Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 92- Edmonton Indy

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming available to us race fans. I was originally planning to cover the Izod IndyCar Series race from City Centre Airport in Edmonton, Alberta in this week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. Unfortunately, life got in the way. After Toronto was back on ABC, the NBC Sports Network crew was back on hand for the high elevation challenge. Also, with TNT’s Summer Series now over, Wally Dallenbach, Jr. was back in the booth, replacing the now-unretired Tommy Kendall.

IndyCar Central started off with a look at Ryan Hunter-Reay’s run of three consecutive wins before briefly interviewing him. There was a strange technical issue during said interview that I would describe as being like a record skip. A short segment repeated itself multiple times. Very weird.

There was a new ProfessorB feature on the return of “Push to Pass” to the Izod IndyCar Series. Now, since they’re using 2.2 liter turbocharged engines, the system is quite a bit different now. Jon Beekhuis describes the system with the help of the Lotus-HVM team.

Another piece followed Scott Dixon and his wife, Emma as they were training. Emma is a former world class runner for her native Great Britain (a nugget that I did not know prior to the feature airing) and she talked a bit about her past career. We also spent some time with the Dixons at home with their daughters.

During some downtime, Emma describes her emotions at the track (for lack of better words, she’s a complete pile of nerves) and how watching the race is a rush for her much like competing was. This was interesting to watch. To be honest, I’ve gotten on IndyCar’s TV partners in the past for paying a little too much attention to the driver’s wife (Ex: Ashley Judd getting interviewed when Dario Franchitti wins), however, Emma doesn’t strike me as an attention hog. Although this feature may have mostly been about Emma, Scott played a fairly substantial role as well. Viewers saw that the Dixon family most definitely lives a very healthy lifestyle (personally, I couldn’t imagine drinking some of those…things they were drinking now, let alone when I was a little kid).

There were also plenty of interviews to go around. There were seven normal driver interviews, plus an interview with car owner Michael Andretti. Robin Miller added a few more during his Grid Run. Noted that NBC Sports Network seems to assign cameramen in similar shape to Miller (albeit younger) to work on the Grid Run. That’s not in any way a critique of anything, just an observation.

Race coverage was quite decent. Without cautions, there weren’t any breaks from on-track action during the 75-lap event. Despite the fact that the race appeared to spread out substantially, NBC Sports Network did an excellent job bringing action for position to the viewers. This action was shown throughout the field, not just at the front.

However, almost the entire final third of the race was focused in on Helio Castroneves and Takuma Sato and their kinda-sorta battle for the lead. The only reason why I say that is that Sato never really got close enough to Castroneves over the final 27 laps to really do anything with him. So, viewers were treated to a Push-to-Pass battle in which Sato never got closer than a half-second behind. Part of the reason why Castroneves won was the fact that he ran Sato out of Push-to-Pass.

I’d be hard pressed to believe that there was that little action in the final third of the race, to be honest. I’m sure there was something afoot. However, I also have to note that since this race was in Alberta, perhaps the NBC Sports Network weren’t the ones ultimately in control of the cameras. This has been true in the past, especially in Toronto for ABC’s broadcasts.

The final portion of the race was near complete anticlimax, even in the commentary provided by Jenkins, Dallenbach and Beekhuis. That’s just a shame, simple as that. Prior to that time, there was plenty to talk about on track. There was lots of passing, banzai moves, moves that looked good, but ultimately didn’t pan out, etc. During that portion of the race, the booth was perfectly fine. Yes, our trio was at the track in Edmonton, unlike events like Sao Paulo earlier this season, but I’m unclear as to whether they had control of all the cameras during the race itself.

Since the race ran caution-free, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. NBC Sports Network came prepared. Viewers were treated to ten post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with John Erickson, Castroneves’ winning Strategist. There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before NBC Sports Network reached the end of their timeslot.

Next up for the Izod IndyCar Series is Mid-Ohio in a week and a half. However, TV-wise, we’ll have a very unusual situation there. Mid-Ohio is scheduled to be one of the races that ESPN will televise on ABC. However, its also a split weekend for NASCAR. The Sprint Cup Series will be at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, while the Nationwide Series is making their second trip to Iowa. ESPN already has to send out two broadcast crews to cover races that weekend and their resources are spread too thin. As a result, an unusual deal has been reached that will see NBC Sports Network’s production and broadcast crew work at Mid-Ohio. As a result, instead of Marty Reid calling the race, you’ll hear Bob Jenkins (Reid will be in Iowa). I believe this will be Jenkins’ first appearance on an ABC broadcast in nearly a decade. I’m sure plenty of Izod IndyCar Series fans that are reading this right now will be happy. For me, this’ll be quite interesting to see if ESPN’s presence will change the way that the NBC Sports Network broadcasts work. However, since all three of NASCAR’s “National” series are in action that weekend, you’ll have to check back here on August 9th for a write-up about the telecast.

That’s all for this week. By popular demand, I’ll be covering the Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200 from Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards (man, that’s a mouthful) for next week’s Annex. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action in Indianapolis, and at the Hungaroring.

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