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.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.