De Ferran on Derrick Walker and finding the “balance”

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This is the second in a series of posts stemming from a Tuesday interview with Gil de Ferran. The first one, which focuses on his 2003 Indianapolis 500 win, can be found here. Be sure to check back tomorrow for a new installment.

IndyCar has been praised in recent days following its appointment of longtime team manager and owner Derrick Walker to the role of head of competition. In his introductory press conference this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he talked of finding a better balance between speed, innovation, and cost that can help the sport reclaim its past glory.

Gil de Ferran – who drove for Walker’s Champ Car squad in the late 1990s – has an idea of what that balance is all about, given he has had stints as a team owner in both the American Le Mans Series and the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“The balance needs to be achieved, otherwise, you’re driving everyone out of business,” said the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner. “However, for me, the biggest thing that I would focus on is appeal. One assumes that speed and innovation is appealing and I personally believe they are…You can cut costs until you’re blue in the face and if there’s no appeal – you can cut your costs to zero and you still will not be successful.”

Considering that De Ferran is the world record holder for the fastest lap on a closed course – a lap at 241.426 miles per hour achieved in October of 2000 at Auto Club Speedway – it’s no surprise that he believes that the series needs to keep in mind that particular “brand” of speed as it moves forward into the future.

“My gut feeling is that IndyCars have a brand of being very radical machines,” he said. “That’s the original IndyCar brand, where the cars used to achieve incredible speeds when compared to anything people were used to. They had this kind of an “extreme” motorsports sort of appeal. I think anything that IndyCar does going forward has to be in keeping with this brand, which separates IndyCar from anything else.

“IndyCar is not a junior series, IndyCar is a premier series in motorsport and the cars and racing has to portray that, as do the drivers and the teams. Otherwise, there’s no appeal to it.”

His old boss, Walker, surely understands this. In his 19 years as a team owner in American open-wheel racing, he fielded programs for the likes of De Ferran, Christian Fittipaldi, Alex Tagliani, Will Power, Paul Tracy, Simon Pagenaud and Sarah Fisher. In addition, he has experience going back to Formula One, working for both the Brabham and Penske camps, and in sports cars.

Now, in his first-ever senior management role with a series, Walker will be counted on to draw upon his wealth of knowledge in order to help IndyCar continue to make strides.

De Ferran has faith in Walker, who was critical in developing his career and taught him how important persistence and focus can be.

“I guess one of the things I’ve really admired about him – he’s like a Rottweiler,” said De Ferran. “He’s a very persistent person, so when you had that to his focus, I think they’re both qualities I’ve very much admired about him and I guess they’ve stuck with me.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.