Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 63- Honda Indy 191 at Mid-Ohio

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional look at race broadcasts. This week, I’m covering the Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. However, before I start, there is some news to report.

On Wednesday, ESPN announced that they have reached a deal with the Izod IndyCar Series that will see the Indianapolis 500 continue to be broadcast live on ABC through 2018. That will mark 54 consecutive years of coverage (33 of those being live telecasts) of the race on ABC. In addition, ABC will continue to televise four additional races during the Izod IndyCar Series season.

In addition, ESPN announced that starting next season, there will be live streaming of onboard cameras available during ESPN’s five Izod IndyCar Series telecasts at espn3.com. Such a setup recalls ESPN’s simulcasts of some races (Ex: 1995 Pepsi 400) back in the mid-1990’s, when the regular feed would air on ESPN while an all-in car feed would air on ESPN 2. Hopefully, this is the beginning of better promotion of Izod IndyCar Series races by ESPN and a better relationship in general. Many fans were clamoring for IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard to strip ESPN of their rights to the series due to a complete lack of promotion and indifferent broadcasts. That has not come to pass.

On to the critique.

Versus’ coverage started off with IndyCar Central. Compared to normal, it seemed to be a little light on content. Firestone Indy Lights did not accompany the series to Mid-Ohio (surprisingly, they were the headlining division in the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres on the Streets of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec at the same time this race was being run). As a result, there was no additional programming.

There was a standard recap of the previous event (the Edmonton Indy) and a piece where the drivers that were placed on probation after the race (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway and Alex Tagliani) reacted to their probation. Robin Miller also gave his input on the penalties (basically, that they were nice to have, but levied way too late). I tend to agree with his assessment of the situation.

There was a feature on Will Power and his wife, Liz. The story here is that Liz was Power’s PR minion when he was with Walker Racing (then under the Team Australia banner). Likely as a result of her position with the team at the time, she refused to be anything more than the consummate professional around Power. However, Power eventually wore her down after he let Walker’s team and a romance began, culminating with their marriage last year. Power is a bit of a quirky person away from the track, and it shows. If anything, Power came off as kind of shy and very bashful. I guess the feature could be best described as an genuine moment.

Mid-Ohio is the home track for the Rahals (even though their hometown is closer to Cleveland, which used to host races at Burke Lakefront Airport), so to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Versus saw fit to air a piece where both Bobby and Graham Rahal talked about their memories of racing at the Ohio road course.

In the race itself, I noticed a few different things. One, Bob Jenkins made a couple of really silly mistakes early on. First, he confused the distance of the race (in miles) with the number of laps in the events. Then, he mistook Marco Andretti for his father, Michael. Upon correcting a graphical error during a round of stops under yellow, Wally Dallenbach, Jr. called Jenkins on his errors. Ouch.

Two, Versus decided to only do one Through the Field during the race instead of two or three. However, they chose to cover everyone during that one Through the Field. It took something like seven laps to accomplish under green, but they did it. That is a first for Versus (or anyone, for that matter), but it was good to see.

Thirdly, I noticed a lot of focus on the frontrunners in the event, regardless of the amount of actual racing for position. This was not good to see because it masked a series of good runs. For example, KV Racing Technologies teammates Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan finished fourth and fifth. Outside of that full field Through the Field, they were all but not mentioned on the telecast. Everything was focused on Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe (before his Lap 62) spin, Dario Franchitti and Will Power.

Sadly, such an approach bores me. It doesn’t make the race exciting at all. Its just frustrating as heck. I know that the Izod IndyCar Series doesn’t have anywhere near the fanbase of NASCAR these days, but all the drivers out there do have fans. The series has understood that there would be a day where they couldn’t depend on Danica Patrick anymore. Heck, they sent out this long questionnaire via e-mail last year to members of IndyCar Nation where they judged awareness of all the drivers in the series except Patrick.

In future races (Versus’ next one is in three weeks at Infineon Raceway), Versus needs to cover the field more thoroughly. Focusing on three or four drivers just doesn’t get the job done.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical for Versus. Viewers were provided with six post-race driver interviews (plus one interview with winner Scott Dixon’s wife, Emma), along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings before Versus left to go to horse racing from Saratoga Racecourse.

Generally, the race itself was rather staid. There was not all that much action and the double-file restarts necessitated a move in which all starts (not just the original start) were on the flat-out stretch from the Keyhole (Turn 2) to Turn 4, instead of on the pit straight. Versus’ booth didn’t really make the race sound all that exciting, and that is a shame. They’ve still got a couple of opportunities to improve, though. However, next weekend’s race in New Hampshire is the fourth of ABC’s five races, so Versus will have to wait to redeem themselves.

I hope you enjoyed this look at Versus’ coverage of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Stay tuned for more race telecast critiques next week here in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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