By Gordon Kirby
Over the past 30 years Indycar racing has gone through a dizzying number of regimes and management teams. Most of these went badly and the debilitating effect of the 14-year CART/IRL civil war left Indycar racing as a dumbed-down spec formula with dwindling crowds, tiny TV ratings and an impoverished sponsorship market.
Now comes a new regime led by accomplished sports promotion executive Mark Miles (above) in partnership with highly experienced former chief mechanic and team owner Derrick Walker, who Miles hired in May as his right-hand man and competition boss. Miles was recruited at the end of last year by the Hulman family owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar series to serve as CEO of all Hulman & Co businesses, which include real estate investments as well as the IMS and IndyCar.
The 59-year-old Miles was chairman of the city of Indianapolis’s Super Bowl Hosting Committee in 2012 and was CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals from 1990-2005, living in Europe through most of that time. Miles established his career in the sports promotion business by running Indianapolis’s successful Pan-Am Games organising body from 1984-87.
Walker, 68, is a Scot who worked for the Brabham F1 team in the 1970s. He joined Penske Cars to help build the team’s F1 cars before moving to America to manage Penske’s Indycar operation. He left in 1988 to take the reins of Porsche’s short-lived Indycar project and three years later became a team owner. Between 1992 and 2007 Walker’s cars won eight races with Scott Goodyear, Robby Gordon, Gil de Ferran and Will Power, but he was unable to find the sponsorship to continue after Champ Car was absorbed by IndyCar in 2008.
In recent years he ran Falken Tyres’ Porsche GT3 team in the ALMS and Ed Carpenter’s Indycar team. Carpenter won last year’s season-closing 500-mile race at the California Speedway, with Walker calling the strategy, and took pole at Indianapolis this year. Walker is well acquainted with the struggles of owning and operating a team.
“Derrick’s experience is well regarded,” Miles says. “There’s a lot to do and Derrick is the right man to lead us through it. We are going to open the door to managing increases in technology and being true to the roots of Indycar racing.”
Miles and Walker want to reintroduce the spirit of innovation. They plan to increase the performance of the current car and want to attract more engine manufacturers to IndyCar and open up the category to competing chassis builders when the current contract with Dallara expires at the end of 2016.
“We need more manufacturers, or more of everything that helps make competition happen,” Walker says. “The sooner we can get more guys battling out there, the sooner the fans are going to be interested in what we’re doing. When you look at where the sport is going you can’t help but look back and say, ‘Have we missed a lot of what racing was about?’ I think all of us have realised that we’ve lost of a lot of what Indycar racing was, and more specifically what the Indy 500 was.
“To get from where we are to where we want to go is going to take timer Walker adds. “We didn’t get here overnight and to get where we want to go is going to take a very careful structuring and nurturing of the whole field and the sport. It’s not an easy task.”
Mark Miles and Derrick Walker appear to have the experience and chutzpah that previous series bosses have lacked.
I wish them the best of luck.