IndyCar 2018: Derrick Walker responds to fan input

IndyCar 2018: Derrick Walker responds to fan input


IndyCar 2018: Derrick Walker responds to fan input


Pre-2015 IndyCar season, we asked various luminaries of racing for their views on what IndyCar should be in 2018. and also invited RACER readers to submit their thoughts on what the future should hold for the Verizon IndyCar Series. As with the experts’ verdicts, several ideas worthy of consideration (and great strength of feeling, positive and negative) surfaced among your responses. So we hacked and then whittled at the best of the responses – which stretched to 55,000-plus words! – and presented a more manageable document of 20,000 words to Derrick Walker, IndyCar’s vp of competition [BELOW, LAT photo]. He carefully read the ideas through over a couple of evenings, and then sat down for a Q&A with RACER editor David Malsher. Below are the links to the experts’ views. Click here for the assembled fans’ views submitted to IndyCar.


DM: Everyone’s asking for more manufacturers. Engines are the most frequently requested, but chassis are on the list, too. People want to see different shapes, ideas and concepts out there. In your opinion, are the days of multiple suppliers gone? If Tatuus or Swift came up with a rival IndyCar chassis to Dallara, would one of them insist on a monopoly because that’s the only way to turn a profit?

DW: I can definitely put the record straight on that one. There’s no policy or mindset within IndyCar that says we must have just one chassis supplier, just two engine manufacturers, etc. However, the practicalities are that an engine manufacturer has to commit to a considerable spend to get involved, build an engine and support it, and when you look at the number of cars and the amount of money they are paid by the teams, it’s clear there are considerable subsidies being made. So every manufacturer has to look at the series and say, “What’s the value of the series? Is it a series we want to be involved in? Do we want to spend X amount of dollars?” When you look at the number of engine manufacturers around the world who could commit that money and ones who want to promote in the North American market because they sell cars within this continent, there aren’t that many.

So if a manufacturer came to us and said, “I have a four-cylinder turbodiesel that I want to race in your series,” we’d talk to them, and see if there was a way to bring them in, but without neglecting our duties to our current manufacturers and their styles of engines. We’d see if there was a balancing of performance that could allow all to take part.

On the car/chassis front, it’s a little bit different because in the old days the teams were buying the latest model from Lola, Reynard, Swift, or whomever each season, and so those manufacturers were getting repeat business, year on year. Each of those chassis builders could survive healthily on supplying only 25 or 30 percent of the field because if their cars were good, the same customers and maybe others would come to them 12 months later. Nowadays, if a chassis supplier delivered as many as half the cars – 12 – on the grid, the rules are such that a team owner doesn’t need to change 95 percent of his car year on year, so aside from crash damage, he has no need to keep going back to the chassis supplier. Now before everyone yells in protest, those tight rules are in place for cost reasons for the sake of the teams. Therefore those manufacturers aren’t going to be making much money in Years 2/3/4 of the chassis, so you can see why there aren’t going to be many builders interested in becoming a rival to Dallara.

So the short answer is that those days of multiple suppliers are pretty much gone because of the economics of the sport. There’s a lot of people who think that means the best days are behind us and to go backward is the way to go forward. I don’t believe that. I think we need to engage a wider range of fans, and teenagers would be no more interested in a car that resembled a 1990 or ’91 Penske [BELOW, LAT photo] than a 2015 or ’16 Dallara. When I first saw a racecar, it blew my mind because it went fast, it made a great noise, it looked different, and the overall impression was, ‘Wow, that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in everyday life.’ We need to bring that ‘wow’ factor back for a generation that is not so easily impressed because they have such easy access to pictures and footage of other amazing engineering and sporting feats.

DM: Well, I think there is potential for a greater wow factor in 2015 than in 2012, because the cars look more demanding to drive on road and street courses because there actually seems to be some real power. Too bad about the aero kits [ABOVE, Marshall Pruett’s comparison images] adding more downforce. That kind of defeated the object from the driving point of view, in many people’s eyes, even if it at last opened the tech box that many had been crying out for…

DW: Well, you’re right about the power – there is a genuine 750hp being produced now. As far as the aero kits are concerned… To me, the original DW12 was boring. Aero kits, to me, are an experiment for where we go in 2018 – how we use that concept. Aero kits give the car individuality – individual performance, individual looks. When you strip the cars down to where you have the basic driver safety cell and the gearbox and the wheelbearing assemblies, you need to clothe that whole chassis platform in something that grabs the attention. If we opened up all the rules and went back to the future, I’m not sure that would do the job – the technology, the costs, the entertainment requirement that fans have now – I don’t think the old school rules would work. But you can decide your own future, and decide what you think will make it work.

DM: We always talk about engine and chassis suppliers, but I noticed Jacques Villeneuve the other week was mentioning that what F1 needs is a tire war. Is it reasonable to raise that specter in IndyCar, too?

DW: Having been in tire wars and seen what’s involved, I don’t think we want to go back to that. Firestone develops our tires, I believe tires for ovals are more demanding than any racing tire in the world, and to disregard Firestone’s wealth of experience there and expect a rival to do anything like as good a job would be foolish.

But you can have different wheel sizes – diameter- and width-wise – and tread patterns and so on. There could be choices that change the dynamics of the car just like an aero kit does, according to track requirements. Again it’s bringing back the engineering side of things, giving the teams options. We have not explored that area well enough. Would Firestone make those developments? Well, I’m sure they wouldn’t shoulder the cost alone. But if Firestone wishes to promote their expertise to Joe Public who wants to buy a set of tires for his Chevy Impala or Honda Accord, they would surely enjoy proving they’re one of the most advanced tire companies in the world. And whatever the investment costs, it’s far, far cheaper than a crazy development war with a rival tire company.

DM: Talking of safety, I understand you’re against the idea of canopies, right?

DW: Yes, because of the chances of a driver getting trapped in there if the structure is distorted or upside down, after an accident. The fact is, it’s the front portion of the cockpit [RIGHT, LAT photo], directly in front of the driver’s helmet that is the part that’s doing all the work – the screen, if you want to call it that. Debris doesn’t tend to go up and then straight down. The bit above the head in a closed cockpit is about aerodynamics, not safety. So I’m more in favor of building a stronger, higher screen from the dashboard area, to deflect parts coming at the driver. It’s not a failsafe system – there isn’t one, because every system has its drawbacks. However, it is a big step forward from the current arrangement.

DM: A lot of our readers have talked about 1000hp, and personally, I’m pretty much with them – more power gives us cars that are more demanding to drive. And as you’ll have seen from the letters, some are pro Energy Recovery Systems, some against it. Is there a cheap way to introduce those…or are they a road to nowhere anyway?

DW: Well, I don’t think you need 1000hp – it’s about power-to-weight ratio, isn’t it? The 1000hp figures were from the days when other technologies weren’t so smart so you needed that muscle. Add 50-100hp to what they’ve got at the moment, do a better job of straightline aerodynamics but less downforce, you could still scare all the drivers.  But you’ve got to think about containment. We cannot afford to make the cars too fast for the tracks. It’s not fair to expect circuit owners to continually modify their tracks to build in the safety margin necessary for the cars on it. That’s tackling the problem from the wrong end.

DM: Agreed, but few IndyCar crashes happen on the straights. Do you agree that we need a bigger differential between terminal speed on straights to apex speed in the turns, on all types of track? I’m in the school of thought that at Indy [ABOVE, LAT photo], 250mph on the straights but only 200 through the turns will be a hell of a lot more demanding and entertaining than driving between 225 and 228 all the way around. It’ll separate the great from the good and the good from the mediocre on ovals, in helping determine when drivers pick up the throttle. And it’ll lengthen braking zones on road and street courses.

DW: Yeah, I agree but you don’t need 1000hp to do it. I think the downforce levels should be reduced and put the power up 50-100hp. In fact, I think the manufacturers could do it with their current breed of engines, with some modifications. But then you come back to cost: if a manufacturer says they want the mileage limit reduced from 2500 as it currently is [BELOW, LAT photo] to 2000 or even 1500, they’re going to rebuild them with lighter parts, increase performance and then they will need to increase the costs to the teams. That is the dilemma. But I don’t think you even need to go that far. Add 50hp to the engines, reduce 70lbs from the car, I think you’d see a significant difference in how the cars handle.

Regarding Energy Recovery Systems, I think they could have a place in the formula of the future, if the manufacturers consider that a worthwhile idea. I think if you go down that route, it makes a lot of sense to have a standard system and we’re getting more information on that and checking what the costs will be, as well as the added weight. Having said that… there are only two reasons to run ERS and they’re both to do with being ecologically friendly – 1) Is that something IndyCar wants to promote?  2) Is that something the manufacturers want to promote? Personally, I think it’s something that we all do have to consider, although it’s going to be a long time before ERS is incorporated into the majority of new road cars, so maybe that’s a 2025 project.

Right now, if it’s a power surge we want, there are cheaper ways to go. But again, if the manufacturers approached us and said, ‘We want to show that tech that we’re applying to road cars comes direct from what we learn on track,’ then we’d try to find common ground between them.

DM: As a side question, how does IndyCar decide when manufacturers influence the rules and when it’s time to impose the rules and say, ‘Take it or leave it’?

DW: When you appreciate the investment they make, the contribution they make and the quality of their product – and you realize there aren’t 20 other manufacturers beating on the door to do the same thing – how can you not communicate with Honda and Chevrolet and understand their needs and wants? The days of saying ‘take it or leave it’ are long gone. Once the rules are formulated, then we are on our own. But crafting the technical rules, yes, we need to listen to the manufacturers. It has to be inclusive.

DM: Obviously, there are a lot of complaints about the schedule. The Brazil race’s failure this year wasn’t IndyCar’s fault, but a calendar that runs March to August, often with only a week between races, then lights out for seven months or even six months, is bizarre and misguided. I’ve yet to find anyone who understands the logic of it, and it surely needs to change long before 2018.

DW: The idea behind the shift in season is understandable and I’ve supported it, but as an ex-Indy car team owner, I can see why these transitional years before the front part of the season is loaded, are very, very difficult for teams trying to get a full budget from sponsors. And yes, the back-to-back races for nine weeks is too condensed. If we’d started the season in February with international races, spread the events more evenly and we got that international money in and shared more with the teams, I don’t think you’d be hearing all these complaints.

DM: Well, there’s an area that is more divisive – should there be international races or not? Some team owners think, ‘Yes, because there’s an untapped market, we have a lot of international drivers and frankly, there are more international sponsors willing to plow money in.’ Others say, ‘No, why should we ask our American sponsors help fund us when we’re not reaching the sponsors’ desired markets?’

DW: The idea behind the international races is to feed money to the teams. We can raise more money by going to international races and give more of that share to the teams. We know they need that money so it’s a no-brainer. Some of the more affluent teams, however, are focused more on the domestic market and can probably raise the money and don’t need a part of the international races’ sanctioning fees.

I’d say we should aim at two internationals…three at the most. But we don’t want to come across as any kind of rival to Formula 1. Looking at the imprint F1 makes around the world – yes, it costs a lot of money but it also raises a lot of money. It pulls a crowd. IndyCar can market itself as being far cheaper, but can the promoter make it work and make the event established? The promoters need to be thinking long term, not one and done. That adds credibility to the series and to the event itself.  

DM: Part of that sense of establishing an event is surely also about retaining the same date. One of the reasons the general public – as opposed to devoted race fans – build Indy 500 and Long Beach into their diaries and attend is because from one year to the next, they know when it’s going to happen. Detroit is heading that way too, being just one week after the 500. But Fontana’s last three dates are September, August and now June and it’s switched from an evening race to an afternoon date.

DW: To be fair, we don’t wish to change the dates, we do try and stick with what we’ve got, but you run into problems when your venues aren’t available on the days you want. Say, Toronto – it’s moving back to July next year – but that is one example that had to change because of the city’s requirements. But then you also run into the problems of the TV schedules. What network can you get on these dates? We need to be thinking about eyeballs on TV screens as well as at the venues themselves. So that’s a real juggling act with a lot of variables. But I’ve got to emphasize, we don’t want these races to move around the schedule from year to year.


In August, Derrick Walker’s vision of IndyCar 2018-2025 will be presented here on Don’t miss it!