IndyCar On Sky Sports For 2019

The NTT IndyCar Series will air in the UK exclusively on Sky Sports F1 for 2019 and beyond, in a deal announced just over a week before the first race.

This is exciting news if you get Sky Sports F1. And possibly good news for the series to get in front of more eyeballs. This is not so good if you were watching on BT TV.

I’ll get on to the future in a little while. First some context.

History With Sky

The old IRL had long been aired on Sky Sports. Eurosport aired the rival CART / Champ Car. When the series merged, Sky aired the unified IndyCar Series as a continuation of the IRL deal.

At the time Sky gave IndyCar little promotion and audiences were tiny. But they gave it some attention by providing a London studio which filled in the gaps.

US TV is allowed to take far more advert breaks per hour than British TV. This causes a headache for UK channels when they take live American sport. How do you fill the gaps? This is trickier if the host doesn’t show the action while US TV is away.

Sky Sports provided a studio for Keith Heuwen and a regular guest. Keith, the former 500cc Grand Prix motorbike racer and now MotoGP lead commentator for BT Sport. The guests were often former Indy Lights racer and long-time sportscar driver Johnny Mowlem, or British IndyCar engineer Andy Brown who had worked for teams in F1, CART and IRL with success.

Pre-race would be a discussion in London which joined the US broadcast just before the green flag. We rarely saw the packages from the host broadcast. Mid-race, when they didn’t go to break themselves they’d talk through the action we’d seen and show replays again, always a benefit. It was a good compromise.

Unfortunately it could also be dry which is just a function of the format. I’m never a fan of going to a studio during a live event. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be racing, football, athletics, whatever. I find it detaches you from the event and sucks the life and atmosphere away. I’d rather see the event I’m tuning in to see and have the remote analysts talk over it. I get the sense I’m missing something when they cut away. Unfortunately it is common practice in UK sports broadcasting.

Sky Sports F1 launched in 2012. There was a bit of cross-pollination with 2 or 3 IndyCar races on the channel, but mostly IndyCar was on Sky Sports 4 and the two didn’t interact very much.

History With BT Sport

IndyCar TV rights outside America were held by ESPN International. ESPN had been trying to get into the UK market for a while and set up their own channel in 2009. IndyCar moved to ESPN UK in 2013. But by Summer 2013, BT, the telecoms giant, set up BT Sport as a big-money rival to Sky Sports with the intention of poaching some of the Premier League rights. They succeeded. BT Sport also purchased ESPN UK and repositioned and rebranded it to focus on American sport.

BT Sport ESPN

IndyCar on BT was basic to start with, just taking the raw feed from the US and I’m sure they even showed UK commercials for every US break.

After a while the US broadcaster provided a continuous feed during US ad breaks. This allowed BT Sport to employ their own team in London, again filling in the gaps, but this time with no formal studio. It would be audio only, over the pictures from the US. Perfect! The team included Keith Collantine of RaceFans.net (formerly F1 Fanatic), Ben Evans who commentates for BT on other series such as GT Open, and freelance Tom Gaymor who you will have heard at Eurosport on basically any racing they show. Usually it would be a pair from this three.

It was the best of both worlds. You never lost sight of the action. It settled into a routine whereby if US TV took a break while the race was green BT would stay with it with British commentary, but if the race was under Safety Car BT Sport would take a commercial break. This worked well – especially when the number of yellows decreased significantly in the last couple of years!

Occasionally this too could be dry, especially when they exchanged statistics rather than talked about the racing – the lone race where the BT team covered Road America in its entirety was particularly bad for this. But in general the team illuminated the coverage from a British perspective and kept it moving, even including fans’ comments via Twitter and running Q&As for people new to IndyCar. It was a very positive step.

There was moment when a different production team on the UK side covered Indy. The theory was good, big fanfare and explainers for newbies, but they made the same mistake as Sky with a UK studio. It meant UK fans watching for the first time were denied the pomp and ceremony preceding the race, which are as much part of the Indy 500 as the race itself. Instead we watched an incredibly dry discussion about how Fernando Alonso might do. The usual knowledgeable UK team were sidelined which was very unhelpful in explaining to potential new fans.

That race in 2017 the viewership hit 200,000, some 10 times higher than usual! Again generally IndyCar viewing numbers were terrible, just like with Sky, barely making 30,000 some weeks. There’s no way it should be that low in a country so mad on F1.

Future With Sky Sports F1

Sky Sports F1 has matured since 2012. It found its place and has built a loyal audience of motorsport die-hards willing to pay money to watch racing. So this is a good deal, yes?

Sky Sports F1

Well, I have three concerns. One is promotion. How often do Sky promote the non-F1 series they already have, Formula 2 and GP3 (which will be FIA Formula 3 this year)?

Last year they failed to show a live F2 race, choosing instead to show F1 drivers playing giant Jenga, even though three British F2 drivers would sign to race in F1 this year (Russell, Albon, Norris) and two of them fought for the F2 title. For me this is not forgivable. The future of British talent in F1 was handed to them on a plate and they didn’t take it. Will IndyCar races get pre-empted by a magazine show about F1?

The other concern is those loyal die-hard Formula 1 fans. Judging by internet comments and comments I’ve overheard at racetracks and at Goodwood FoS, many have proven over many years to have a real problem with IndyCar. They jump to conclusions about “just turning left” or being “F1 rejects”, though a lot of IndyCar fans in the US make the second point as well.

It makes no sense to me. IndyCar races are mostly on road and street courses. They are open wheel single seater cars that race at high speed. Oval races often are tactically brilliant while being insanely fast.

Will F1 fans give IndyCar a fair shot? I hope so. It’s a fantastically competitive series. And the depth of talent is higher than ever. The top 5 were always as good as anyone in F1, but now you could extend that to the top 10 or 15. Drop Josef Newgarden or Scott Dixon into a Mercedes with 8 days of testing and they’d run Lewis Hamilton close.

The positives?

If even a portion of these fans can be convinced, there is a ready and waiting audience. 600,000 fans regularly watch Grands Prix on SSF1. Convert even 10% of the audience and you’re already ahead of what BT achieved.

And the Indy 500? Lots of potential there. Could we see 400k? 500k? That would be a record for a UK audience. Will the channel see an uplift in subscriber numbers now F1 is exclusively live?

Costs

This is my third concern and it’s a big one. Sky is very expensive. Even with the deals on offer.

For a full cost analysis of Sky Sports please see Motorsport Broadcasting (the blog is also the source of the viewing figures quoted in this piece). The comparison includes Now TV streaming and the Sky Sports Mobile TV app which is by far the cheapest option.

If you already subscribe to SSF1 this is a win for you.

If you don’t you’ll either have to miss IndyCar – and live F1 – or you’ll have to switch. You will at least have delayed highlights of F1 on Channel 4.

YouTube was another option. Races have been uploaded in full to YouTube within days. I have a smart TV with a YouTube app and this was a great way to catch up on those 2am night races if I forgot to record them on BT.
However in the US there’s a new agreement with streaming and on demand catch up on NBC Sports Gold. It remains to be seen whether the series will continue to upload races to their YouTube channel. I suppose we will find out next week.

Speaking Personally

I have BT fibre broadband and BT TV and will lose IndyCar and F1 in the same year.

I had been resigned to watching F1 with Channel 4’s evening highlights.

To be honest I’d assumed IndyCar would stay on BT Sport and was happy with that because they have MotoGP. Two of the best series in the world justified keeping BT Sport and I got to see some Champions League and Premiership Rugby as well.

Yes I know they have other racing, DTM, GT Open, and so on. But I don’t watch those.

I’ve been an IndyCar fan since 2000 and this year’s series promises so much. SSF1 having live F1 and live IndyCar has me seriously looking at subscribing.

There are deals around which drop the price of Sky significantly, though it is still expensive. I’m trying to justify it to myself. It might mean changing broadband.

I won’t be able to get Sky installed before Round 1 at St. Pete next weekend and probably not before the Australian GP the week after. But to guarantee two of my favourite series for two years… is it worth it?

Is it worth it?

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2019 Race Schedules for Google Calendar & iCal

In order to watch too much racing you will need to know when it happens.

Keep up with your favourite racing series by adding my Calendars to your Google Calendar, Apple iCal, Microsoft Outlook, or other service which supports ICAL or HTML format.

Just click the link for the race schedule you want to import and it will appear in your calendar in your browser or on your phone.

Screenshot_20181124-212802

Go here for details:

www.toomuchracing.com/calendar

Lastly, I would like to say a huge thank you to the people who have kindly donated!

I have a Paypal tip jar on the top right of the blog which is aimed at covering my site hosting fees and domain name registrations for the year. Though these aren’t big, just a basic WordPress.com blog plus some domain names, they are sometimes a bit of a pain after some other financial headaches personally in the last few years. And the time sink of entering the calendar dates is quite considerable.

I’m pleased to say thanks to you I’ve covered my fees and enough to keep me in cups of tea for the year as well!

I’m astonished people pay at all, let alone anything more than £2, I know acutely there are far more worthy causes than this. It does encourage me to put in the work through a dark dingy autumn and winter, so thank you.

[This is a pinned post on the main blog to direct traffic, please click through to the Calendar page for more.]

Ten Years Of Too Much Racing

On August 5th, 2018, I reached a milestone:  10 years of blogging!

There have been periods of downtime along the way. On and off, I have been writing words about motor sport for a decade. And soon it’ll be 20 years since I first joined a Formula 1 newsgroup, at age 18 at the end of December 1998, which is where it all began. Now I am 38 and I feel very old.

The Changes Over A Decade

A lot has happened in the last decade. The blog was set up to look at F1, IndyCar, Le Mans and other endurance races, plus whatever else took my fancy.

For one thing the original version was on Blogspot and is still there.

First Blog

In 2008’s Formula 1 season, on the face of it it looks familiar:  the young upstart Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes-powered McLaren racing the Ferraris of defending champion Kimi Räikkönen and his team-mate Felipe Massa. It would be Hamilton’s first title – and Massa who would take it to the last race and win a legion of fans for his sportsmanship in defeat.

There the similarities end. It was the era of multiple manufacturers:  BMW were still with Sauber with Robert Kubica finishing 4th in points (including a race win). Honda and Toyota both still had their own full F1 teams. Fernando Alonso had gone back to the works Renault team after the “spygate” scandal – and this was the year the “crashgate” scandal would unfold. Tyres were grooved and V8 engines screamed and a lot of us complained it wasn’t as good as slick tyres and V10s.

In IndyCar the reset button had just been pressed. “The Split” of the CART/IRL war was over, the two factions had come together for the 2008 season. As it happened late in pre-season with very little time to prepare, the Champ Car teams had to adapt to the IRL cars in less than a month. They looked hopeless at Homestead-Miami as the IRL teams dominated, then just a week later Graham Rahal won at St Petersburg for Newman/Haas, giving hope to those of us who were on the Champ Car side of the fence.

It was a long road to recovery for IndyCar racing after that and it took a lot longer than I think anybody expected. They’re still travelling that road today. It took arguably until 2016 to really make traction. Now though, you have to say that after 10 years the series is in excellent health and has a bright future. The peak of quality was never in question all along, what’s changed is the depth of quality of both drivers and teams is the highest seen in 20 years. In some neat symmetry, Scott Dixon won the 2008 and 2018 titles. Dare I say this year he’s driving better than I’ve ever seen him. And the current cars are cool too, which wasn’t the case in 2008.

In sports car racing, the continual cycle of boom and bust is never far away from throwing in a curve ball.

In Europe we had the Le Mans Series, five races of 1000km with the Le Mans 24 Hours itself being a non-championship race. Audi and Peugeot went toe to toe in LMP1, a healthy field of privateers scoring podium finishes all year long when any of the lead quartet fell off. LMP2 was dominated by the Porsche Spyder which brought LMP1 engineering and reliability to a class previously renowned for cars breaking down.
We still had the glorious GT1s, Corvette C6 vs Aston Martin DBR9 vs Saleen S7-R. And GT2 was the Pro/Am Porsche vs Ferrari class with cars that were much closer to road-relevance than today’s GTs.

There was a defined route from ‘upgraded road car’ to ‘really mega road car on steroids’ to ‘baby prototype’ to ‘fast prototype’. Today we have ‘a prototype that looks like a GT’, then ‘fast prototype’ to ‘even faster really expensive prototype’. It feels like we’ve lost something along the way. I suppose that’s why LMP3 and GT4 now exist.

The good thing is we now have a World Championship – and we kept the European LMS underneath it so we’ve gained a load of racing. We had a great mini-era of LMP1 Hybrid in the WEC which was a joy to watch. The new era though, it all still needs work. Whatever happens to the WEC and LMP1, down at continental level, I’d argue the ELMS should adopt IMSA’s DPi as its top class.

Over in the US, the IMSA American Le Mans Series was at the height of the battle between a nearly equalised Audi LMP1 and Porsche LMP2. It had a strong GT2 field. And yet a rival series in Grand-Am with its own bespoke cars and NASCAR backing. Peaks and troughs in both series led to a merger for 2014. Lessons were learned from the bumpy and rushed IndyCar merger and the new-era IMSA has worked very hard to solve some tricky problems. That 2014 season was itself bumpy. But the recovery is happening very quickly, aided by the DPi concept of upgrading LMP2 cars and tapping into GTE and GT3 resources.

There is still a risk IMSA will take the backward step of having its own rules, Grand-Am style. They should avoid this and work to share platform with the ACO – even if it means running a “dumbed-down” version of the cars. Maybe it would work as a base platform for IMSA and ELMS, then if you want to go to WEC P1 you add a Special Nifty Widget that makes the car faster. (I specialise in these highly technical solutions.)

And then a wildcard. Formula E was launched. Like a cross between A1GP and Scalextric and the Toronto IndyCar track and a good dose of FIA weirdness. I’ve loved it since it started. Not necessarily for the same reasons as everyone else. I think the eco message has a problem when you jet the cars around the world and power them with generators. The tracks need a bit more space. But the racing is fun and frantic, the talent level is top notch and the future of cars is electric so you might as well have a championship for them now. Though I can’t help feeling it should’ve been a touring car or GT series, maybe a silhouette series with a spec chassis underneath and a manufacturers’ bodyshell to make it look like their road cars.

I don’t even have space to talk about the globalisation of LMP3, GT3, GT4 – and the remarkable TCR. All this has made previously national or regional events accessible to others around the world.

I haven’t even touched on MotoGP which year after year is the best racing around.

There’s an obsession with nostalgia in racing. I happen to think we’re in a golden era right now.

The Future

I know in my head what I want the blog to be. The same as it was in 2008 – short pieces of snippets every few days, intermingled with a lengthy weekly or fortnighly column. The problem is finding the time or the motivation in the depths of the season. You’ll have noticed I stopped the latest project back in July when the summer got too hot!

The goal is to get people to pay attention outside their own bubble, be that the F1 bubble, or the IndyCar bubble, or the sportscar bubble, or even the Formula E bubble these days.

I’ve tried various formats of race report, showing points progression and including race video, but few people read race reports, and I’m wary of video now due to copyright rules. I think the future of this site is in personal comment and reflection.

The racing e-calendars for iCal and Google Calendar will continue. They are laborious at times, yet very popular and a focal point of the blog. I even considered flipping it, so the calendars are front and centre and you had to hunt to find the blog posts.

As for the future of racing? We are in interesting times. We’re going back to the future.

IndyCar has shown the way. The nail-biting close finishes are gone. Instead we have cars visibly difficult to drive. They may not set lap records compared to last year’s very-high-downforce kits, but they do allow a difference between nailing the setup and missing it. Between top driver/team and those further back. And reducing the wake so cars can get close.

F1 needs to follow suit. It can find a way to do this while retaining the fastest cars. It also needs to go back to tyres that allow drivers to go flat out in a race. Cruising around to save super-ultra-hyper-soft tyres isn’t good enough and makes a mockery of changing the cars themselves to be faster.

Sports cars among GT racing is in rude health. They just need to be careful not to spend GT3 out of existence. In the prototypes there’s a golden opportunity lying just ahead, in blending LMP1 with DPi. If they get it right… well, special things could happen.

And Formula E will be the first of many series with what we presently call ‘alternative fuels’. Fast-charging electric cars are coming. Longer-range batteries are already here, with no need to swap cars in the 2019 season. Other electric series are coming. And elsewhere, hydrogen cars are coming.

The rest of the motor sport world needs to pay attention. If Governments are banning cars powered by fossil fuels from sale, how long will it be before they ban racing other than anything emission-free? 40 years? 30? 20?

The change over the next five years could be bigger than the whole of the last ten.

COMMENT: 14 & 15 July 2018 – Toronto IndyCar & New York Formula E

Street racing single seaters.

  • Formula E – New York double-header season finale;
  • IndyCar – Toronto GP;

Between the World Cup and getting out and about at weekends I’ve fallen behind on MotoGP, when there is a clear weekend with not much else happening I’ll catch up.

I also want to get caught up with ITV’s nightly highlights of the Tour de France!

Continue reading “COMMENT: 14 & 15 July 2018 – Toronto IndyCar & New York Formula E”

COMMENT: 7 & 8 July 2018 – British GP & Iowa IndyCar

A really good pair of races this week!

  • F1 – British GP, Silverstone;
  • Indycar – Iowa 300, Iowa Speedway;

I must admit, being tired from not sleeping due to the ongoing heat and humidity made it hard to concentrate at times.

This blog appears late courtesy of the World Cup! I don’t usually follow football other than international tournaments and this one swept me along.

Continue reading “COMMENT: 7 & 8 July 2018 – British GP & Iowa IndyCar”

COMMENT: 23/24 June 2018 – Paul Ricard & Elkhart Lake

Last weekend I watched just the two races:

  • F1 – French GP, Paul Ricard, Le Castellet.
  • IndyCar – Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

I also caught the 3rd BTCC race at Croft, Dan Lloyd taking a maiden win from the reverse-grid race – and apparently some bones of contention through the day amongst title contenders.

Continue reading “COMMENT: 23/24 June 2018 – Paul Ricard & Elkhart Lake”

Weekend Preview: 23/24 June 2018 – Paul Ricard & Elkhart Lake

With apologies for the lack of post-race piece about Le Mans. I’ve got 1400 words in the edit where I’ve got stuck in rewrites, give me a day or two.

Coming up this weekend:

  • F1 – French GP, Paul Ricard, Le Castellet.
  • IndyCar – Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.

Continue reading “Weekend Preview: 23/24 June 2018 – Paul Ricard & Elkhart Lake”