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.”

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.