IndyCar's ex-VP of technology joins U.S. Formula 4
A month ahead of the series' U.S. debut, SCCA Pro Racing president Derrick Walker revealed to Motorsport.com that he has hired Will Phillips as technical director, and he also provided some insight regarding the series' arrival on these shores. David Malsher reports.
Walker has told Motorsport.com that his ex-colleague Phillips, who served as VP of technology at IndyCar for five seasons, was the ideal man for the job, as Formula 4 makes its American debut next month.
“Will is very smart, very knowledgeable, and very placid,” said Walker. “He’s sometimes stubborn, like all of us, but with the best intentions.
“For a start-up series, his intelligence is worth having here, and he’ll be a crucial part of our team.”
Phillips joins other recent hires by Walker for Formula 4, including ex-IMSA ace Chip Robinson as race director, and ex-Skip Barber Racing School director of competition Casey Carden as US F4’s operations manager.
“I’m very excited about getting all three of them on board,” said Walker. “This is going to be a prestigious championship, but having those guys care enough about America’s open-wheel racing foundation level is a big endorsement, if you like, of what we’re trying to achieve.
“They’re stepping forward a little bit into an unknown situation, but that gives everyone faith in a start-up operation. Very satisfying.”
Walker and Phillips have just returned from a meeting with the FIA in Geneva, and Walker says the FIA’s enthusiasm for making its mark in North America was readily apparent.
“FIA now recognize what a great market the U.S. could be,” he remarked. “This country’s potential for providing open-wheel talent, let’s admit it, has been a little bit untapped or maybe unrealized in the past.
“But now the FIA have come up with this basic F4 design, they’ve populated in several countries, and basically made an international competition that helps build a driver’s points toward obtaining an international license.
"I get the feeling they really want to make it succeed in any way they can; they could not have been more helpful."
The U.S. Formula 4 championship’s inaugural race weekend is at Lime Rock Park at the end of May.
Regaining lost momentum
Walker admitted that he had been annoyed that the interest in U.S. Formula 4 when it was announced last September had not been capitalized upon initially. He said reinvigorating that interest had been his priority since joining the SCCA in the second week of January.
“I honestly don’t know what happened in those months in between,” he said, “but when I arrived, there was still an awful lot to get in place in order to get those cars out to the competitors.
“As a result, I think it’s fair to say that some potential entrants couldn’t wait any longer and had to commit elsewhere. And that’s when various people started putting out negative stories that we were going to cancel the series. Total bull, obviously.
“So I established a call-in with the owners on a regular basis to give them updates. And now the current situation is that the car is finished, and I think we’ll have between 18 and 20 cars delivered an on the grid for the first race.
“Once we get out there and showcase the car and the series, I think we’ll discover there’s a lot more interest. If those prospective owners do their due diligence and speak to the owners who are in this first season, I think they’ll be impressed with the costs of running a full season.
“I’m hearing from $150 to $160k running costs. That includes car, engine, travel. Remember, there are 15 races but held over five triple-header weekends, so that's an immediate saving that you don't expect in a junior series.”
An American-built open-wheel racer
Walker said he was impressed with the Crawford Composites-built F4 car when he watched its track debut at Carolina Motorsports Park at Kershaw, SC.
He recalled: “The thing I said to [company owner] Max Crawford when I went to the test and first saw the car in its element, was ‘This is a hell of a car for $50k – and it’s built in America.’ Because how long have we been praying and hoping for open-wheel racecars made here?
“It’s got paddle-shifters, this great little Honda engine that runs a whole season, and Crawford have got their sums right. It tested good and it seems to be the perfect car for people taking their first steps in open-wheel, whether they’re coming from karting or Skip Barber Racing School.”
Walker said their chosen test driver, IMSA Prototype ace Dane Cameron, had been left impressed by the characteristics of the Formula 4 car.
“Dane is obviously a good driver with good technical feedback,” said Walker, “and he also has a Formula Atlantic background, so he knows how a junior open-wheel car should feel. It’s slightly ironic getting Dane to do our testing, because obviously he’s that typical talented American kid who fell off the junior open-wheel ladder through no fault of his own, some years back.
“Anyway, he said the car handled very well, it was very predictable and he said the Pirelli tires were great. In fact, he said they were almost too good, because you pull out of pitlane and they come up to temperature so quick.
“I don’t mean to beat the drum too much,” added Walker, “but I’m genuinely fired up by this. I think the FIA and SCCA are gonna be very proud of this series, because the package has come in at such a reasonable price, the car is built in America, and it's going to attract a lot of interest."
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