Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 84- Tequila Patron Grand Prix of Long Beach

Hello, race fans, welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at the motorsports telecasts made available to us, the general public. I originally stated that I was going to take a look at SPEED’s Trackside Live for today’s edition of the Annex. However, due to last week’s third edition of our Paulie Harraka Driver Diary, I never got a chance to run my look at the ALMS telecast from Long Beach back on April 14. I’m going to do that today. The critique of Trackside will occur at a later date, sometime in May (but not next week).

However, before we start, we’ve got some TV news. On Wednesday, SPEED announced a new deal that will bring the World Rally Championship (WRC) back to SPEED after a multiple year absence. The rallies will be covered on a same day delay basis on Sunday nights, typically at 11pm. This is similar to how the races were covered around 2005 or 2006. Since the series is already four rallies into the season, SPEED2 will be offering 30-minute recaps of the first four rallies (Monte Carlo, Sweden, Mexico and Portugal).

In addition to the rally recaps, SPEED2 will be airing 30-minute same day recaps of each day of the rally. This is the same coverage that formerly aired on Velocity. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned in past critiques, SPEED2 has very limited availability (subscribers to Dish Network, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Cox Cable and Bright House Networks). As a result, this move could actually be seen as a downgrade in coverage for the WRC, but the move puts the WRC on a network in more homes (75 million as compared to an estimated 40 million for Velocity).

Now, to the critique.

ESPN 2 brought viewers a live telecast from Long Beach, the first of such on television for the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series since they were still on SPEED in 2010, and the first on ESPN since 2000 or so. Arguably, this is the easiest race for ESPN to televise live due to the fact that it is the shortest race on the calendar (just two hours in length), plus the start time (7:30pm EDT) was definitely in their favor.

The race weekend in Long Beach was pretty difficult, to say the least. Qualifying, which was aired live on ESPN3, was stopped after the GTC class put in their laps. Why? ALMS had declared the session to be a dry session and just as the GT class drivers went on track, it started raining hard. In order to prevent an Australian pursuit setup for the actual race, the session was wiped away and everyone started on points. In addition, all the practice sessions were run in the rain and most drivers got very little track time leading up to the race.

For the headlining (sort of, due to the lack of machinery) P1 class, the name of the game was Mazda vs. Honda (or Dyson Racing vs. Muscle Milk Pickett Racing). Part of pre-race was spent covering that duel (with Jamie Howe). Kelli Stavast covered the GT battle between Chevrolet, BMW and Porsche. Johnny O’Connell took care of the track description by going on onto the track and pointing out three hot spots on the track (Turn 1, Turn 9 and the Queen’s Hairpin). Interesting way of showing the course off.

Also, there was some discussion of new machinery that is coming into the series, starting with the Lotus Evora that made its debut at Long Beach with Alex Job Racing. The car is new to the United States, but ran last year with the JetAlliance team in Europe, including two spots in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Also, Chrysler Group, LLC is getting back into the series towards the end of the year with the new for 2013 SRT Viper. An artist’s rendering of a No. 91 Viper was shown to viewers. That number might not mean anything offhand, but when Dodge was supporting the ORECA team’s efforts in ALMS, their primary car was the No. 91. The car also won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2000 (the inaugural race for Grand-Am), defeating the Corvette team in the process.

The start of the race was nothing short of a mess. There were a number of spins, not all of them caught by ESPN’s cameras. Tim Pappas, driving his No. 54 Black Swan Racing prototype, got involved in a crash just after getting released from the pit lane. Apparently, the aforementioned Lotus Evora had spun out and no local yellow was shown. At the time, we weren’t shown any replays of this. We only saw a brief clip of Pappas trying to drive back to the pits with the front end clouted. A replay was shown roughly 10-15 minutes later that showed that the Evora tried to turn around in front of the Aquarium entrance, spun the car around in a blind spot. Pappas had nowhere to go. Not too good.

Early in the race (right after a commercial break, mind you), ESPN cut away from the race to bring viewers a piece about how to negotiate traffic in the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series. O’Connell talked about traffic while driving on the infamous Interstate 405 (the “405 Freeway”). I guess what O’Connell said was pertinent, but I don’t think that ESPN should have cut away from race action to show it.

Race coverage (when they weren’t cutting away for pieces like the one mentioned above) was mainly by class. ESPN would focus on one individual class for a certain amount of time (for example, the GT class), then switch to another.

Post-race coverage was typical for ESPN’s ALMS coverage. They would show the unofficial results in each class, then interview one driver from the winning team in each class. On the 14th, they talked with Klaus Graf (P1), Oliver Gavin (GT), Ryan Dalziel (LMPC), Damien Faulkner (GTC) and Scott Tucker (P2). There was also a check of the Michelin Green X Challenge results (which is probably one of the most insane scored competitions in racing because of the confusing way its calculated). Finally, Till and O’Connell wrapped up the telecast before ESPN left.

This was a disjointed broadcast to watch. The direction was simply not the best. The Alex Job-Black Swan crash on the first lap was handled terribly. Usually, you either see something live, or see a replay of said incident before talking to the driver and seeing what put them out. We got the reverse of that here. It was ridiculous. Yes, I’m sure Pappas was bummed out that he couldn’t display his one race sponsorship deal from “Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles”:https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=1508707&l=d8e3858d3d&id=191638944199160/, but the handling of that situation made the entire production look low rent.

In addition, the coverage does currently seem to be stilted toward the P1 and GT classes. They get roughly 80 percent of the coverage in the broadcasts. Yes, the GT class has the lion’s share of the entrants and is the strongest class as far as competition is involved (its considered to be stronger than the GT class in both the European Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Championship), but they’re not the only show out there. As for P1, the count there has been miserable for years. I think the ACO ditched the ALMS’ single prototype class idea from 2010, so they have to run with classes that might only have a couple of cars in it. Still, all the classes should get a decent amount of coverage.

Finally, the LMPC (Le Mans Prototype Challenge) class seems to be getting the shaft from ESPN. The racing in the class is actually pretty good, but all we hear about is the lack of experience in the class and how either the drivers or the cars themselves cause problems for everyone else. Its really kinda sad. The guys that drive in that class are experienced racers like everyone else out there. The cars themselves probably don’t put heat into their tires fast enough, but they’re a pretty quick package when you sit down and think about it.

I thank you for reading this critique of ESPN 2’s coverage of the Tequila Patron Grand Prix of Long Beach. Check out next week’s edition of the Annex, when I’ll take a look at Top Gear’s NASCAR adventure, set to premiere Monday night on BBC America. Until then, enjoy the racing this weekend from Richmond, Sao Paulo and Homestead.

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