INSIGHT: Busy off-season ahead for IndyCar competitions and operations staff

INSIGHT: Busy off-season ahead for IndyCar competitions and operations staff

IndyCar

INSIGHT: Busy off-season ahead for IndyCar competitions and operations staff

By

IndyCar’s Derrick Walker and Will Phillips observing road course testing at Indy. (LAT photo)

2013 ranked as one of Derrick Walker’s busiest years in motor racing. The veteran team owner and manager started off the season with his Falken Tire American Le Mans Series program to look after, housed and oversaw the Ed Carpenter Racing IndyCar Series team, and by May, added the title of IndyCar President of Competition to his overflowing list of responsibilities.

2014 could be even busier for the Scot, but fundamental changes to his daily routine will see Walker working from less of a timeshare approach, and focusing almost entirely on his responsibilities within open-wheel racing.

Walker Racing will continue to field the Falken Tire program in the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, but as he told RACER, Walker will no longer be splitting his duties between Falken and IndyCar.

?It was a necessary situation we had to manage and deal with when IndyCar asked me to come work for them,? said Walker. ?My racing team has a very experienced and proven layer of management that allows it to run successfully whether I’m there or not, but one must remember that I entered last season with my sports car program as my main focus. And that did not ” it could not ” change when I joined IndyCar.

?So that meant some compromises would be required, some splitting of my time as you might say. If there’s anything I’ve learned over these past months, it’s that you can’t do it, and you can’t do it well enough. The position at IndyCar requires it to be my priority that I can do because the team is in good hands with Phil Howard and the rest of my team run the Falken program. That doesn’t mean that I will stop owning the business but the daily operations will fall to Phil.?

Due to his pre-existing sports car commitments, Walker was unable to attend every IndyCar round, but that will also change next year.

?IndyCar pays me to do the job of looking after the competitions and operations departments and that’s obviously a job that requires you to be there at every event,? he explained.

?As I saw this year, I was always been trying to play catch-up; IndyCar can obviously operate without me being there but if you’re going to do this job properly, you have to be there at the events and give them 100 percent.?

Derrick Walker faced tough questions this season. (Marshall Pruett photo)

With the path cleared for Walker to fully invest himself in the IndyCar Series, his list of improvements and fixes continues to grow and will likely fill his calendar until the new season begins in March.

?A lot of what we’re doing in the off-season breaks down into three categories: one is a complete review of the past season, two is introducing rules and regulations, and quite frankly, determining what works and what needs to be improved,? he continued. ?And the third is safety. When you look at what happened in Houston, there it’s a lot more in-depth of a study into learning what can be done better but before Houston came on the radar, we had a whole series of internal reviews planned for IndyCar operations and competitions anyway.

?And it’s not something new for IndyCar, it’s just that people don’t usually hear about it or know about it as much work goes into the off-season. The reviews are already underway and a lot more still to come.?

Walker fired off a number of items he and his staff members have to complete in the immediate future, and said there’s more to come.

?For example, the review of the rule book happens every year, but that isn’t something done in isolation,? he added. ?It involves getting input from the teams on any rules what they feel needed looked at and or reconsidered for change. There’s the tire supply and meeting with Firestone to talk to them about ” not necessarily increasing the teams’ budget on tires or taking big chunks of money out of the budget, because Firestone’s contracted to supply and we need that many tires ” but we’re going to be talking about how to improve what we’ve currently have in the supply to the teams; allowing the teams more freedom on how they use their tires that they pay for. Obviously, there’s production and logistic issues for Firestone in how they do that. There’s a myriad of things we covered and spent a whole day with Firestone at their offices. Good stuff came out of it.

?There’s the ongoing development of the aero kit rules and procedures that surround the introduction coming along. There’s a safety study, for example, looking at Fontana crash of  Justin Wilson, and meetings with Dallara continuously on lots of subjects to do with improvements and development on such things like a steering damper or looking in to stiffening certain body parts and on and on. And we conduct a track analysis of each race from 2013, so that’s 19 separate reviews. We aren’t wanting for things to keep us busy or occupied, let me tell you that.?

The race-by-race reviews, according to Walker, go far beyond the on-track action, and delve into the operations and behind-the-scenes activities conducted by IndyCar.

?We do race reviews individually, as I mentioned, and we’ve just completed a full-season race review looking at each track and talking about anything and everything from how we did managing the event from a competitions and operations from individual performance, to safety measures, to response from the tracks themselves and build a hit list of changes and improvements to make,? he said.

?Everybody that’s involved in it from an IndyCar perspective, if they’re available, attend those series of meetings as we work through a whole season’s worth of meeting notes. And from that process there are action items that emerge. So as we talk about experiences at a track, or when teams and manufacturers make requests on things to improve, we need to be a very thorough, and it is very time consuming, but it’s also necessary. These are just some of the things were doing right now.?

By building a living document of procedural improvements to make, Walker hopes to avoid any of the missteps that took place in 2013. He’s also evaluating the tools his race control team has at their disposal, and seems intent on modernizing the environment Beaux Barfield (RIGHT, with Dario Franchitti at Baltimore) and the other stewards work within.

?Yes, we are also looking at race control because that’s been a hot topic this year from time to time,? said Walker. ?One of the first things that came up on my radar when I first joined on and was allowed to be inside the race control was what they have to deal with. The amount of space and the level of difficulty in setting up a good environment where you can actually run a first class race control at every track is very inconsistent. It just does not happen.

?Obviously, we’ve got a lot of equipment needed and ours is older than it should be, and for some of it we know there’s better equipment, faster equipment, equipment that provides better detail at a faster rate that we need to look at. So we’re reviewing that. And then, of course, when we look at each track, we ask ourselves about the level of difficulty in terms of the race control at some of these locations. They’re not all the same. Our guys end up hauling piles of equipment up stairways that have got to go up to the sixth floor or whatever the floor is, and it’s a bit archaic.?

As Walker shares, a mobile race control unit is one of the solutions currently being considered.

?While we’ve got the time, we’re asking ourselves what we want to do differently,? he noted. ?One of the current ideas is we’re looking into the concept of having a mobile race control; a dedicated truck that would be set up like almost a TV truck where it has all the monitors, its quiet, has good air conditioning and everything you need to sit there and really get a sense of focus on the race.

?We also need more cameras in certain places, and dedicated cameras at difficult locations. And, of course, there’s solutions out there that we don’t use right now that have that kind of better or newer equipment, or even new ideas to consider that we’ve got to look at. There are other series that use technology very wisely in race control, and if it will allow IndyCar to do a better job, we’re obviously going to look at what upgrades we can make.?

If there’s one clear message from Walker, it’s that he expects to make serious headway in shaping the competition department to perform like the racing teams he’s managed.

?There’s a high level of detail requires that goes into everything we are working on, and now the rush is on to get it all done in time for next season,? he said. ?There’s more than enough for everybody at IndyCar to do over the winter time and in-season to where I now need to expand our workforce. I just touched on a few things. I saw everyone work incredibly hard this season, and they took great pride in what they did. They want our series to excel, and I have the same view.

?But, no one would refute that there’s things we can do better, and to get there, it will take time and effort. A lot of people probably think we just sit on our backsides and wait for the next drama to come along. It’s far from the truth, and I can assure everybody of that. This will be my first real shot to work with the team to implement the things we’ve wanted to do going into a new season, and the list only gets longer. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Our intent is to leave IndyCar in better condition than we found it.? 

More RACER
Home