IndyCar Preview – St Petersburg 2009

After the interminable wait this off-season we’ve reached the end of the long road, we’re at the first IndyCar race of the year! Much like the F1 last week it doesn’t seem quite true just yet, and I guess it only will when I see cars on track.

IRL IndyCar Series
– Honda Grand Prix of St.Petersburg (1/17)
– St Petersburg, Florida, United States
www.indycar.com

Circuit
The first race of the year is on the part street, part airport circuit by the seafront at St Pete, Florida. I’ve been to St Pete and stood on the top of the pier tower, you can see the airport from it but I had no idea there was racing on it back in 1997 when I was there – and perhaps at that time there wasn’t. It’s a good little city.

The track itself is very bumpy and quite short, and the walls of the street section are very unforgiving indeed, much more so than most US street tracks in my opinion and this may be due to the narrowness. Yet it is also a very quick track which makes threading the needle very difficult and a nice challenge to set for the first race weekend of the year – a good choice.

Form
Very hard to call this one given the lack of testing but you’d be foolish to rule out ‘the usual suspects’ of Ganassi and Penske, yet Wilson seems to be running very well in the Coyne car. AGR seems to have fallen back a way while NHL may well have leapfrogged them – be sure to watch both of their cars not just Rahal, because Doornbos will go well.

Rookies
The rookie of the year battle is going to be between Doornbos and Conway. Doornbos is far too experienced to be a rookie so he’ll win it comfortably. I know a lot of people are tipping Matos but I know very little of the guy and unlike the other two he may not have the experience of the big cars, although obviously the aforementioned two don’t have any oval experience so they may lose out there. Top rookie in St Pete? Doornbos.

Championship
I think it’ll be between Dixon, Franchitti and Briscoe. There will be a lot of different winners during the year and some of those underdog guys will shine, like Meira who SURELY must get his first win this season?? He’s good enough for a win, maybe not a title but certainly several wins over a few years. It’ll be interesting to watch Wheldon at Panther and to see if Manning and others can secure long-term deals.

Indy
I know it’s only a month until May but in terms of race it is WAAY too early to be talking about who’ll be running well at Indy!

TV Coverage

UK TV: LIVE on Sky Sports Xtra at 7.30pm BST!
In Britain the coverage remains with Sky Sports, either on SS3 or SS Xtra. I believe most if not every race will be live. A good result and ironically better than Canada – except that I don’t have Sky so I’ll probably be watching via IndyCar.com.

US TV: LIVE on VERSUS at 2pm ET!
(and don’t forget the all new qualifying show at 5pm Saturday, show your interest and help get qualifying aired live – if they see the interest they’ll be persuaded)

Don’t forget the race replay on Monday night if you either miss the live run, or want to catch it again to pick up some details. Versus also carry the Indy Lights race highlights on Monday night.


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Finally, be sure to check out their YouTube channel!
They’ve got some cool stuff on there including questions with Graham Rahal – questions posed by fellow bloggers! I’ve subscribed and you should too.

These guys at Versus seem to “get it” so let’s help them push this.

* * *
That’s my Friday night blogging mini-marathon done, enjoy the racing and I’ll see you around the ‘net.

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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!