Walker: IndyCar schedule out by end of month, plus much more post-2014

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It’s not uncommon in motorsports that you’re employed or contracting for two different entities.

However, it is uncommon when those two roles are IndyCar president of competition and operations, and team manager of the Team Falken Tire TUDOR Championship Porsche program.

Welcome to Derrick Walker’s world, and his current state of affairs as he looks back at both seasons just completed.

Walker took on his new Verizon IndyCar Series role midway through 2013, after previously serving as team manager for Ed Carpenter Racing.

In the offseason, with the Falken program pretty much well run by his Walker Racing crew, primary focus is on the IndyCar side of affairs.

Predictably, there’s a long to-do list.

To start with the obvious, the most pressing from both an internal and external standpoint for the paddock and IndyCar community at large is putting together, then releasing, the 2015 series schedule.

“Realistically it will be by the end of the month,” Walker told MotorSportsTalk at the TUDOR Championship season finale at Road Atlanta. “We’ve had discussions internally to say which are the ones that are slow getting done. Do we wait or put out what we have with TBAs? We wait because we don’t want to do that.”

Some of the factors to consider in putting together the schedule are the condensed timeline (Labor Day ending), TV, and promoter requests. It makes for a complex challenge.

“When you select an event date, you have to get with the promoter, get what works with them, then ask what TV times have you got?” Walker said. “You may want a night race, and they only have a day slot. So we’re always trying to get the maximum number of people to watch. TV schedules work out different to ours, and we have two different companies, with different priorities. It has delayed it, but that happens every year.”

With NASCAR coming to NBC and NBCSN next year, there are some potential post-July weekends where IndyCar might need to shift dates around depending on available TV times. Formula One races, which also air on NBCSN or CNBC, generally are live early mornings and don’t affect typical IndyCar time slots.

Walker said the arrival of NASCAR to the NBC family doesn’t affect the IndyCar schedule “any more than usual.”

Another area of interest is IndyCar race control, which received an infrastructure and technology upgrade this season but now is in search of a new race director. Beaux Barfield has left and gone home to his roots in sports cars, where, interestingly, he’ll be race director in the same series where Walker is a competitor.

Walker discussed the race control process this year and the timeline to replace Barfield.

“One of the things not known or not appreciated – we did make it known at the beginning of the year – is that the officiating this year was different than any other year,” he said. “We had three stewards, and Beaux was one of them.

“The process wasn’t singularly about Beaux. He was race director and a steward, but 99.999 percent of every decision, he was in agreement with it.

“The importance of how it was before changed, insomuch as Beaux didn’t have all the responsibilities for decisions and penalties. Now we have guidelines. When the stewards discovered there was an incident that needs a penalty, there’s a very straightforward procedure consistent for every race. We have a penalty book, and that was different. Hopefully we continue to make it better.”

Walker said his preference for a several steward-based system could have had an adverse effect on Barfield’s general officiating philosophy.

“I can’t speak for Beaux, but perhaps he thought it was too much committee; I’d heard him say that from reading things,” Walker said. “But I’d think he would have to admit that every step of the way he was part of it and it was consistent with views.

“Sure we had differentiations about whether contact meant this or that; that was in response to the paddock; the paddock was confused. So we had to refocus ourselves. But Beaux is a very competent race director and I’m sure he’ll do a great job (in TUDOR). I’m sad to see him leave. But he probably prefers the old way in terms of a singular person making the call.”

It’s not known whether Barfield’s position will be filled by the end of the year. There are candidates, both internal and external to IndyCar, interested in the position.

On the sports car side, Walker joined with Falken in 2011, and now has been at the helm there through the merger of the American Le Mans Series and the GRAND-AM Rolex Series that took place throughout 2014.

So having been left on the outside when IndyCar and Champ Car merged in 2008, Walker had an intriguing view of where the TUDOR Championship sits now compared to the end of 2014.

“I see it from two different perspectives,” Walker said. “There’s one we went through with Champ Car and (IndyCar); that merger of two series, and how that takes time to work.

“The other perspective, now I’m sort of on the dark side on the INDYCAR side, as an official. I see things how they work, why you do what you do from inside. I have a whole new appreciation for the TUDOR officials and what they’re going through.

“As competitors we don’t quite appreciate all the complexities that go through a front office, the merger and all that. Just give it time.”

Walker’s Falken program won the season-ending Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda with drivers Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers and Marco Holzer in the team’s No. 17 Porsche 911 RSR. It capped a season where the team made strides, and is set to continue into 2015.

At the end of the day Walker’s jobs are to grow both programs – albeit one that’s an entire series, and another that’s a tire manufacturer competing alone within a series.

And on the IndyCar side, he’s certainly not resting despite what was a successful season on several levels.

“I have very simple appreciations, but we had a very good, competitive season,” he said. “We had a whopping Indy 500, bunch of winners, good qualifying and the GP of Indy in May. It’s seeing those things worked, they and worked reasonably well.

“But we didn’t sit back and sip champagne and celebrate. Because the work still to be done is enormous to be where we need to be. We’ve moved on… yeah, we had 11 different winners, but how do we raise it even more? We need to. The fan base isn’t where it needs to be, clearly. We have a lot of major work still to do.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.