Help wanted: Individual who knows open-wheel racing inside and out. Can manage the expectations of fans and balance the needs and wants of self-centered owners and temperamental drivers. Ability to work with a large group of sponsors and suppliers with varying—sometimes contradictory—agendas a MUST. Knowledge of media, broadcasting and marketing a plus. If you can produce a product that puts butts in seats, draws people to television sets or can otherwise pull a rabbit out of a hat, we want to talk to you!
So who wants to replace Derrick Walker as IndyCar Series president?
That list may be fairly short. Neither Randy Bernard nor Walker lasted long in that hot seat. Several candidates for the job—including motorsports marketing whiz Zak Brown—said “thanks but no thanks” the last time the job was open. One potential Walker replacement already seems to be pulling his hat out of the ring.
Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent Hulman & Co., is said to have interest in Ganassi Racing Managing Director Mike Hull and former Honda Performance Development boss Robert Clarke as possible replacements for Walker. Two-time Champ Car champion and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran has also surfaced as a candidate, said sources close to the series.
Hull, a Walker supporter, told USA Today: “You would have to move heaven and earth for me to leave Chip Ganassi Racing.”
Walker, 70, has a motorsports career that spans Formula One, CART/Champ Car, sports car racing and IndyCar.
He made a handful of important contributions to IndyCar since he was hired by Miles in 2013, including brokering a deal to land a race in Boston starting next year, launching an IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, and helping usher in changes to chassis that made them more stable and safe.
For the first two years, there were few complaints from owners, drivers or sponsors about Walker.
But Walker also was the point man this year on the new aero kit body work, which has proven problematic. Team owner Michael Andretti called aero kits a colossal waste of money. The kits initially splintered and broke apart upon impact. Adjustments were made to fix that problem.
Then in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chevy cars started going airborne, which led to an 11th-hour rules change for Indianapolis 500 qualifications, which made Honda and its teams extremely unhappy. Then some drivers and team owners claimed Walker and other series officials were not responsive to their concerns about unsafe pack racing at the June 27 race in Fontana.
Race control also has been a problem for IndyCar this year, as the crew appointed by Walker has been inconsistent in applying the rules of the series and handing down penalties.
But Hull suggested instead of merely looking for a new IndyCar boss, those involved in the series need to take a look in the mirror, adding that team and series officials need to start pulling in the same direction before the series breaks apart.
“It’s obvious,” Hull said, “that IndyCar needs to look at itself and understand why people who have that degree of passion [Walker has] can’t get it done.”