IndyCar TV: Versus & Sky Sports

While I’ve keeping up to date on the BBC’s F1 coverage here in the UK, I’ve been remiss in not talking about the new TV deal for the IRL IndyCar Series. Since it is effectively the series I cover most after F1, I need to put that right straight away.

US Coverage
(see below for UK coverage details)

New for this year is a switch to the Versus cable channel, which brings with it an increase in race day coverage and as well as more time for qualifying. What’s interesting is that all of their content will also be available on Versus HD – which is a result!

Five races are still with ABC, doing that curious American thing of splitting coverage between broadcasters. Obviously Indy isn’t moving any time soon but with the rest of them… guys just put them in one place and market the hell out of them, yeah? I’m guessing ABC insisted on this arrangement.

Versus is cleverly choosing to air IndyCar programs around the 500 so as to keep the content rolling and the awareness out there, which is good thinking. I think it includes something on qualifying but that’ll be announced properly later.

Previews
Prior to the season there are four hour-long previews every Saturday at 2.00pm ET.
– The first of those was aired last weekend and was about Danica P. Okay, not my choice but she is the marketing darling of the series so I can live with that, even if I’d prefer a similar show about the reigning champion – but I’m just a hardcore fan not a casual viewer… The remaining shows are:
– ‘Top Ten Closest Finishes in IRL History’ which should be very entertaining! (I’m fairly sure this is ‘IRL’ and not ‘Indycar’ history, so since 1996);
– Next is ‘Crashes and Conflicts’ which worries me slightly, we don’t want to be attracting the sort of “fans” who “only watch for the crashes” so I hope they treat it with a respect for the danger instead of ‘hey that’s cool’ – because it isn’t cool, what’s cool is the skill in avoiding the crashes;
– Finally we end with ‘IndyCar World Tour’ which is about the circuits visited during the season;

Qualifying
During the season there will be a post-qualifying wrap up show at 6pm ET on the Saturday. I don’t think ESPN covered qualifying did it? I’m not sure, someone let me know, but if so this marks a big improvement and dare I say a toe-in-the-water for potential live coverage next season, so make sure you watch it to convince them to do it!

If the IRL knock-out qualifying is as good as it is in F1 then it’ll be worth watching, and the oval system seems interesting in a completely different way.

Race
This is followed on Sunday by a live 3-hour race show featuring build-up and post-race. It sounds like you guys are finally getting for IndyCar what we’ve got here for F1! IndyCar finally gets the hours it deserves.

Race commentary will be provided by Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl. Jenkins is an experienced hand who’ll run a steady ship, Beekhuis is possibly the best IndyCar technical expert around, and Buhl is a team owner. That’s a good, solid line-up.

In the pits will be the inimitable Jack Arute, along with series newcomers Lindy Thackston and Robbie Floyd. I hope Thackton isn’t the token female that Brie was for so long last year (due respect though – she did get A LOT better). Apparently she’s been on ALMS pit reporter duty before so that’s promising. Floyd seems to be coming in as a total newbie to racing, so maybe he’s the one in the deep end this year? Good luck to them all, let’s keep an open mind and give them a few races to bed in.

Races will be re-aired in full the next day (Monday). There will also be further reruns on Sunday for races in odd timezones, like Motegi.

Lights
Alongside the Monday re-air, Versus will show Indy Lights in full – a great result for the Lights guys. Furthermore, two of the Lights races will be live – at Indy and Homestead. I’m sure this marks a major step up for this series.
(PS – if someone could see their way to sending MotorsTV in Europe the Lights tapes a little earlier than last year, that’d be cool too)

Overview
On the whole this looks to be a very good deal, and it’s long-term as well. Okay so the reach isn’t as big as ESPN’s but ever since the coverage announcement was made a couple of months back several US-based IRL bloggers have noted that Versus has appeared in their local area, or the area of people they know. So it is growing and will continue to do so – this a great chance for the IRL to put their series in a place where it can grow along with the network, a bit like NASCAR did many years ago. There’s a lot of potential here – this is a good deal.

The IndyCar Series begins on April 5th on the street/airport hybrid circuit in St Petersburg, Florida. This will be live on Versus at 2.00pm ET, and remember to check out the qualifying recap show the day before at 6.00pm – get eyeballs on to it to show them you want to see it live next year!

UK Coverage
IndyCar once again returns to Sky Sports with every round live or same-day delayed, primarily on Sky Sports 3 (St Pete will be on Sky Sports Xtra).

There are precious few details around at the moment and I’ve been unable to locate an announcement but I have found a short-term schedule of motor racing appearing on Sky over the next six weeks and IndyCar is on it, along with NASCAR and A1GP.
I assume there will be at least one replay of the IndyCar races if not more at various stages in the week, however there is no HD coverage as far as I am aware – this of course may still change. Last season there were only two HD races across their entire motorsport portfolio, yet this year I believe most if not all of the NASCAR events held so far have been in HD. We’ll know more nearer the time.

We also don’t yet know who will provide commentary. In previous years ESPN supplied a different commentary pairing, Garry Lee and Larry Rice, along with the same pit crew seen on American TV (albeit with fewer reports). We don’t yet know if we’ll have Jenkins/Beekhuis/Buhl or another team – frankly there are pros and cons to both options. It’s nice having the guys talking to us without endless promotion for other stuff on the network, and giving shouts to countries watching. On the other hand, it’d be fantastic to have everyone watch the same thing (a la A1GP) and maybe the US domestic guys could shout out the different places tuning in live.

Once again you can expect interjections from Sky’s London studio with Keith Heuwen and guests during any yellow flag periods.

The IndyCar Series begins on April 5th on the street/airport hybrid circuit in St Petersburg, Florida. This will be live on Sky Sports Xtra at 7.30pm and is directly followed on the same channel by live NASCAR Sprint Cup from Texas. That’s a good long day of racing, starting with the Malaysian GP – love it!

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4 thoughts on “IndyCar TV: Versus & Sky Sports”

  1. p.s. Buhl in addition to being a current owner is also a former driver, ICS race winner as well as former Indy Lights champion.and no, ESPN has never shown qualifying.

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  2. Not sure of the restrictions on the rights to air content but, IMO, Versus should air at least a 1/2 hour show each day of track activity at Indy…a summary type of deal. Wait until at least 10pm EDT, and give us a Daily Video Report of the pertinent stuff. Of course it’s easy for me to say since I’m not footing the bill, but I think there’d be a substantial ‘blip’ on the ratings radar, and it wouldn’t be hard to sell sponsorship to that. That could ultimately put a worthy driver in a seat. I’m pretty jazzed by the level of coverage they’re promising as it is, more Indy stuff would just be all the better.

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  3. BTW, in addition to Buhl, Jon Beekhuis was also a very good driver who won the Indy Lights (when it was called The American Racing Series) in 1988. I worked for the team he drove for in CART in 1990 (same team he won the ARS title with)…and ya, he’s about the best technical guy I’ve ever heard in American big-car racing. Plus he’s a remarkably nice guy.

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  4. Thanks guys. It’s good to have more ex-drivers involved, although as we’ve seen recently it doesn’t *always* work. (ESPN: Goodyear; ITV: Blundell)Like Martin Brundle, Beekhuis has the ability to explain fairly technical pieces in understandable terms without making you feel like you’re being talked down to. Versus should be sure to utilise him – a lot. He’s the reason why on balance I want int’l viewers to get the US audio feed.Mike, they may only be able to air interviews and suchlike over Indy if ESPN have the rights to on-track action. Depends what the contract is. We’ll see.

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