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Broadcast tough for rookies to follow

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003

NASCAR and Champ Car are two entirely different breeds of racing, and so are the television productions of their races.

The most noticeable difference was the use of on-board cameras. It didn't take long for viewers to feel the speed of Champ cars, and the early shots from behind the steering wheel were quite stunning.

Unfortunately, it also made following the race more difficult, as did the multiple turns and quicker pace. Following the leaders during NASCAR telecasts is easy; Champ Car, not so much.

The quick turns and focus on the battles for position other than first made following the race and its rhythm impossible, at least for a novice. It was even a little dizzying. The battle between Michel Jourdain Jr. and Bruno Junqueira for second dominated the final portion of the telecast, for those who stuck around.

Speed Channel did a fine job bringing viewers the pictures of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, its announcing team was good enough, but conveying what little drama was left after Paul Tracy seized control was not a strong point.

Other thoughts and observations from the telecast:

INFO, PLEASE: The on-board cameras were great, but a small graphic identifying which car viewers were riding with would have been nice. Sure, after a while it was easy to figure out, but why make viewers work for it?

INTO THE FENCE: Mario Haberfeld and Jourdain Jr. fought for inside position and almost caused an accident early, and announcer Bob Varsha and analyst Tommy Kendall immediately blamed Haberfeld.

In fact, they jumped on Haberfeld a few times during the race, and after he prevented another car from passing, Varsha said, "Haberfeld has been driving those mirrors all day long."

But when pit reporter Derek Daly interviewed Haberfeld in the pits afterward, he tossed him softballs about the incidents.

ONE MORE TIME?: Speed Channel replayed the Haberfeld-Jourdain Jr. near-collision ad nauseam.

GREAT TRACK, CITY: Pit reporter Scott Pruett praised the track, saying unlike many other tracks it gave the drivers room to pass. And some of the shots from the race showed St. Petersburg in all its splendor. It was so nice a day, and the shots so beautiful, even Tropicana Field looked good.

NOT SO FAST: After focusing on Junqueira's pit stop, Speed Channel cameras turned away when Junqueira's crew yelled, "Go! Go! Go!" Unfortunately, that meant they missed the action when the crew yelled "Stop! Stop! Stop!" because Junqueira's right rear tire wasn't secured. LAYMAN'S MAN: The telecast lacked a voice such as Larry McReynolds or Darrell Waltrip, who explain technical information rather than just throw it out. GOOD CALL: Varsha questioned the decision to leave leader Sebastien Bourdais out of the pits, and it ended up costing him the race.

TOUGH GUYS: If the on-board cameras are any indication, it obviously takes more driving skill on the Champ Car circuit than NASCAR. Shots of the blisters on Ryan Hunter-Reay's hands (from controlling an ever-quaking steering wheel) and Varsha's stat that the drivers will do 3,100 shifts in the 105 laps bore that out.

INCOMPLETE PASS: Speed Channel missed too many good live shots, including when Tracy moved into first. The gaffe followed Tracy's attempts to pass Jourdain for second, which were chronicled extensively. But when he finally got by, viewers never saw it. CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR: Varsha said the race was an attempt to show St. Petersburg is a new town in the effort to shake its sleepy image. While he correctly noted the downtown development, his statement that it was home to the Bucs was either wrong or meant in the broader, Tampa Bay sense.

BEST PLUG: As Tracy did his victory doughnuts, Varsha noted that Alex Zanardi did them first, and that he was probably home in Italy watching, because Speed Channel's broadcast was being shown in 190 countries. Well done.

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