Crash.Net FR3.5 News
Walker: We have to win!
1 January 1901
James Walker is pulling no punches when he analyses the importance of the forthcoming season, insisting that there can only be one possible outcome to the 2009 World Series by Renault following his deal to join reigning champion P1 Motorsport.
The Jerseyman will be entering his third season in the series, having spent two years with Fortec Motorsport, and admits that he now has the mix of experience, ambition and support to propel him to the title he knows he needs in order to move on in future.
"For sure, we have to win," he told Crash.net Radio, "I think we need to be winning races, or be in contention to win races, every weekend because that's the only way to win the championship. Obviously, with the new rules this year, whoever is leading the championship at the halfway point gets to demo the F1 car at one of our races, and, again, the winner at the end of the year gets an F1 test, so I think the prizes are there.
"I'm hungry for success, especially after the [Superleague Formula] win I had at the end of last year, and I want to put right the image people have of me after having a not-so-successful 2008 [in World Series]. We were quick, but we had a lot of bad luck, so I want try and shut everyone up and show what I can do."
Chasing honours with so much apparently on the line has proven the undoing of many a driver in the past, but Walker is confident that he can rise to the challenge of following in the footsteps of Dutchman Giedo van der Garde, who cruised to the 2008 WSbR title with P1.
"I think it's the right amount of pressure," the 25-year old assured, "I don't think any driver drives without any pressure but, when the expectation is there, I think I drive very well. The atmosphere in the team is going to be great and it's the place I need to be right now. It's great news to have at this time of the year - I'm really excited and can't wait.
"Working with [P1 boss] Roly [Vincini] has been fantstic - we've only had a day at Paul Ricard and two at Valencia, but I can see how hard he works the team. The atmosphere is fantastic, and I fitted in straight away. Obviously, van der Garde won [with P1] last year, and that gives me the confidence that the team can do it so, with the momentum I've carried over from the end of last year - both with the Superleague win and the good end to the World Series - I think we'll hit the ground running. I think there will be a few changes to the car next year with the aero package, but I don't see that having a massive effect, so I think we'll be right up there again."
Vincini's presence at the head of P1, the team he took from British F3 into the World Series via a brief liaison with Cram Competition in 2007, was a crucial factor in attracting Walker to the Norfolk operation. The veteran engineer has made something of a name for himself in the WSbR and van der Garde's title success last season made P1 a goal for more than one aspirant for 2009.
"It was vital," Walker, who also tested with racewinners Ultimate Signature over the off-season, admitted, "I think, if Roly hadn't been there, the deal would have been different. Like I said, I gelled very well with him. I think he has a reputation outside the team, but I think he and I will get on very well. I'll push him as far as he needs pushing and I'm sure he'll do the same with me. He requires the best out of his drivers and I think this is the most important year of my career so far. I think we're ready - and I think we can win the championship."
Having two years at World Series level under his belt already should be an advantage for Walker if, indeed, he and P1 can hit the ground running at the first test in a matter of weeks, but the former F3 racewinner is under no illusion that the season will be easy, especially after organisers have tinkered with the rulebook again for 2009.
"Hopefully, [my experience will count] a lot," he acknowledged, "There's obviously no Thursday testing this year, but I think there are going to be four or five other quick drivers returning for another year as well. However, I think I used my third year in F3 to my advantage when we went to circuits we had been to previously and, certainly, at places like Monaco, which you can't really practice or test for, I think we should have an advantage."
van der Garde spent 2008 running alongside second-year WSbR runner Pippa Mann at P1 but, with the British driver heading Stateside for a crack at Indy Lights, Walker will find himself forming an all-new partnership at Vincini's team. Despite the desire to make himself the focus of the team's attention, however, the Briton knows that having a quick veteran alongside him could be the best option for his championship ambitions.
"I think, in an ideal world, you want a bit of both," he admitted, "You'd want someone to help me develop the car - like I said, there's going to be a new aero package this year, so that's going to be very important. There's only going to be three pre-season tests, so running time is not going to be massive, but, at the same time, I want to make sure I'm the team's number one and make sure that they are behind me to try and win the championship. But you drive at your best when you're competing against good people and a good team-mate, like I had last year with Fairuz Fauzy, really helps your game and I think that is the best way to get results."
Ironically, Walker's best results came when he broke away from the World Series last year, culminating in a rare victory when he transferred to the Borussia Dortmund line-up for the inaugural Superleague Formula finale. At present, there are no firm plans to return to the football-oriented series in 2009, but Walker admits that he would not turn down the chance to race one of the 750bhp machines provided it does not hinder him chasing his WSbR goal.
"Obviously, I am 100 per cent behind my World Series plan but, if there is a chance for me to do Superleague and it doesn't affect my World Series routine, then I think we're going to do it," he insisted, "I had a fourth and a win last year and, after the win at Jerez, the people at Superleague - Robin Webb and everyone else - are really keen to get me back in one of the cars. I think some of the British football teams are looking for British drivers to drive their cars for them, so there's a good chance we'll do some more of that. Assuming the team and the World Series allow me to do that, it will be fantastic to do it again."