He's only officially been in post for a week since the end of the Indianapolis 500, but the new president of competition and operations of the IZOD IndyCar Series, former team owner and manager Derrick Walker, dived in with both feet this weekend at Detroit by tackling some of the thorniest issues facing the championship.
Aero kits, engine upgrades, improved safety and greater technical freedom for the teams to experiment in are all on the agenda in the newly-unveiled long-term technical development plan announced by Walker on Sunday.
Perhaps the most controversial issue is that of the aero configuration kits that have long been planned to allow Honda and Chevrolet to make their own aerodynamic trimmings to the basic DW12 Dallara chassis to make them more individual and open up another area of competition.
"I took this job because I wanted to and it was offered to me and it represented a huge challenge, a huge opportunity for me," said Walker. "I'm more than happy to be here. We're here to talk about one of the many favorite topics of conversation over the last year or so: the infamous aero kits!"
Aero kits have already been twice delayed amid complaints over cost from team owners, and Walker admitted that whether they will actually be introduced this time around depends very much on the team owners and engine manufacturers buying into the concept this time around - and that if they don't, it might have to be rethought or even dropped.
"It's easy to pass a rule and say, it's aero kits next year, knock yourself out, [but] what does it really mean, where is it going to go?" he said. The more we thought about it, the more we had to look out long-term. We went as far out as could imagine. What is the lifespan of this car realistically, the main components. What could we do that would maintain stability of that package.
"Also we had to look at the manufacturer's participation, what they were looking for," walker admitted. "We listened to the fans because the fans are a big component of this. The fans, whether you get it or not, we do, they want some kind of change. They like what they want, but they're still crying out for some other things, good old days, bring it back.
"We need to do it in a fiscally responsible way because change costs money as we all know," he conceded. "We had to do it in a way that we listened to the people who are going to probably spend the most money on this thing, the manufacturers. We had two manufacturers who had interest in doing aero kits, and a deeper participation in IndyCar. We wanted to listen to them because they're a big part of this.
"If you look at the current car, nobody wanted to buy that, at least at the time most of them didn't," Walker pointed out. "They hunkered down, made it happen. It was a tough pill to swallow, the cost of reinvesting in a car. Now we're at a better place.
"We're looking a bit further out saying, where do we go from here? We're not throwing the whole car away. Our engine partners are willing to carry the brunt there," he continued. But he admitted that aero kits might still fail to become a reality despite his newly-unveiled technical plan.
"If the team owners disagree with it, there's not a majority there that keeps it going, we'll drop it," he said. "We won't ram it down their throat. We need everybody in the game, we need everybody to bring into this and make it happen." But he added that the IndyCar management itself was still firmly committed to the concept of aero kits and that the idea hadn't gone away simply because Randy Bernard had exited as series CEO at the end of 2012.
"If we didn't feel we need to develop IndyCar in this direction, obviously we don't need to be doing this. The league thinks we do. We've gone to great lengths to explain why we think that's necessary and we're going to move forward with that plan."
Walker said that of more immediate concern to him than aero kits for the rest of this year is tackling the problem of the current car's tendency to lift into the air during accidents. He said that this was the result of the flat bottom of the current chassis and that the series was looking at several ways in which this could be tackled.
"One component of this car is the capability of lift. It has a huge flat bottom. We know it needs that perfect storm to create lift with these cars," explained Walker. "We said we have to address lift. We're going to look at that aspect. Open-wheel cars in general, even NASCAR, all have had to deal with that.
"In the good old days when I started racing, they didn't have flat bottoms like now. It wasn't an issue. You'd probably roll over before you take off. Nowadays the component of downforce and the larger area underneath the car, we have a lift component.
"So we said let's look at it from multiple angles. Do we reduce it, put trap doors in it? We haven't got the answer today," he admitted. "All I can tell you, we, IndyCar, are going to spend a bit of money researching a floor as soon as we can that reduces the lift potential of this car."
Walker admitted that such revisions were likely to see a medium term drop on the speed of the current car but that in the longer term work was underway to enhance speed without compromising driver safety.
"It's our belief that speed does count. Speed is a differential that IndyCar has. They are the fastest cars in the world, in the closed circuit competition, if we want them to be. They have been and they still have some considerable records."
Particularly important to the series is the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, for which the series hopes to see set a new generation of speed records to supersede Arie Luyendyk's existing qualifying benchmark of 236.986mph set all the way back in 1996.
"It's not a must do. It would be a nice do, but it's not a 'must do'," said Walker. "When you look at the speed increases, the improvements in the car, you can realistically expect that we will possibly break that record unless we make major changes to backtrack, we're probably going to crack the record."
However, speed has its price, as Walker went on to explain, with every mile per hour increase adding four times the amount of lift.
"If we're going to ramp up the speed, as we make these changes, as the teams get more familiar with the car, as the engine manufacturers continue to invest money into the series, we're going to have to go quicker," Walker said. "Here is where we really started to look at it very carefully and say, what do we need to do. What we need to do and are going to do is we needed to look to, first, safety."
Already scheduled for the series is a new engine upgrade and homologation process for 2014, which in turn will require downforce adjustments to the car in order to enhance racing, overtaking, and safety. That will be followed by aero kits in 2015, with further tyre, aero and engine upgrades pencilled in for 2016/7.
Speaking in Detroit on Sunday, Walker put the expected life of the current DW12 chassis - which made its race début last year at the March season opener in St Petersburg, Florida - as seven years in total, with the series looking at a possible comprehensive body chassis and engine specification overhaul likely to be introduced for 2019
"2018 you're probably looking at the end of era of this current car," said Walker. "We're saying it probably is, or is rather, not probably. If you look at the current platform of the pieces we've got, even with the aero kits thrown in there, the basic package has been on the shelf for quite a long time at that point.
"There will be a lot of other ideas coming along, safety ideas, all kinds of things that come along, that will say that we need do some bigger changes," he added. "Then we're really faced with a situation, if we were so lucky, going into 2019 by saying, do we go with another new car, get the latest technology, or do we find another way?"
But Walker admitted that the current economic climate for motor racing might require the series to be more pragmatic in practice and for the new car to be a variant on the DW12 rather than a complete new development, although Walker admitted that he would love to have more competition from different chassis suppliers rather than relying on the current exclusive arrangement with Dallara.
"Because of the economic environment we're in, we're probably going to extend the life of that car another three or so years," he said. "How we're going to do that is take the basic spine, chassis, gearbox, other key components of the chassis, the rolling chassis, and say let's not do a kit, let's do a complete facelift, a complete body styling" which would allow for increased safety without rendering all the existing equipment obsolete as happened between the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"For the time being, we're looking at a lean, mean economy out there, so we're going to keep some longevity in our path," Walker insisted. "It would give you a different look, a different performance. It should be about the car of the future. It should be a car - probably heard that word before - but a car that looks like a modern racing car.
"When you look at it, you will say: 'That's an IndyCar!'"Proposed timeline
IndyCar rescinds RLL penalties imposed at Indianapolis
- 2013: IndyCar, Dallara and engine manufacturers explore redefining the underbody in preparation for the addition of aero configuration kits in 2015.
- 2014: Engine upgrades as part of the current homologation process; downforce adjustments to enhance racing, overtaking as well as safety at various racetrack configurations, as needed.
- 2015: Aero configuration components introduced for the full IZOD IndyCar Series season in conjunction with enhancements to the underbody.
- 2016: Opportunity for tire development, if needed with Firestone, as well as engine power enhancements as required.
- 2017: Possible aero configuration kits and engine upgrades. Potential for areas on car to be opened for team development.
- 2018: Competition enhancements made based on performance of 2017 package.
- 2019: Review of current body and engine specification for potential upgrades and/or changes.
- 2020: Competition enhancements made based on performance of 2019 package.
- 2021: Possible aero configuration upgrade.
IndyCar officials have withdrawn the $10,000 in-race penalty that was issued to the Graham Rahal during last week's Indianapolis 500, and suspended the equivalent penalty imposed on his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team mate James Jakes.
The fines for pit lane exit blend violations were reviewed using video footage and timing and scoring date during the week, with officials determining that in Rahal's race there was no breach of Rule 22.214.171.124.6 after all.
Jakes was found to be in breach, but officials nonetheless suspended the fine provided that Jakes does commit a similar offence in the future. If there is, IndyCar will re-instate the fine along with additional appropriate penalties.