The Team Australia
concept runs from Formula BMW up the ladder to Champ Car
If Champ Car wants to be a
true global sports property, its ultimate success may ride on
duplicating what Walker Racing has done with the Team Australia concept.
In most countries Champ Car is known by a very small percentage of the
population. But if there's one thing we know works in sports, it
is a fan's loyalty to their countrymen. Champ Car said it would
duplicate the Team Australia concept for every country it raced in, then
the A1 Grand Prix Series beat them to the punch.
But it's not too late.
If you see how well the Team Australia concept has been activated here
in Surfers Paradise, you would understand why Champ Car must stick to
the concept first put forth by Derrick Walker and then executed to
perfection with the help of Australian businessman Craig Gore.
Taking a lead from
stick-and-ball sports, they are known as the NY Yankees, not just the
Yankees, the LA Dodgers, not just the Dodgers, the Chicago Bulls, not
just the Bulls, Manchester United, not just United. While fans will
always admire great athletes, regardless of where they are from, in
general fans latch onto geographically based teams, be it city-based or
country based, and there is no reason it can't work in racing.
Team Australia is evident
everywhere in Surfers and the fans have really latched onto the team as "their
own." If Champ Car wants to race in China, Korea, Japan, etc., it
had better create a Team China, Team Japan, Team Korea sooner rather
than later. As unknown a quantity they are in these countries, to
think Champ Car can show up and put on an event without something for
the local fans to cheer for is naive. Champ Car simply doesn't
have the worldwide brand recognition of F1, far from it.
I sat down with Derrick
Walker in the team's garage in Surfers Paradise to get a better
perspective of why the Team Australia concept works.
Derrick, we see a large display, if I might use those words, for Team
Australia. Everywhere green and yellow. Can you explain to us how this
concept started and what your relationship is with Craig Gore.
(L) and Brett 'Crusher' Murray (Race Promoter's PR man) work
closely together around the Team Australia concept
DERRICK WALKER: Well, it actually started several years ago, at
least two years ago, when we were looking seriously at going to China. I
thought there would be a golden opportunity if I could find some way to
develop a partnership with a Chinese gentleman who had a lot of money,
who had a passion to put a Chinese driver in a car. That's where it
really started. It didn't come to being in China for me.
At this race last year, we had an opportunity from Mr. Kalkhoven to run
a car for WPS with Craig Gore, David Besnard. We had a reasonable
finish, seventh place. After the race, Craig threw a party, Craig Gore.
We were having a few beers at the end of the bar talking about how great
The idea came to me that this guy had a passion for racing, was a proud
Australian. That's the best way to describe it. I said to him, I've got
some ideas of how we could do a race program so that we could come here
and win with an Australian driver, something that people would really be
proud of. So, you know, I'd really like to talk to you.
Australia concept extends even to the local V8 Supercars series
We talked back and forth,
off and on, since Surfers, but it never really took off until probably
early February. I got a call from Craig, and he said, "Hey, mate," you
know how they say it, "are you still interested in talking about that
thing? I can't come over there, can you come over
here," he asked.
I slipped over here in February, met with Craig, spent about four
days with him at his home, and basically what I brought to him was a
concept which I call cause marketing, "cause" meaning it's a mission for
a marketing mission. And the marketing mission is about putting Team
Australia in Champ Car, Atlantic, BMW, V8s, Aussie races, whatever
racing program Craig and I can turn our minds to, we need to be
participating with the Australian brand and the Australian team. So that
means real live Australians involved in the program.
So I painted this picture to him how it would be an Australian
flag-waving exercise. He immediately got it, liked it, and we presented
him the gold and green. I lived in Australia many years ago when I was
very young, so I had a bit of understanding about the Australian psyche,
I think. And I knew that the Australians, although part of the
Commonwealth and the blue and the Union Jack, the real Australia is a
republic, and it's really the gold and green. You know, that to me
represents the young Australia.
So I pitched this car. And, of course, everybody knows where a kangaroo
comes from. I put a kangaroo on there, you know it's Team Australia. So
that's where it started.
(L to R) Team
Australia drivers Marcus Marshall, Alex Tagliani and Will Power
Craig, being the smart marketer, businessman as he is, he got it
immediately. And his ideas started flowing. My ideas to him - -we
complemented each other. So we formed a partnership. And the partnership
is not in Walker Racing, although Walker Racing is a big component of
this. The partnership is in the race program. And here again, I think
it's a new concept.
The program is not just we put money in and we go racing. That's an entity
on its own. There are a lot of decisions, a lot of investments, a lot
of dedication. So we all invest in it. Craig and I and another gentleman
called John Fish of Aussie Vineyards, who is really a sponsor partner,
we all got together and we shared in this program.
So two concepts really came to the forefront. Even though the A1 Grand
Prix came on with the
flag-waving exercise, we were the first with this concept way back in the team with China. With Craig it was a no-brainer
because being, you know, a passionate Australian and a racer at heart,
and a businessman to boot, it was a perfect match.
Q. Do you see this as a model for Champ Car in the future? Can you see
Champ Car having this sort of team concept for all the countries that
they race in?
DERRICK WALKER: Well, I think it's certainly an idea that can be
reproduced. It's not necessarily revolutionary, but it's becoming -- you
know, we're scratching around, looking for ways to sell our wares and
our series and our racing and attach to the fans. So we have to find new
ways to invent ourselves.
Australia 2007 Champ Car
This Team Australia is something that can be duplicated. But I would
say, I don't think it has any viability unless it has real Australians
involved. And that doesn't mean the owner renting a car as in A1 and
call it Team Australia. I think the legitimacy comes because I'm willing
to share, and Craig is wanting, desirous to be involved in all the
headaches and everything that goes into a long-term investment in
concepts, to actually get involved. Perhaps I wouldn't have the same
synergy for this had I not lived in Australia when I was very, very
young. My family emigrated here. I have an affiliation with the country.
It can be duplicated. It's just I think to legitimize it, you have to
make sure, if it's Chinese or British, you have to have people involved
who are real patriots of that country. Otherwise, I think it's a
look-alike, and I don't think the fans buy that. I think they need more
Q. As we see with stick-and-ball sports, soccer, for instance, football
as they call it in much of the world, very much the fans get behind their team. So it's
patriotic. From my perspective, I think Champ Car probably needs to
consider it for China before they go there, even Korea and Japan,
because the fans there or the potential fans there, are not that familiar
with Champ Car as a brand on its own. What do you think? Should Champ
Car try to use your team as an example to the different countries and
try to form something?
DERRICK WALKER: Well, I'll bet you if you asked Kevin Kalkhoven that
question, you'd have an absolute yes. And he's been on that trip for some
time. He got the message when he heard Craig was seriously thinking of
So absolutely, it works. But I still reinforce the point that it needs
legitimacy to be viable, because the fans will not just see a logo on
there and say it's Team Australia. The owners in Champ Car have to be
willing to compromise their position as the God of their race team and
share, because without that participation and that buy-in, it's just
another commercial venture.
This is different. This is not just a commercial venture. This is a
passionate Australian. We're going to have Australian mechanics,
Australian drivers, we got owners. We've got to bring in Australians
because how else can it be called Team Australia in my mind?
Q. How about the fact that you are going to have a Formula BMW team as
well as an Atlantic team? How important is that ladder system to the
whole team concept?
Australia Formula BMW car
DERRICK WALKER: Very
important. I mean, when you look at the Champ Car program, it
was very evident early on, when we looked around to see where we could
get Australian drivers, there isn't too many that are roaming around. So
when we make a commitment to a Champ Car program like we have, and a
cause, Team Australia, we need to look to the future. And the future
isn't right here and now, it isn't next year, it's long-term.
So when Kevin revitalized the Atlantic Series, bingo, that's going to be
a great series, we jumped up. We were the first team to step up to say
we were going to be in there. The reason being, we need to find the next
Marcus Marshall, the next Will Power, the next Alex Tagliani out of
Australia. Even when you do it further, you say, we don't want to wait
till they turn up in Atlantic, they may go to Europe sooner, we want to
get them when they get rid of their nappies and put their shoes and
shorts on and get them into BMW. So BMW, Atlantic, they all fit. They're
all part of the family.
And Craig, over here in Australia, has got his V8 series, his Carrera
Porsche series and his V8 Aussie series. He's got the tin tops covered
here, and we've got the open-wheel guys in America, and all
affiliated in this brand to put Australians on the map. It's a perfect
fit, all of these series.
Q. I agree. From a more personal standpoint, for many years you kind of
struggled as a team owner for money, sponsorship. How does it feel now
to look over here and see three cars, backup cars, the colors, the
people here? How does it feel to you, knowing how long you struggled?
DERRICK WALKER: Well, if you look at my 16-year career as an owner, I've
had one other success in terms of getting my team on the map really that
I had a direct impact, and that was the Valvoline Cummins concept of how
two companies could work together. That was an idea that I developed,
and we had six years of great sponsorship, had some great drivers. We
really should have won a lot of races, but we didn't know how good we
Then there was the drought. It was searching for ideas, no money. Once
you get in that trough with no money, then it's really hard to convince
everybody you're really good. Craig Gore had the confidence from last
year to say, I'm going to do it. So it takes an opportunity for somebody
to see that you've got an idea or can have ideas that can work, and
Craig was smart enough, I hope, to see that.
So in answer to your question, when I look around, this is another one
of those kind of success stories in my own personal success as a team
that I'm very proud of. I'm especially proud of our people that we have.
We've got some very loyal people we've had almost since I started. When
they say, look, guys, I need three cars in Australia, there's not a
Mutiny on the Bounty. They set about and they plan and they organize. So
as much of what you see here is a personal success to me and Craig, it's
really the people we've got around us has really made it all work. And
it sounds like everybody says that, but it's reality as far as I'm
Q. What has been the fan reaction to your team? Has it been a lot of
emails, a lot of fan support?
DERRICK WALKER: Oh, it's huge. And I do mean huge. I don't think any of us really
know to what extent it's really going to materialize, to how big it's
going to be. But it's going to be big. It's going to be huge. Because,
you know, it's a very simple, basic principle here. People, you know,
are affiliated with a car and with a team, whether it's a football team
or whatever, they're going to attach themselves to it. So we got to tap
into that and we got to give them what they want, which is success.
Q. As far as tying into this event, has it been a help to you that this
event is so popular?
DERRICK WALKER: For sure. I always think you look at this event as being
consistently one of the most successful, well-promoted, well-supported
events of all the series, and we've all been in racing a lot of years,
seen a lot of different racetracks. This has been a model to it all. And
I can say from the first day I arrived here to this day, it's never
changed. You know, it's had its high attendances,
a little bit softer attendances. But the way it's run, the professional
way it's presented, the fan appeal of our kind of racing here is an
The Team Australia concept has never
been done here, with the amount of interest here is quite evident. It's going to show
that they waited 15 years to get this,
they're going to have a team kind of car and driver/drivers to root for.
It's great payback. I think it's going to be a fantastic success for the
promoters and obviously us.
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