A media conference call was held today to discuss ESPN on ABC’s live telecast of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27, beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Participants on the call were ESPN vice president, motorsports, production, Rich Feinberg, along with the three members of ESPN’s booth for the telecast: lap-by-lap announcer Marty Reid and analysts Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever. This is the 48th consecutive year that the Indianapolis 500 will air on ABC.
RICH FEINBERG: For our production team, we are really looking forward to this weekend. Many months of work behind the scenes in developing our plan and our strategy to cover this year’s 500 as we enter into a new era with the new cars and hopefully developing some new stars. As has been ABC’s tradition and ESPN’s for many, many years, we plan on introducing several production and technical innovation firsts in this year’s telecast, which we hope will provide some compelling pictures and sounds and storytelling for our fans. Of the 33 cars in this year’s Indy 500, somewhere between 10 and 12, I suspect by the end of today we’ll know it’s going to be 12, of the cars will be wired with our new HD in-car camera systems. On the new DW12 chassis, we’ve been able to work with Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IZOD IndyCar Series and the chassis developers to install four cameras on every car. If we achieve our goal of 12 cars, that would be 48 onboard cameras, which is a first in terms of volume for us. Additionally some interesting things about those in-car camera systems. For the first time all the cars that have systems will offer our viewers driver shots which we’ve not been able to do in many, many years.
We’re also introducing what we call dual path technology, which allows viewers to see both the driver’s perspective and the driver driving simultaneously at the same time. That technology has never been used in IndyCar racing and we’re excited to debut it at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Additionally we plan on using within the telecast Ultra Hi motion cameras that shoot at a frame rate of one thousand frames per second. This should offer some compelling views for our fans and viewers in ultraslow motion of key moments in the race and on the track. We’ve never used those before as well. A lot of exciting new technology. We are exuberated by what we think will be great story lines in the race. I really think that we’re in good shape this year to offer a wonderful telecast for all our fans.
MARTY REID: It doesn’t seem possible that this will be my seventh time at the anchor chair for our broadcast coverage. Believe me, it never escapes me how much a privilege that is and the responsibility that goes with it for all of us. What Rich was saying, we’ve been literally for weeks, especially last week, we went through the entire broadcast from last year and we’ll be changing some things that I hope the viewers will like and find interesting. As far as the race itself, what a difference a year makes. We were talking on our conference call yesterday. Here is Ryan Hunter-Reay a year ago doesn’t qualify. Mike Conway was an Andretti Autosport driver doesn’t qualify. This year Ryan Hunter-Reay is on the front row.
Plus the new cars, the way they are gripping the track, the fact that we’ve seen a lot of ability to draw up under the draft, how much passing will we really see during the race. One of our big questions that we’re still trying to get our arms around is who really is going to have the best fuel economy in this race. So there’s literally dozens of story lines that we’re focusing on and getting ready for. Obviously looking back from last year, we’ll remember Dan (Wheldon) in one of our features, JR Hildebrand, who had 799 perfect turns and, unfortunately, the last one wasn’t quite the one he wanted. Stories like that for the prerace that are hopefully going to make viewers want to stay with us. The goal is still the same as always. When we get to the end of the broadcast that viewers at home are saying, Wow, that was time well spent.
Q – Marty, you just mentioned fuel strategy. How challenging does that become for the booth when strategy and fuel stops become an integral part of the race and you guys having to sort of predict what a team is thinking and how they’re striving for things to shake out?
MARTY REID: Well, last year, if you remember, it was pretty easy for us because we had so much experience with the Honda engine that we knew how far everybody could go.
Right now we’re seeing a lot of different ranges and we’re hearing some teams are able to lean the motor out a little, get a little better mileage. We’ve already seen in some of the early races where Penske has been able to go farther. But that was all road course. What’s going to happen on the oval?
As far as the technical side of it, I’m going to let my good colleague Scott and Eddie take care of that.
Scott, why don’t you go through some of the things you’ve been working on this week trying to help us all figure it out.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: The thing we’ve been finding out, there seems to be a discrepancy what the Chevrolets will get fuel mileage-wise and at Honda engine. I’m not clear in speaking to the managers of the teams of various powerplants that they have certain numbers in their mind of where they’re going to be. We’ll probably see more of that answered Friday on Carburetion Day on the final practice.
That being said, I think it’s still going to be a moving number as the race progresses because we do expect these cars to run in packs, and when that happens the driver does not have his foot on the throttle all the time, so he’ll be saving fuel at that point in time along with the adjustments they have inside the car with the fuel trim. They can cut back on percentage.
There again, the teams had not been told by the manufacturers what fuel settings they would have. Obviously they’ll have 100% fuel, which is race fuel. They will have a lean setting for the yellow flag conditions behind the pace car, then they’ll have a few more. But they had not been told at that point in time what those will be.
That all said, it is a moving number in the race. Even though somebody may change their strategy at the beginning of the race, that is in play if it all goes, for instance, green. But if there’s a yellow later on, then their strategy will change. Maybe it will play in their favor, maybe it won’t.
It’s fun to watch it, fun to follow. But it comes down to maybe the last two stops to sort of see where everybody’s at with their fuel mileage. We’ll have to watch that because it will be a moving number as it goes.
Then again, we don’t know if they’ve taken a full load of fuel on or if they are short filling as we call it.
Eddie, I’ll let you add if you would like to because you and I have talked a lot about this and this year it’s unknown and probably a little bit unpredictable.
EDDIE CHEEVER: I agree with everything Scott said. I would just like to add one very simple thing, it’s uncertainty. I don’t think anybody can sit down, any team, not even a team like Penske right now, and work out a plan knowing with certainty what’s going to happen with these new cars, new engines, fuel strategy, what happens when you’re in a pack.
I think all things being equal, if there are no mechanical failures, the driver that will be in the best position to win will be the one that has the quickest minds in his pits changing the strategy to adapt to what the track is throwing at them throughout the race.
The race could change in five laps. A yellow could fall in the wrong place. It’s going to be very tricky from a strategic point of view to be able to make decisions that will pay dividends on the last pit stop.
Q. – How does that affect you three in the booth? If decisions are being changed tactically, things can shake up, how are you able to keep track of it and follow it and make sure that you’re conveying exactly what is going onto the audience?
MARTY REID: Well, we have people in the production trailer that are keeping track of what numbers are coming in. We also do it to a degree up in the booth with our stats man, Russ Thompson. We basically jot down what each team is getting that’s running up front at the time.
Then, as Scott said, as the race progresses, it really becomes for us this year studying lap times. Because if we can tell that somebody is saving some fuel because they’re going three miles an hour slower, then that’s the part that will become tricky for all of us, and that’s where our pit reporters will come in because they’ve built those relationships.
Quite honestly one team has told me what they think they will be able to get, but it’s on the basis that I can’t use it until after the last pit stop. If we get in that window and it comes into play, well then we’re going to have some inside information that nobody else has right now. Please don’t ask me to tell you what it is because I can’t.
But if it works out, a yellow can change that. You get inside that window they’re talking about, that number’s out the door and it means absolutely nothing.
But that’s going to be the trick for us. From my standpoint, I think from Scott and Eddie’s, it’s going to be fun. It’s a challenge. That’s part of what we do that is so much fun, is trying to sort all this out so that the viewer at home, both the avid race fan and the casual viewer, because this is the one race a year where we will have so many people that will tune in for this particular event.
We want to make sure they’re not sitting there scratching their heads going, I have no clue what’s happening right now.
Q. – Eddie, I have a two-pronged question about somebody not in this year’s race. First time in seven years that Danica Patrick won’t start the Indy 500. First for Eddie and everybody, does it seem any different not to have her this year when you approach that story line during the race. A question for Rich, would you expect the TV ratings to change given that she’s not in this year’s race?
EDDIE CHEEVER: You can tell there’s a difference in the paddock. Danica brought a lot of interest from people that were not really involved in racing. I think she did some amazing things at her time that she spent in IndyCars.
When you’re at the racetrack and you’re watching the Go Daddy car go around the track, it’s doing pretty well right now. So I think from the purely emotional part of being involved in following a car, that team picked up where it left off, and it’s doing very well.
I personally, my daughter follows Danica Patrick, no matter what she’s doing, whether she’s racing here or somewhere else. But there are a lot of very talented drivers in IndyCar, many of which are females that are doing very well, and I think the series will just pick up and keep on going forward.
RICH FEINBERG: Last year, the Indy 500 was the highest rated one we had since 2008. Going into this year, we hope we have some momentum. You know me well enough that I give myself some good career advice and avoid predicting ratings, so I’m not going to speculate on what our numbers will be this year, but we are happy we’re coming off a year where we saw some substantial growth since 2008.
In terms of the Danica story, not being there, we will address it. It’s not something we’re going to avoid. If you watch real, real closely to the prerace, you will see a brief cameo appearance in this year’s telecast by Danica, which she was happy to do for us and we think we’ll have some fun with our viewers.
Q. – The Batcam. Can you explain what that is? Eddie, Marty and Scott, the Penske dominance thus far this year.
RICH FEINBERG: The Batcam is a technology that the only racetrack we use it at throughout the year in our coverage of motorsports is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because of the spectacular views it offers our fans.
On the technical side, what it is, is a high-definition robotic camera that’s mounted to a cable and can, through motion control, be zoomed, if you will, up and down that cable up to speeds of 80 miles per hour.
The location of the camera this year, it will go from turn one all the way down the frontstretch, past the pagoda, past the start/finish line, and it ends up just on the north side headed towards turn four of the suites that are inside the track there.
So we can use it for beauty shots, crowd shots. We can use it to document pit road because it literally flies over pit road and a portion of the racetrack. We can also use it for coverage as the cars are coming down the frontstretch headed towards turn one. It’s an exciting shot, unique to that racetrack, and offers some glorious views of the pageantry of the Indianapolis 500.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: There’s no doubt that Penske has done a terrific job, as we would expect them to, with a new car and their engineering expertise they’ve had.
But maybe the question might be better answered by saying that, you know, we probably really have seen a Ganassi team that has been off the mark with this new car since the beginning of the year. If they were their usual self, as they’ve been for the past few years, would Penske be as dominant with poles and wins as they have so far this year?
That being said, walking around the garage area right now, if you go back a year ago, everybody was it was going to be Ganassi was the strong team, et cetera, et cetera, as they always have been here, and Penske, those are going to be the teams to watch in the race no matter where they qualify because they race so well here.
This year the tide has turned. Marty had mentioned about what a difference a year makes and that tide is now shifting toward everybody in the garage area thinking it’s going to be an Andretti Autosport car that wins here this weekend because they seem to have good racecars. Obviously qualifying great, some dominant runs and some full-tank runs that those guys have done have been very impressive.
We’ll be interested to see if everybody can raise themselves up to the Penske level. Which Penske was just as strong as they were last year. I think everybody has sort of been a little bit slow off the mark this year, especially Ganassi.
EDDIE CHEEVER: I think what you’ve seen with this new car, it’s helped a lot of younger, new teams, lesser teams that don’t have the resources that the Ganassis and the Penskes do, and young drivers that have no preconceived ideas whatsoever about this new equipment.
The young drivers have done an incredibly good job through the month of May of breaking through into the top three rows, where before it would not have been possible. So this new car has created an opportunity for a lot of people.
Addressing what you said about Penske. After a 10-mile qualifying run, I think Marty told me that the difference between the first and the second car was nine inches. That’s nothing. That is absolutely nothing. So this is a brand-new day for IndyCar racing.
I was just counting the number. There’s nine American drivers, six of which have a real chance of winning the race. So Penske is going to have to work very hard to pull through a win this weekend. It’s not a slam-dunk like it has been the last three or four years having the race just between Penske and Ganassi. This is really an open race in more than one way.
Q. – Rich, I was wondering if you could give us some more details on how you’ll handle the Dan Wheldon story. Can you go into more detail about that.
RICH FEINBERG: We’re going to air a tribute to Dan that celebrates his life and certainly touches upon the thrilling victory that he achieved in the hundredth, centennial anniversary, of the Indy 500 last year. We’ll also touch on the tragedy of Las Vegas. For many viewers, and for the sport, this is the first time we’ve seen oval racing, not only in these cars, but since the tough events and horrible events of last year’s Las Vegas race.
The feature is a touching tribute to him. It’s not meant to be an analytical breakdown of what happened in Las Vegas, but much more celebrate his life. It includes an exclusive interview and sit-down that we did with his wife Susie Wheldon.
Q. – Does the race itself plan to do something right before the green flag?
RICH FEINBERG: I don’t want to trump our colleagues over at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I don’t know to what degree they’ve announced the details. But there is a tribute planned in the prerace ceremony, and we certainly plan on covering that and offering it for our viewers to experience.
Q. – Rich, can you talk about the challenges of always trying to incorporate history and tradition with like what is happening with the sport? This particular event is so traditional and maybe no other sporting event in the country all year long needs to incorporate that aura of tradition and history like this event. Some of the challenges you face every year making sure people know this has been going on for a long time. Just your thoughts on that.
RICH FEINBERG: Welcome to my world, what we lose sleep over the past few months.
We spend a lot of time internally discussing and candidly having some heated debates on what the balance between history, tradition and the stories and the stars of today. I think the best way I can describe it is that we try to touch on all.
We are well-aware that the Indianapolis 500 is a very special event. We consider it the world’s largest single-day sporting event, based on the number of fans that attend the race, yet it also had a long, storied tradition. We all know, Eddie can speak to this much better than I can, when you win at Indy, you become part of that tradition and you’re always referred to as an Indianapolis winner and to some degree your life can change going forward.
What we try to do as we paint our canvas for our fans is touch on a little bit of everything, touch on the history, touch on the details of the competition, the new car, the fascination of drivers risking it all at over 225 miles an hour lap after lap after lap and the focus and the concentration that it takes.
And then at the same time, we want to modernize the presentation and focus on the stars and the stories of today.
So it’s a fine balance. Hopefully the result of our internal discussions and formatting, as I said earlier, debates, results in something that offers all three flavors to our fans.
Q. – Scott or Eddie, speaking of tradition, seems like it would be real good for tradition and a lot of other reasons if like Marco Andretti would win this thing. Just your thoughts on his chances in this race. He came so close a couple times. It would be a great boost to his career and a boost to the circuit if he gets a victory on Sunday.
SCOTT GOODYEAR: I ran with Michael for many years, as Eddie did. I would put it in two fronts.
Number one, as I mentioned previously, everybody believes that Andretti has excellent cars here, not only just to be able to go fast, but also to be able to run in traffic. And the confidence of the team, the change in the team from a year ago, it just seems like they’re all working well together and sharing information, from what they tell me, and moving forward.
They have obviously been very competitive. I think James Hinchcliffe joining on there has really raised the level of their game. Obviously a lot changes within the team from last year, moving people around, different people on cars and engineers, so they’ve changed a lot. Michael is continuously doing that.
But the comment that I thought was very interesting in the last couple of days from Marco when he was asked a question in the press room, maybe not surprised with his answer, but they asked him, What’s your shot here? He said, I honestly feel this is my best shot to win the Indianapolis 500 because I have some experience here, some heartache, but he said just the way the team is running and firing on all cylinders. I think he’s got a great shot at it.
Overall, these new cars, just quickly, running in packs as they are, all the drivers are saying the same things. I’ve run in packs of minimum of two, up to four to eight, maybe as many as 10, 12 we’ve seen. But they all believe that no one is going to run away with this race because these cars are punching a larger hole in the air going along because they just seem to be a little larger. And what that does is it allows the cars to draft up behind easier, but then they’re not being able to pass as easy.
So we believe we’re going to see a lot of wheel-to-wheel battles going into the turn. When you do that, turns become very confrontational. As you know, it’s not like Texas or something that you can run side-by-side.
The other side of that, the drivers are saying the timing of your pass is crucial because these smaller displacement motors, 2.2, these six cylinders with a turbo, if you take your foot off the throttle, you lose your momentum and it takes a while for the turbo to spool back up and to bring the power back. So if you miss-time your pass coming out of a turn or going down the straight, you have to breathe the throttle, take your foot out of it, you probably will be passed by two or three people.
The selfish side of me hopes that we actually see a restart about five or eight laps left to go because I think we’re going to see a wild finish and some wild running all the way through the event.
EDDIE CHEEVER: I want to pick up on your point of Andretti winning. I could not agree more, that that would do a lot for his career and for the series in general. But if you go through the list of all the American drivers that are competing in the Indianapolis 500 this year, I cannot remember a time when you had as many as you have now that have a genuine opportunity to be in that leading pack for that last restart.
Scott is 100% right. I would say the worst place to be in that leading pack on that last restart is the lead guy because you will have a pack of cars behind you, where if you so much as make a mistake by half a foot, five cars could pass you down two straightaways. So it’s going to be really difficult.
I think with something that many drivers, having that strong of a car underneath them, if they get to that last pit stop, it literally could be anybody’s race.
Q. – While the Indy 500 is still the Indy 500, the race did have trouble filling the field with a full 33 cars this year. What problems will that cause competitively and from a TV standpoint to not have a full-field? What problems would there have been if they couldn’t have done it?
RICH FEINBERG: I can’t speak for the sport. I would defer to the Indy Motor Speedway folks, folks from the IZOD IndyCar Series. From the production point of view, it wouldn’t have caused us any problems. However many cars are out there in the race, that’s what we’re going to cover.
Q. – Anything in the way of prestige or anything like that would have been lost?
RICH FEINBERG: I don’t know since that’s not the situation we find ourselves in.
Q. – Rich, how much has this event become a multi-platform viewing experience, especially with all the in-car feeds? Are a lot of them going to be available on ESPN3? How has this changed the way America follows this event?
RICH FEINBERG: This year will be the first time that ESPN will stream all the in-cars live on ESPN3. We will also allow users of that platform to listen in on the individual channels to the team radios.
I would say the idea of multiple platforms is one that is not unique to Indy. It’s something that we deal with every day here at ESPN. As producers and engineers and talent and storytellers, we prep our efforts and our process, then ultimately executing, we are constantly thinking about producing content for every screen, whether it’s tablets, whether it’s digital, whether it’s dot-com.
Recently, for example, we just released a bunch of Indy 500 greatest moments that are now available on the video carrousel on espn.com, so viewers can selectively go in and find the content that they’re interested in as we lead up to the race on Sunday.
It’s really the nature of ESPN’s business these days, not unique to the Indy 500.
Is it a challenge? I don’t think so. It might be a little bit more work, but it’s a creative outlet. When you’re thinking about acquiring all this content, refining it, putting it into presentation form for viewers, it’s a lot more interesting, quite frankly, day in and day out, to think about multiple platforms than just television only.
So it excites us. And I think that this year there will be more content available surrounding the Indy 500 than ever before.
Q. – In terms of the linear telecast, number one, what is this new, I guess, quad in-car camera system going to add to the telecast? Also, why is IndyCar providing such an amazing outlet to debut a lot of these production technologies that make their way into other sports coverage?
RICH FEINBERG: We think onboard pictures are something that is compelling for viewers, especially in a telecast like the Indy 500, where we believe more people are watching that race than normally watch other open-wheel competitions. It’s a holiday weekend in this country. I know growing up when I was done, after we got done with the barbecue, when the race was on tape delay, it was a tradition in our family to watch the Indy 500.
In terms of new technology, look, whenever we have a big show that we can try to offer new and creative and innovative elements for our presentation, that becomes part of our planning process throughout.
Over all the years I’ve done the Indy 500, work with the gentlemen on the call, I think it’s safe to say that as we are in our planning process, we are constantly talking about how we can up our game and offer a more compelling and exciting presentation this year than we did last year. And we’ll do it again next year.
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