by Lynne Huntting
IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker enjoyed an open and informal Q&A with the media during the series' official media day at the Amway Centre in Orlando, touching on several topics of interest ahead of the 2014 campaign.
Among the subjects discussed, upgrading race control and establishing a new mobile version mixed with standing starts for the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, 2015 aero kits, Indy 500 qualifying, extra rookie testing and the rulebook.
Walker described his new role and his approach to it by playing down the impact it has on Indycar.
“I don't see myself as being the guy who's micromanaging the whole show,” he insisted, “We've got a good group at IndyCar. I don't think they've always had management that supported them and gave them the tools they need to get better. Budgets have been tight. We haven't spent the money on some of the things we could have done over the years. But I think we've got a good nucleus there. I think we just need to keep adding to it and tuning it up.
The procedures, how we look at penalties, how we judge them, how consistent are we. All those are well within our capability with the group we have now. It's really just hunkering down and spending the time on it.”
With race control having been a topic of conversation long before he was installed as president of competition, it was perhaps only natural that it was one of the first things Walker took time to examine.
“It seemed to be [the subject of] a huge amount of interest on the part of the competitors and the fans to basically point out all the imperfections that it had,” he noted, “I was pretty keen to actually get inside and find out how it works 'cause I've always been on the other side of race control, never actually spent any time around it.
“When I joined IndyCar after the 500, I had the pleasure of sitting in race control for pretty well all of the races thereafter to actually observe how it all happens, see dramas unfolding, how we tackle them.
“There were a couple of things that seemed pretty obvious. We couldn't always see what we needed to do for race control to be effective. It looked pretty obvious that we needed to upgrade our equipment and needed to have more eyes on the job. In addition to that, we needed more procedures and probably guidelines is the best way to describe it so that we were as consistent as often as possible. That was one of the shortcomings of race control.
“So, for this year, we've invested a tremendous amount in equipment so we have a lot more views and better-quality views, better replay, trying to capture all the views that are possible. A lot of times race control, and I see it in other series, they make decisions based on a few views, but don't have them all. Sometimes the fan gets better views than we do in race control. The simple fact was the limitations on how many screens we've got, how many inputs we actually tap into.
“We're addressing that. This year, to start with, we have a whole new load of equipment. When I say 'equipment', we're talking a lot more flat screens, HD. The reason for more of them is because we don't always get all the views that the cameras around the track gets. We haven't always got that. We've been caught out many times where we made a call and, afterwards, saw a different view that would make us think twice. Also the replay equipment, the ability to bring it up really quick. There's some more add-ons to that. [We're] looking to car data a lot quicker. Quite often you wouldn't get back to the truck until you managed to see the car data. Looking at car data is quite often very helpful. So we're moving in that direction, as well.
“In addition to that is putting more cameras, static cameras, in locations that the TV doesn't always get. The cameramen are always looking to entertain, and we're just looking to watch what is going on. If he spins off into the grandstand, he sees a nice-looking girl in the grandstand, it's great for the TV and the fans, we're looking for something coming up, but we're looking at a pretty girl in the stands. When it comes down to managing the show, we need to have our own cameras.
“Looking out the window isn't necessary if you have enough camera views. You get a much better view on a camera view. Even at the ovals we have spotters on the roof to catch the yellows. The boys are looking out the windows, they still can't see it from there. So it's something that is a long-term upgrade which is necessary. With these extra cameras, it is expected that those camera shots to be available to the television broadcast.”
Walker revealed that his long-term aim was to have a race control unit that did not have to be installed at every circuit, but that could just roll up and kick into action.
“We've established some criteria which we'll roll out between now and the first event,” he said, “We'll explain some of the differences of how it actually works internally. Long-term, hopefully by this time next year, we've actually got what I would call a state-of-the-art race control which is a mobile unit.
“We have a lot of equipment. We have to cart it upstairs, everywhere you go. The space you have isn't always enough. We're just getting going on the 2015 race control which, as I say, will be mobile. We're going to put it in a trailer, give it enough room and stability and have it at all of the races. That's a big undertaking and huge investment on the part of the IndyCar.
“The race control upgrades we're dealing with now is just the beginning. There is a lot more to come.
“During my short stay at IndyCar, I've been lucky enough to go around and talk with a lot of different series, look at what they do. They've been very open in sharing their ideas. We're all very similar. Some of us have a little bit different this way, a little bit different that way. It's not that we have to throw everything out the window; we just need to tune it up a little bit more and get better equipment.”
Walker sees the new race control centre also providing transparency for the fans.
“We have to be that,” he concluded, “While it isn't available yet in race control, we will have race control videoed. We do video it, record it. One of these days that should be available to the fans. We need to have an open agenda. We want to be perceived as doing the best for the sport, not hiding away in some room somewhere making dumb calls.”