Indianapolis 500

Walker: Getting fans “re-ignited” is IndyCar’s biggest challenge


Five years after open-wheel racing unified in North America, the IZOD IndyCar Series continues to face a uphill climb in regards to growing its mainstream presence. The split between the series (then known as the Indy Racing League) and Champ Car that lasted from 1996 to 2008 had a disastrous impact on the sport, causing many longtime fans to abandon it and helping to accelerate NASCAR’s rise to prominence as the country’s most popular form of racing.

Not that everything is grim for IndyCar, which boasts a diverse driver grid and schedule of tracks as well as perhaps the best racing product in the whole of motorsports today. But Derrick Walker, the sport’s new head of racing competition, realizes that many challenges are still to be contended with — and getting the fans back is the biggest one of all.

“There are a number of challenges and I’m not sure if there’s any one ahead of the others, but if I had to pick one, I’d say the biggest challenge we’ve got is to get the fans re-ignited with what we’re doing,” Walker said in an interview with NBC Sports Network’s Marty Snider during this afternoon’s Bump Day proceedings.

“We need to appeal to a bigger fan base and we’ve got to get some of those fans who have gone off to some other sport or have choices that they didn’t have before and now have them — they don’t all tune in when we want them, so we’ve got to find a way to connect with the fans…We’re charged with that responsibility: Get the fans back.”

As for his potential impact on the series’ current relationship with its teams, Walker hopes to have more positive dialogue with them as well as the entirety of the sport’s partners. The sport’s off-track headlines have sometimes had a tendency to overshadow positives achieved on the track, and Walker recognizes that such a situation can’t exist going forward.

“The team owners have not felt the love, shall we say, for a number of years,” said Walker, who is still the team manager for “500” pole sitter Ed Carpenter’s squad through the month of May. “So hopefully I can bridge that gap…We can’t do it in a vacuum. We’ve got to be all together and we’ve got to get behind a common purpose, a common goal.

“That’s what the fans want. They don’t want us to be out there duking it out while they’re losing interest. They want us all together — unite the series across the board.”

Williams to announce 2017 F1 line-up on November 3

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Williams Martini Racing will announce its line-up for the 2017 Formula 1 season on November 3 following the Mexican Grand Prix.

Williams will change its line-up for the first time in three seasons next year when Felipe Massa retires from F1.

The Brazilian will be replaced by 17-year-old Lance Stroll, who won the FIA F3 title in 2016 with Prema Powerteam.

Stroll is set to join Valtteri Bottas, who, despite being subject to interest from Renault, is set to extend his stint as a race driver with Williams into a fifth season.

Stroll will become the second-youngest driver to make his F1 debut at the start of the 2017 season, and the youngest since the FIA introduced a lower-age limit of 18 to F1. The Canadian turns 18 this Saturday.

Williams currently sits fifth in the constructors’ championship with three races remaining in the 2016 season, with one podium to its name so far courtesy of Bottas in Canada.

Force India move ‘definitely an option’ for Ericsson in 2017

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marcus Ericsson says that a move to Force India for the 2017 Formula 1 season is “definitely an option”, but is also excited by the prospect of remaining at Sauber.

Ericsson is currently embarking in his third season in F1 and his second with Sauber, having scored nine points during his stint with the Swiss team.

Sauber currently sits at the foot of the constructors’ championship, with neither Ericsson nor Nasr scoring a point after a turbulent financial period for the team.

Sauber’s long-term future was secured over the summer when Longbow Finance completed a takeover, its backers allegedly having links to Ericsson.

However, the Swedish driver is open to a move away from the team at the end of the season, and believes that the vacant seat at Force India is the most lucrative on the grid.

“I think all the drivers that don’t have a contract for next year yet are looking at the [Force India] seat,” Ericsson said.

“Force India is a competitive car at the moment so it’s definitely an option.

“Sauber is an exciting option for me for next year because they have a very strong project building.

“Hopefully sooner rather than later I will know what’s happening next year for me.”

Gutierrez strongly considering alternatives to Haas F1 for 2017

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 15:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 walks in the Paddock  during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 15, 2016 in Singapore.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
1 Comment

Esteban Gutierrez says that he is strongly considering alternative options to Haas for 2017 as the American team continues to wait before making a decision on its Formula 1 line-up.

Gutierrez returned to F1 full-time in 2016 after one year away, joining NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas’ new racing operation.

Gutierrez has failed to score any points in the opening 18 races of the year, while teammate Romain Grosjean has 29 to his name.

Haas is known to be currently considering its line-up for 2017, with Grosjean poised to stay.

Gutierrez’s future is less clear, but said in Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix that he wanted it to be resolved in the next two weeks.

“I think Gene has been very clear in the media. They want to wait a few races,” Gutierrez said.

“Fortunately we have other options which we are now considering strongly.

“I think it would be important to close something soon because we cannot risk to just wait a few more races to the end of the season, and risk falling between two chairs.

“Things are looking good for next season.”

When asked if he had a personal deadline for firming up his 2017 plans, Gutierrez said: “The deadline should be in the next two weeks.”

Should Gutierrez leave Haas, drives at Force India and Renault are likely to be on the Mexican’s radar, with both teams having one free seat.

Tony and Lauren Kanaan welcome new baby Max into the world

SONOMA, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Tony Kanaan of Brazil drives the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway on September 17, 2016 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tony Kanaan and wife Lauren have welcomed a new baby into the world, with “TK” announcing the birth of son Max on Thursday.

Max joins other sons Deco and Leo in the Kanaan family. Kanaan reported both mom and baby are doing well.

This is the latest new arrival to the Verizon IndyCar Series, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and wife Beccy welcoming their third son Rhodes (after Ryden and Roczen) in September, and with Will Power and wife Liz expecting their first child in December.

Kanaan has re-signed with Chip Ganassi Racing and will drive the team’s No. 10 NTT Data Honda once more in 2017.