Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 96- GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming. On Sunday afternoon, once the craziness at Bristol Motor Speedway had wrapped up for the weekend (but apparently, not the traffic jams), the Izod IndyCar Series came back out to play at Sonoma Raceway in California.

As is the norm with NBC Sports Network’s telecasts, IndyCar Central led off the show. However, this edition of the show was a little different than normal. Some of the typical features, like “ProfessorB” and Robin Miller’s Grid Run were not included this week. Perhaps they’ll return in Baltimore.

What did make the show was the normal recap of the previous race (Mid-Ohio) and four pre-race interviews. The primary feature of the show had cameras go to meet up with Helio Castroneves at his house. Viewers were treated to shots of Castroneves interacting with his daughter, Mikaella and talking about his goals. Of course, this came after he showed off a couple of his take-home Borg Warner Trophies (nowhere near the size of the ginormous thing presented to the winner at the Indianapolis 500) and the crystal ball that he won on Dancing With The Stars (which he then promoted since he’s doing the All-Star season of the show after the season ends).

Since Sonoma Raceway had a somewhat revised layout for this season, NBC Sports Network went about showing this in two different ways. One was with the help of the new simulator, Simraceway. Wally Dallenbach, Jr. got into a sweet-looking pod and drove a simulated Dallara DW12 around the circuit. He was 13 seconds off the pace of the real cars, but seemed to really have fun with it. Simraceway appears to be a new competitor to iRacing and has an endorser in recent Izod IndyCar Series driver (and current contributor to Jalopnik) Alex Lloyd.

The other way the new configuration was shown off was via an in-car lap done in practice by J.R. Hildebrand. However, unbeknownst to some of NBC Sports Network’s viewers (but definitely knownst to me), race sponsor GoPro put this two minute clip on YouTube and it was being used as a commercial prior to videos all weekend. I suppose that’s a nice way to promote the race, the series and Hildebrand. However, I don’t recall it showing fans when the race was going to be on and where they could view it, which is a bit of an ongoing issue with the series. Being the complete YouTube addict that I am, I probably saw it 12-15 times before the race (mind you, the stuff I was watching had nothing to do with racing). It would play before almost every video I watched. Crazy.

With the first 64 (of 85) laps being run under green, NBC Sports Network’s race coverage was quite varied. Their coverage shifted between different parts of the field in order to be as complete as possible. Since Will Power managed to run away and hide from the rest of the field, this would have been one of the only ways that fans would have seen much passing.

One of the more interesting battles that was highlighted Sunday was a sweet fight for what I think was 18th between Sebastian Saavedra and Oriol Servia. The two drivers managed to go side-by-side all the way from Turn 11 to Turn 3a on the next lap. Since Sonoma’s on the Sprint Cup schedule, you likely know that it would mean they were side-by-side the entire run up the hill before Saavedra finally took the spot. That was a very nice battle, shown via the blimp view. If this race were on ABC with ESPN’s normal production crew for Izod IndyCar Series races, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have seen this.

While I am most definitely praising NBC Sports Network’s inclusiveness, I do need to draw attention to a couple of things. During the race, a fair amount of time was given to the fact that the series had gone 2.5 races without a full-course yellow (Jenkins pointed this out). A couple of the commentators, especially Robin Miller in the pits, were all but praying for a caution on-air. I find that a little unprofessional.

Speaking of Miller, he really doesn’t have all that much to do on these broadcasts outside of pre-race. I feel like the network made a mistake and removed the wrong person from the telecast. Unless he’s doing something silly, Miller doesn’t add anything to the race telecasts, despite his wealth of knowledge. They probably should have kept Lindy Thackston on as a pit reporter (last I heard, she’s working with Ed Carpenter Racing and their sponsor, Fuzzy’s Vodka, as some kind of Social Media Director).

Post-race coverage was actually a little frugal by NBC Sports Network standards. There were four driver interviews, plus an interview with the winning car owner (Roger Penske) prior to the telecast ending. The unofficial results were restricted to only the scroll, while Jenkins notified viewers of the points. No points graphic was shown post-race. Honestly, that was a bit of a letdown.

However, they did air footage of Ryan Hunter-Reay confronting Alex Tagliani and essentially asking him “What the Deuce?” after Tagliani dumped Hunter-Reay while battling for third. Getting Hunter-Reay on for an interview (he finished a lap down in 20th, so he was under no obligation to stick around longer than it took for him to swap his firesuit for trousers) was quite interesting, though. You could see the disappointment and frustration in Hunter-Reay during that short interview.

Overall, this was a pretty good race to watch, despite the fact that there really wasn’t all that much action up front. There was good action to be had all over the field, and the NBC Sports Network did a great job bringing that action to viewers. We’re better off for that.

I hope you liked this look at NBC Sports Network’s broadcast of the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Tune in next week for a look at the special, Catching Speed. This one-hour show, scheduled to air Sunday afternoon on ABC (here in the Eastern Time Zone, its scheduled to air at 2pm EDT, but check your local listings just to make sure), will follow around Clint Bowyer’s team during their race preparations. Until then, enjoy this weekend’s action from Spa, Atlanta and Baltimore.

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