Sunday, March 25, 2018

Presentation Is Half The Battle

The 2018 Formula One season is now underway, with the season opening Australian GP being claimed by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. It was a mildly entertaining race, with storylines like the double retirement of Haas and an impressive drive by Fernando Alonso for a confidence boosting 5th place finish.
It was a great start to the season...unless you were watching ESPN's coverage here in the United States. My God, what the hell was that? When we heard that The Worldwide Leader bought TV rights to F1 here, we all knew it was probably going to be less than stellar, but the maiden voyage of this TV deal was such a far cry from the days of Speedworld that it was genuinely depressing.

At 12:30 EST, ESPN hit the air with "F1 On The Grid," a simulcast of Sky Sports' prerace coverage, because apparently hiring a host or two for homegrown coverage was just too expensive. The only problem was, Sky wasn't even on the air yet, so we at home got static shots of turn cameras and spectators in the grandstands for 10 minutes. It didn't take long for everyone watching to take to Twitter to express their rage.

Then, The Worldwide Leader just gave up and dumped to reserve programming, something called "E:60's Dominant 20." They claimed technical difficulties. Whatever.
 Look, it's bad enough you went to reserve programming, but it didn't even have anything to do with racing of any sort, let alone F1. Go to qualifying, have a season preview show from Sky on backup, DO SOMETHING. But they didn't.

So finally, the race went green and all seemed well. As awkwardly timed as the breaks were, at least they were in side by side.
Well, okay, that sucked too. No warning of when breaks were coming, no updates upon return. Missed retirements, restarts, replays. Imagine if something big had happened, like a crash or a retirement by a frontrunner, not only would it be covered up by 3 minutes of Super Beta Prostate commercials, we'd be at the mercy of wherever Sky happened to be in their breakdown of the event.

By the time the race ended, frustration with presentation had set in for many. The hard, awkward, sign-off free cut from the race to another 30 For 30 ( ESPN's 30th anniversary was 2009 btw...) made no sense either, and served only to antagonize viewers. 
Conspiracy theories emerged.

Look, I don't know much about producing television. My only experience in the game would either be in low power TV with equipment from the 80s, or my time in pro wrestling, with largely consumer grade equipment. But I was taught one thing that has stuck with me, and that's that presentation is half the battle. Sky provides wonderful, commercial free coverage for F1 fans across the pond. F1's camera work and presentation of races is world class to say the least. The pieces are there, and all ESPN has to do is put them together like a toddler with a Lego set. Take what you're given, and if you give a damn, hire a producer, hire an announcer, even if it's to emulate Bob Varsha for Formula E on FOX, bringing viewers back from break with a recap of anything missed. DO A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G besides what we saw last night. It came across as amateur, low grade, and just bad.
I know caring about motorsport hasn't been within Disney's character in the last 15 years, but what we got this weekend was embarrassing. It's just sad. All the growth that F1 may have seen in the US with NBC in the last 5 years may well have been Old Yeller'd in less than 3 hours by a company once known for providing the absolute best in motorsports television.
If presentation really is half the battle, this is one that ESPN will lose. And it's a damn shame. 
F1 fans deserve better.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Stray Observations: 2018 Firestone GP of St. Petersburg

Happy Happy, Joy Joy! After an eternally long offseason, the Verizon IndyCar Series is finally back and by the grace of God I've got the day off so I can watch.
I hope you've read my 5 things to watch for, because today's race is sure to be a banger.

This is the first installment in a new blog series, Stray Observations. We all have that inner monologue when watching a race. I've decided to share mine with you. Enjoy!

12:21- It's 9 minutes to air for ABC, and this broadcast couldn't come soon enough. There's an infomercial for MyPillow disguised as a talk show. It's unbearable .Google the MyPillow guy's story though, it's pretty riveting. Former crack addict turned self made success is the makings of a totally rad Lifetime movie. But he wrote a terrible jingle for his product.

12:28- Infomercial over, IT'S TIIIIIIIIIIIME!

ESPN On ABC Signature hits and I get that "Make me feel gooooood" feeling from Monster's Ball. THIS IS GONNA BE SO GOOOD. That ESPN IRL music STILL gets me excited like I'm 10 years old.

Jon Bheekius caressing the new car of Will Power. I wanna caress the new car too, Jon. Such a sexy beast.
The car puts the racing "Back in our era," says Scott Goodyear. Does this mean Little Al's gonna steal your job? Please?
Incidents from practice shown and the impressively large crowd pops for Helio in the background.
Baby Come Back plays in my head as 'Piderman clings to the fence for the command. Command given. Damn, this was a compact prerace.
I'm gonna get a non alcoholic light beer, opening day only comes once a year after all.
Josef Newgarden takes viewers for a ride around the course and I still believe the visor cam is scary as hell.
"Hinchcliffe has the Lucas Ayul on board." Never change, Allen Bestwick. I better hear your voice crack like a teenager this year.

Field to the green AND HEEEEEEERE WE GOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! Oh wait where's RHR?
And oh, there goes Tony. I guess the slump continues...Darn.
Replay of Power's spin. He hit kinda hard. Kimball goes off. Man, there's a lot to keep up with here. Yellow out.
Looks like TK experienced a Bash At The Veach, a heh, heh, heheheheheheheheheueueueheuehue, a hehhhhhh, heh, that was bad.
Power's team replaces the rear wing and ABC goes to break. OH BOY A MISSED RESTART!
Lap 7- Aaaaaaaaand Spigot goes around. Yellow again. This is gonna be one of  "Those" races!
ABC Profiling the rookies and uh. Did Scott Goodyear just take his headset off? Er. Uh. Okay, that was awkward. (ABC Went to break and almost immediately busted back in.)

Like anyone watching can afford an Alfa Romeo.
Restart and OH NOES! Rossi tags the wall! He's still making passes, so I guess his car's okay.
I'm impressed, 30 minutes into this race and no distracting plugs for network programming. It's like they figured out race fans don't watch The Bachelor. Oh wait....
Second time Scott Goodyear says the car is like those of old. I'm starting to think he's wishing he could jump into one.
Leist has a problem and my Lord, what a bad day for Foyt so far.
OOH, TIME FOR A WORD FROM MY ABC STATION!!! I just love WTVC ever since being purchased by *Shudder* Sinclair.
Lap 22- Hey wait when did the LED devices on the cars count pitstops? That's so cool, I just love new fangled technology.
Lap 25- I tell ya, Wicky's puttin' a hurtin' on these boys. I like it.
Oh, did I miss Bourdais' flat tire? I suck!

Lap 28- Ed Jones just got Power-Bombed. How was that not a crash?
Welp, there goes Leist. AAAAAND ABC MISSED IT. FUUU-
"I hope it's this nice where you are," says Allen Bestwick. Yeah, 53 and pouring rain while all my racing friends are in St. Pete, JUST RUB IT IN, RUUUUUB IT IIIIIIIN.
OOH, OOH, ROSEANNE PROMO!! WHOOOOOO JACKIIIIIIEEEEE I can't wait for that shit. Judge me all you want. I don't care.
 Formula 1 promo. My God, it's really happening. F1 back on ESPN. Allen Bestwick's laughter really weirds me out.

Lap 35- Welp, can't say I didn't see an incident coming between those two, Sato and Dixon.
Oh, shit, I didn't see one happening like that. Weird mistake for a former Champ to make.
 Scott Goodyear calls Marco "Michael." I guess he really is stuck in the past today.
Lap 40-UHHHH WTF Happened to Jack Harvey? Ooh, ooh, I got $5 on it that ABC missed it!
Yep. They missed it. And here I was praising ABC just 2 days ago in a blog I'll never post.
 My passing interest in American Idol makes me wonder if-aw who cares?

I should really, REALLY stop checking Twitter during races. It's awful.
Robert "Google Him, I Guess" Wickens is slicing like a hot spoon through a Cookiepuss today and it's beyond impressive.
Oh no, Bestwick, don't say "Cautions breed cautions," this isn't a stock car race on FOX.

"I wouldn't (be a crew member) for all the tea in China." I don't get it, would you want all the tea in China for its trade power or to drink? Help.

Rossi starting to chase Wicky down. Gonna be a "Hell of a race to the end," indeed, Sam Schmidt.

Is it just me or is it ALWAYS Lobsterfest at Red Lobster? I'm starting to think I'm being worked here.
ABC Missed pitstops, but has PLENTY of time to plug American Idol. Kill me.

OH NO, ROSSI! And barring incident, this one is going to Wickens. My, my, what a recovery though.
This, as the kids say, will be lit.
I can only imagine the swear words going around the SPM pitbox. Oh hey look there's Veronica.  HEY V, HOW YOU DOIN'?
We gon' have ourselves a shootout, boys and girls.
Green flag and spank my ass and call me Charlie, ain't this exciting?
This really has been a banger of a race, the hype for Wickens is real.
 Restart, 2 to go

As Jim Ross likes to say, that finish was bowling shoe ugly. But I liked it.
After last year, to see Bourdais get a win honestly gets me a little emotional. He's started with the same slate as last season, and no longer will we wonder what could have been. This year, we'll get to see it.

Takeaways from today:
Wickens is here and he's going to be a factor
Bourdais is back and just as good as ever
The new car is a hit, this race was damn near an instant classic

This one sure was a banger, eh? Well worth the offseason wait, and I'm glad I was off work to watch.

Time to watch the stock car race/take my afternoon nap.
Shall we do this again for Long Beach?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Spring Breakout: What To Watch @ St. Pete

     It's springtime; love is in the air, I'm spending less time pinned inside at the movies, and that candy commercial with Marvin Gaye and the chocolate bunny is devouring TV air time again. Life feels as if it's begun anew, and so too in the air will be the sweet smell of burning ethanol. Yes, bust out the grillin' meats, crack open a can of premium, non-alcoholic light beer, and let's get the party started, because after one of the longest off seasons in American sports, the Verizon IndyCar Series is finally ready to roar back to life this weekend. It's truly the most magical time of the year.
With the anticipation of a large rookie class, new teams, and of course the new car, 2018 is shaping up to be a banger, and it all starts this weekend under the sun in lovely St. Petersburg, Florida.
Many things have changed over this offseason, and here are just a few that stand out.

1. SPM/"Team Canada"
It was a point of great interest last fall when Schmidt/Peterson Motorsports announced Robert Wickens as the replacement to Mikhail Aleshin in the then #7 Honda. His proven background and enthusiasm for the team have fans eager to cheer him on even before his first official lap has been turned behind the wheel of the #6. His national pride, alongside that of teammate James Hinchcliffe are also a hit with fans north of the border, with the duo now being dubbed "Team Canada."
But popularity is only half the reason to keep an eye on SPM this season. The addition of Leena Gade to the team as Hinchclffe's chief engineer is the other. Her pedigree as a winner as an engineer in the 24 Hours of LeMans and the FIA WEC "Man Of The Year" award make her one of the sharpest minds in the paddock. Many believe Gade has what it takes to bring the #5 team to the top of the list of Championship contenders.

2. New Teams
New Blood is Rising in IndyCar, and not just behind the wheel. New teams are debuting full time efforts, while teams are growing and expanding their efforts at a rate not seen in years. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball left familiar rides at Ganassi to strap in with the budding Carlin IndyCar Series organization, Gabby Chavez and Harding have teamed back up for the team's first full time effort, and rookie Rene Binder will pilot the #32 for Juncos Racing this weekend in St. Pete. Look for these new teams to make a splash as the season progresses.

3. Ed Jones
 Perhaps the most captivating, under the radar story of last season was the performance of 2016 Indy Lights Champion Ed Jones, finishing on the podium at the Indy 500 and capturing the Series Rookie Of The Year honors. Did I mention this was all while his Dale Coyne Racing teammate Sebastien Bourdais was sidelined due to injury? Jones was tapped to replace Tony Kanaan at Ganassi for 2018, and one can only wonder what lies ahead for him as he climbs into the cockpit of one of the Series' highest quality rides.

4. Homegrown Stars
 In 2017, Josef Newgarden won 4 IndyCar Series races en route to his maiden Championship, and since then everyone wants a piece of the Team Penske racer. And why not? He's got the look, the attitude, and the skill it takes to be a sports megastar if everything continues to work out for him. But the Champ isn't the only American IndyCar driver with a shot to please the masses. How about 2012 Champ Ryan Hunter-Reay? What about Graham Rahal? And let's not forget what a hit Alex Rossi and Conor Daly were on The Amazing Race recently. (Although Conor, as of now, only has a ride for The 500.)
With the success of American stars being paramount to the regrowth of IndyCar racing, it won't be hard to notice heavy emphasis when one ends up in victory lane.

5. The New Car
 After 6 wonderful seasons, the DW12 body was retired from competition at the end of 2017. It's time now to see what the new car offers fans and drivers alike. With its sleek design almost serving as a call back to years past, many are wondering if it will do more than just look good. So far, testing has given great optimism and little skepticism to those uncertain of just what the racing will be like come Sunday in Florida. Thankfully we're not too far from finding out.

Now, let's get down to business and get the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season underway!