Derrick Walker takes on a new challengeby Gordon Kirby on 13th May 2013
You have to tip your hat to Derrick Walker and wish him the best of luck. The 68-year old Walker has been talking to IndyCar for more than a year about the possibility of moving from his familiar role as a team owner and manager to the other side of the fence to tackle the job of running IndyCar’s racing operations.
After more than 40 years in the sport Walker was wary about making the move, but in recent months new Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles was able to convince Walker to take on this new challenge. The official announcement of Walker’s appointment as IndyCar’s president of racing operations is expected on Tuesday this week.
Walker is a Scot who worked for the Brabham in the 1970s, when Bernie Ecclestone owned the team. Walker then joined Penske Cars in Dorset and for a few years he helped build and race Roger Penske’s F1 cars. After that team pulled out of F1, Walker continued to work in Dorset building Penske’s Indycars before he moved to the United States in 1980 to become the IndyCar team manager.
Walker worked for Penske through 1988 when he left to take over the reins of Porsche’s short-lived factory IndyCar team. Three years later, after Porsche pulled out of CART, Walker took the plunge and became a team owner. Walker’s small team ran Willy T Ribbs in 1991, then found success with Scott Goodyear who finished second in the 1992 Indy 500 aboard Walker’s car and won the Michigan 500 later that year.
Over the following years each of Robby Gordon, Gil de Ferran and Will Power won CART or Champ Car races in Walker’s cars with de Ferran finishing second in CART’s ‘97 championship. Walker’s last wins as an owner came with Will Power in Champ Car in 2007 and ‘08.
After Champ Car was absorbed by IndyCar Walker was unable to find the sponsorship to continue running his team. In recent years he’s run Falken Tyre’s Porsche GT3 team in the ALMS and managed Ed Carpenter’s IndyCar team, both of which operate out of Walker’s shop in Indianapolis. Carpenter scored his first win as an owner/driver in last year’s season-closing 500-mile race at the California Speedway with Walker calling the strategy.
It’s been said for many years that IndyCar needs a highly experienced racing man to run its racing operations and Mark Miles may have found the perfect man for the job in Walker. The Scot is one of the most respected men in the IndyCar paddock, a successful mid-level team owner who was able to beat the bigger teams from time to time. Walker is renowned as a first-rate strategist and is well acquainted with the struggles of owning and operating an IndyCar team. He’s also lived in Indianapolis for more than 20 years. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone being more prepared to tackle his new job.
In switching from poacher to gamekeeper, Walker takes heart from similar moves to the FIA made some years ago by former Brabham colleagues Charlie Whiting and Herbie Blash. “I’ve got a lot to learn,” Walker observed. “And I’m sure those guys can be very helpful.”
Hulman CEO Miles says his next move in rebuilding the IndyCar organisation is to find the right man to run IndyCar’s woefully inadequate marketing and PR departments. If Miles can hire a marketing man of equal quality to its new racing boss IndyCar may yet find itself on the road to recovery.