Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 72- Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. This past weekend, while NASCAR’s top two series and the ARCA Racing Series were racing in Kansas, the biggest touring car race…in the world was being held half a world away.

That’s right. Saturday night was the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, a round of the V8 Supercar Championship Series. Normally, such a race telecast would be cut to heck and back and shown weeks after it is run on SPEED. Not this year. A couple of months ago, SPEED announced the first-ever live telecast of “The Great Race.” They even sent Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip down to New South Wales to give the telecast some star power. But how well did that work? Let’s find out.

When SPEED announced the live telecast of Bathurst, I figured that they would send down their Grand-Am commentary team (The Diffmeister, Calvin Fish and Dorsey Schroeder for the booth, with Chris Neville in the pits) for the race. With that group, you’d have a V8 Supercars veteran in the booth (Diffey did two separate stints as the play-by-play man for ATCC (Australian Touring Car Championship) and V8 Supercar races for Network Ten), and two veteran road racers.

With Joy and Waltrip, you have a very skilled man in the booth (Joy) that has limited experience with the series. He must have spent weeks buried in research materials. Waltrip is, well…Waltrip. We know what he brings to a broadcast. When he isn’t speaking in sentences that end with exclamation points, he’s making semi-relevant points. However, I doubt that Waltrip did as much research prior to the race as Joy did.

The aforementioned Diffmeister (Leigh Diffey) and Calvin Fish did make the trip to Bathurst, but they were on pit road serving as pit reporters. This was a waste of knowledge and talent. However, SPEED seemed to take an educative focus for the broadcast and figured that having the booth learning along with viewers would make for a better telecast.

SPEED’s telecast on Saturday night started off with a brief recap of last year’s race, including a replay of “Fabian Coulthard’s infamous roll”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWeAdFRYGy4/ on the first lap of the race. That was followed up with a brief piece on how winning the 1000 kilometer Great Race makes you a borderline hero in Australia.

Another feature focused on the never-ending Holden vs. Ford rivalry. This is the direct equivalent of Chevrolet vs. Ford here in the United States. SPEED went out and talked to some drivers and fans camping up on the mountain about the rivalry. I’d argue that Holden vs. Ford is more intense, though. It’s rather crazy. However, it should be noted that there is a sizable group of Australian race fans that are tired of just Holden vs. Ford in the V8 Supercars and openly wish for a return to the Group A era (1985-1992), when foreign manufacturers were allowed to compete. That could technically be possible starting next year with the “Car of the Future,” but any manufacturer that wants in has to bring in their own naturally-aspirated V8 engine, not to mention a full-size four-door touring car. In other words, it’s not bloody likely, unless the rules were to change again to allow multiple types of engines, like turbocharged 4-cylinders.

Then, there was the clip of Waltrip doing a ride along with Team BOC’s Jason Bright and basically spending six and a half minutes screaming. Well, that was interesting. Both SPEED and Australia’s Seven Network aired a version of this during their telecasts. I preferred the Seven Network’s version as the audio was synced up correctly, plus, Darrell got to explain a little more of his thoughts to the Seven Network’s Mark Larkham (a former racer and team owner in his own right).

SPEED advertised this broadcast as having their own production crew, in addition to their own commentators. Was this the case? No. In reality, it was a lot closer to SPEED’s Formula One telecasts, but with a couple of differences. The first major difference was that the booth commentators were actually in Bathurst, but I’ve already covered that. The second difference was that SPEED had control of more than one camera and could use it all race long. On their F1 broadcasts, SPEED can use one roving camera, but only during pre-race.

SPEED did retain some ability to deviate from the “World Feed” (in this case, the feed from V8 Supercars Australia for the Seven Network). However, it was just not complete deviation. When SPEED would show pit stops, viewers would sometimes see graphics for in-car cameras and sound from that camera during the stops.

Worse, there were times (like on Lap 10) where you could hear the Seven Network’s commentary team underneath Joy and Waltrip. That is inexcusable. What the deuce? C’mon SPEED, you’re better than that. For next year, heck at Surfer’s Paradise in a week and a half, you have to rectify that.

What would a live Bathurst telecast for the American audience be without a Marcos Ambrose sighting? Of course, since Ambrose was in Kansas for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, he couldn’t be in Bathurst for the race. However, nothing was stopping Ambrose from calling in to give some input. He chose to do so during the first full course caution of the race. Here, Waltrip talked about how Ambrose convinced him to come to Bathurst and take in the race.

Of course, Ambrose’s most memorable Bathurst moment (“the wreck with Greg Murphy back in 2005”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFayVvl-GgE/) was brought into play here. Ambrose sort of laughed it off and basically described it as a big disagreement between himself and Murphy. SPEED then brought Murphy into the discussion, just because they could. Murphy talked about how the crash itself is still a really big deal in Australian motorsports history and that he is still asked about it all the time.

In addition to Ambrose calling in, there were a couple of special guest racers that were interviewed in the pits. Max Papis was at the race, as was Marino Franchitti. Franchitti is scheduled to race in Surfer’s Paradise during the Armor All 600 weekend (each driver is paired with an international racer for the weekend). Meanwhile, Papis was just taking in all the action. He won’t be in Surfer’s Paradise because the Camping World Truck Series will be racing at Talladega.

To keep up the education theme, Diffey went into the Triple Eight Engineering (this is the Vodafone-sponsored team) to talk about their rather substantial amount of telemetry that they have available to them. They can see driver inputs, temperature readings, warnings and all kinds of other technical gizmos, including what amounts to simulation software that can show where they would come out of the pits in any situation. In addition, they also have a weather radar link as well. It’s just about as detailed as any sports car team would have at their disposal. Kelly Racing’s secondary team (the non-Jack Daniel’s backed teams (Nos. 11 and 16)) have a much simpler system when it comes to pit stops that is not as technologically advanced, but still works quite well (the No. 11, shared by Murphy and Allen Simonsen, finished third).

Post-race coverage was quite brief. SPEED provided interviews with Garth Tander, driver of the winning car at the finish, along with Craig Lowndes, who finished second. Neither of their co-drivers (Nick Percat and Mark Skaife) got interviewed. There was also a quick check of the unofficial results before SPEED had to leave to get to their live coverage of the Grand Prix of Japan from Suzuka Circuit. From what I understand, that would technically mean that SPEED was already off the air before the podium ceremony, which is where the Seven Network does their winner’s interviews. Although it is incredibly rare that there would be a legitimate conflict with another live event at 2:10 in the morning, that is exactly what happened. SPEED’s telecast went over it’s slot by a little over ten minutes (this year’s race was roughly 23 minutes longer than last years’), and put them in conflict. Oh well, maybe there won’t be a Suzuka (or Yeongam) conflict next year.

I will say that everyone involved seemed to be greatly enjoying themselves at Bathurst and had a lot of fun with the broadcast. However, the overall production needs some work. All race long, the Seven Network’s race car audio would bleed into segments in which SPEED was using the pit road cameras at their disposal. I don’t know why this is occurring, but it needs to be fixed. In addition, there would be instances in which random graphics about certain cars not even on screen would pop up. I guess the Seven Network was referring to whichever driver popped up there at the time. For future live races, I would like it if SPEED could integrate their own scroll graphics into the telecast and completely eliminate the Seven Network package. However, I just don’t think that it’s possible since V8 Supercars Australia basically does all their broadcasts themselves, while the Seven Network simply airs them.

I hope you enjoyed this look at SPEED’s broadcast of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000. Tune in next week for a look at the Izod IndyCar World Championships from Las Vegas. Until then, enjoy the action from Charlotte, Las Vegas and Yeongam, Korea.

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