if I look at what I’ve been involved in in racing, which spans 45 years unfortunately, I’ve been lucky enough to have opportunities to change my job and take different positions. The ultimate I thought was being a team owner. It certainly is.

“But then this opportunity came up and I thought that was different, maybe that would be a good place to get my next challenge. It was a unique opportunity to step out of that and get involved with IndyCar. I’ve been involved in it in different roles, but not ever been on this side of the fence. Being on the job seven months, I was dead right. It is a challenge, but in a good way.

“I have a very good team that run our program and they can manage without me. I do have a relationship with Falken. Basically my race team runs a 911 Porsche GT car for Falken tires. I have employees running that program.

“Last year when I was asked to come onboard IndyCar, I had that commitment to Falken. I did double duty. Because Falken had a contract with me prior to that, they had first dibbs on my time. Now that contract has come to an end. I still have a Falken agreement. They know I have a real car over here at IndyCar. That is my priority. So wherever IndyCar is, that’s where I’ll be. The race team quite often will be racing on the same weekend. I’m sure it will do fine.”