Bill Pappas heads to INDYCAR with long-term strategy, goals

Pappas (shown in 2002) hopes for a long-term stint with INDYCAR. Getty Images
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Trying to keep track of Bill Pappas’ resume in recent years has been like trying to keep track of Lady Gaga’s outfits.

You know they’re a talented individual, but you never knew from day-to-day what shirt they’d be wearing.

Pappas may be a 32-year veteran in racing but in the last several years he’s been through a variety of different teams and roles.

His greatest recent sustained success came with the late Justin Wilson at Dale Coyne Racing, but after 2013, Pappas went to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing where he only was for one year.

Last year, he was technical director for KV Racing Technology, and was also out after one year. He’s also spent a bit of time with RSR Racing, when Paul Gentilozzi’s team fielded an Oreca FLM09 car in the IMSA championship, in the Prototype Challenge class.

As Pappas heads into a series sanctioning body side, named Monday as INDYCAR’s Vice President of Competition, Race Engineering, he’s doing it with a longer-term approach.

“I look at it as I have had a great opportunity to be part of teams that have both been Honda- and Chevy-powered, so I think I have experience in understanding the needs of both sides,” Pappas told reporters during an INDYCAR conference call this afternoon.

“As far as me personally, I’ve been doing this close to 32 years. I’ve experienced a lot of success with some really great teams.

“At this point in my career, it is a long-term commitment. I’d like to be part of the future of IndyCar racing. There’s no better way than getting your feet in the trenches with the series to move it forward. Rather than pointing fingers, I want to be part of the solution.”

He’s also going to need to avoid the trap that befell his former boss Derrick Walker before him. Walker and Pappas worked together in the late 1990s with Gil de Ferran in the CART series.

Walker was hailed when hired by INDYCAR to the role of President of Competition and Operations, a role now held by Jay Frye after Walker left the series at the end of 2015. But while Walker had his successes, making it in the sometimes testy and fiery Verizon IndyCar Series paddock was harder to do.

“I’m just the same guy yesterday, the day before, a year ago. I’m just a racer. I’m just looking at it now from how we make it better, more consistent for everybody,” Pappas explained.

Frye, who along with Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles (head of INDYCAR parent company), also explained what they like about Pappas for this new role.

“In the whole technical area, we thought we had a unique opportunity to make a change that would do just that, as Bill Pappas became available to us,” Miles said.

“Forget the fact that we have the same high school alma mater here in Indianapolis; that’s a joke, but it’s true. But Bill has obviously earned his stripes over the years, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 and serving ably in technical leadership for a number of teams.

“So for us, as we think about where we are, the need to do better as we implement changes to the car that we have, the need to think in earnest about what the future of the car will be, when there will be a new car, what that could involve.

“To have somebody who comes to us straight from the paddock with all his team experience, who is totally current, is important.”

Frye added, “Bill is certainly a racer. We saw an immediate opportunity to make a personnel move that would make things stronger. We jumped on it. We couldn’t be more excited about this.

“Bill and I have met and talked extensively over the last two or three weeks. I think the philosophy and direction and processes and procedures we discussed were very much in line.”

Pappas replaces Will Phillips, whose next step in his own career is yet to be revealed.

Juan Pablo Montoya immediately hailed Pappas’ new role; the two worked together at Target Chip Ganassi Racing when Montoya won the 2000 Indianapolis 500.