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Pirelli Paddock Pass: James Walker

This week’s Pirelli Paddock Pass featuring James Walker Jr.

Photo: James Walker

James Walker Jr. made his long-awaited professional racing debut in the SRO’s TC America category in 2019, racing an Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR for the famed Risi Competizione team.

This week in the Pirelli Paddock Pass, Walker looks back on what stood out during his 2019 campaign.

Did your first season of racing in SRO America live up to your expectations?

“Absolutely not. But that’s not to say that we didn’t learn a ton.

“We really expected to have more success over the course of the season, but every time luck was involved it went the wrong way.

“The car had pace and the team was always prepared, but every time we needed a break it never came to us.

“Red flags, broken parts, concrete walls, titanium implant… you know, the typical suspects.

“Maybe this was naïve, but we also thought the car would have been a little more consistent.

“We went into every weekend with high expectations, but during most of our adventures it seemed like we were battling not just our competitors but karma itself.

“It’s a great little racecar, but it was, like most sexy Italians, a little bit temperamental, and high maintenance, which goes with the territory, I guess.

“Coming from Ferrari Challenge you could argue that I should have known better!

“In short, this season did NOT reflect what we brought to the table.

“It was ‘that season’ which no racer wants, but eventually every racer experiences, which is disappointing, but hugely motivating for 2020.

What attracted you to the TCR championship in the first place?

“Don’t these cars just look the business?

“And the formula is brilliant: decent power, low weight, just enough aero, and straight-cut-gear transmission whine.

“The big, boxy fenders really draw the eye, and the little turbo four cylinder loves to sing. So there’s that.

“At the same time, I have longed to race in World Challenge (now SRO) since my SCCA Club Racing days back in the late 1990’s.

“A lot has changed since then, but this was the realization of a 22-year journey.

“It helped that the basic recipe hasn’t changed and the tracks were fantastic (except for single-file-Portland and no-mercy-St. Pete).

“So when Risi Competizione offered to support me in this endeavor late last year, it was really a no-brainer.

“We had had great success together in Ferrari Challenge, I absolutely loved racing with them, and we wanted to carry that vibe into SRO.”

What was the highlight of your 2019 campaign?

“Yeah, didn’t have one of those. Next question, please!

“But now that I reconsider, it must have been the people, which sounds schmaltzy, but I don’t care.

“The SRO folks were simply fantastic to deal with, the Risi crew always delivered a race car ready to win, and the guys on the TCR grid were all so welcoming and open.

“Our Partners at Hella Pagid and KBE+ added to the fun as well, but I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically call out Jim Jordan (TC America Class Manager) who earned my eternal love for having my back at the hospital while I was heavily sedated.

“Go back and read some of our scR motorsports newsletters, especially the two written in the smash-‘em, bash-‘em aftermath of St. Pete, and you will see what I am talking about.

“In short, I found a ton of new friends and made a host of new connections, which don’t fit on the trophy shelf very well, but since I am well past the point of trying to be discovered by Mr. Penske, it’s a more valuable prize.

“And it won’t tarnish nearly as quickly.”

What was the biggest challenge of getting adapted to the TC America paddock?

“I’ll tell you, that little concussion protocol pre-test Tracy gave me was kind of tricky!

“But frankly “getting adapted” wasn’t challenging at all. The biggest season-long challenge was getting in sync with the car.

“Unfortunately, it seemed like we were always a step or two behind the curve, and it was always something different.

“There was never any momentum to carry us through the ups and downs.

“It’s not the sort of thing you can “blame” on any particular aspect of the deal, but just a general sense of always facing an uphill climb.”

What can you tell us about your racing plans for 2020?

“Nothing, except that it’s going to be awesome, which I guess is telling you something after all.

“It’s silly season, but the Magic 8 Ball says that I will be staying in SRO. Unfortunately, not in a TCR car.

“Not because of any lingering frustration, mind you, but there are a number of opportunities that I am exploring in different classes.

“This is most likely a result of the “host of new connections” I mentioned above.

“Turns out that if you are self-funded and modestly quick (ok, being self-funded is probably enough on its own), there is no shortage of GT4 teams looking to offer up a seat.

“Stay tuned for the grand reveal in the next few weeks.

“I’m sure there will be a press release or something equally mundane to share the news.

“And then I’ll write an scR motorsports newsletter to make it a little more entertaining (and probably a little less factual).”

“They’re mostly there for my mom, but the ultra-exclusive mailing list has now grown to several hundred people.

“Chances are if you are reading this you know more than a handful of them.

“The scR motorsports community is everywhere, but just below the surface.

“As much as I love racing, I’m not in it just for the on-track experience.

“There’s always a back story, a punch line, or an undisclosed bit of theater that people really want to hear about (at least I think they want to hear about it).

“So since my very first club racing outing in 1997 I have been (narcissistically, perhaps) documenting each and every race weekend through the lens of someone who isn’t afraid to laugh at himself.

“And there is plenty to laugh at. You can laugh for yourself at https://teamscr.com/newsletters/.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am intensely serious about this sport (and I will win a championship yet!), but I can’t take myself too seriously.

“Why? Because I take myself way too seriously if left to my own devices. See you at the track!”

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