Thursday, August 31, 2017
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Thanks, everybody, for joining today’s call. This Sunday, NBC Sports will present a live motorsports tripleheader on NBCSN from the world’s top racing series. It all shifts into gear at 7:00 a.m. eastern with the iconic F1 Italian Grand Prix from Monza and continues at one of the United States’ most iconic circuits, Watkins Glen, with the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen with coverage beginning there at 1:00 p.m. eastern.
Our tripleheader wraps up with NBCSN’s 1980’s throwback presentation of the NASCAR Monster Energy Series race at Darlington Raceway at 6:00 p.m. eastern, which will include retro themes, graphics, and the unforgettable stylings of the late 1980’s.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by lead Formula 1 and IndyCar play-by-play commentator Leigh Diffey, analyst and former F1 driver David Hobbs, analyst and former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy, and analyst and former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton, to discuss this weekend’s NBCSN triple header.
NBC Sports is the U.S. television home of motorsports, and viewership this season has echoed that sentiment. Both IndyCar and F1 are on pace to deliver their best cable seasons since NBC Sports Group acquired both properties in 2009 and 2013 respectively, and since the return of NASCAR in July, six of NBC Sports Group’s eight Cup Series races have ranked as the weekend’s top sports program.
In addition to all this, our lead F1 and IndyCar commentator Leigh Diffey is slated to perform a rare broadcasting feat this weekend. Diffey will call the F1 Italian Grand Prix on Sunday morning from the NBC Sports Group’s international broadcast center in Stamford, and then he will take a quick flight up to Watkins Glen in upstate New York in time, hopefully, to handle play-by-play duties for the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen.
We’ll take some opening statements from each guy here, and without further ado, I will hand it off to the man that’s going to do everything but fly the plane to Watkins Glen, Mr. Leigh Diffey. Leigh, go ahead.
LEIGH DIFFEY: Hi, and good afternoon, everyone. Yeah, this is really exciting. This is the second opportunity for me to do this, to do the double, to do the Formula 1/IndyCar double. Myself and Steve Matchett did it a couple of years ago after the Belgian Grand Prix and then the Pocono 500. So we know that it is doable.
However, it’s a pretty long day, considering that our morning start for F1 is at 3:00 a.m. when the wake-up call goes off. So it’s a long day, but it’s a really enjoyable day, and I feel really fortunate and really excited to be honest to be doing it again, given where both open wheel series are with the titles up for grabs. Obviously IndyCar is a lot closer to its ending than Formula 1 is with just two races left in the Verizon IndyCar Series and still eight more Grand Prix left on the Formula 1 side of things.
Both championships have been fascinating this year, and to be across both of them in the one day is very, very exciting. I haven’t done a lot of IndyCar this year just because of so many different clashes, so I’m looking forward to getting back with my old mates PT and Townsend Bell and the whole IndyCar group, and then I’ll be with the IndyCar group for the season finale in Sonoma, as well. Nothing other than really excited to be doing it.
DAVID HOBBS: Monza is one of the most iconic circuits in the world. Good afternoon, everybody. I think you’ll find that Monza this year will be a really tremendous event. We’ve had a championship struggle between the top two teams, Ferrari, led by Sebastian Vettel, and of course Mercedes led by Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes team just edged Ferrari in terms of Constructors’ points, and in the drivers’ championship Vettel leads Hamilton by just seven points going into this race. This will probably be the fastest race of the year, and we’ll see lots of speeds in excess of 150 miles an hour a lap, which when you consider there’s a 30 mile-an-hour hairpin thrown in there, it’s a pretty awesome track. It’s set in the old Royal Palace grounds just on the edge of Milan, so the teams’ wives have got plenty of places to go to high-end shopping and spend some of that hard earned dough that their husbands make. The championship has been a thriller right from round 1 in Melbourne, and as Leigh says, we’ve got eight races to go, including this one.
There are lots of other teams involved here, all of whom are looking for a share of that Constructors’ purse, one of whom, of course, is the Gene Haas team out of Charlotte. They are currently lying seventh in the championship, and it’s a very close run between them, Toro Rosso, and Force India. So it’s a very, very intense battle right through the field, and I think that Monza this coming weekend should be a fabulous all-around event.
PAUL TRACY: The way it’s shaping up right now, it’s been a battle between the Penske teammates and the lone Scott Dixon in the Ganassi team. Dixon had a good run last week, which nobody — I don’t even think himself, he expected to finish as well as he did. He has put himself back closer in the mix in terms of points, so as we come into the last two races from St. Louis, there’s just — there’s been a big change in attitude with both teams it seems.
There’s a lot of tension now in the Penske camp. Simon was very upset with the move that Newgarden made, and Will Power crashing out on the first lap, so he’ll be desperate to win the last two races.
Helio Castroneves, it’s his last season of IndyCar, 20 years trying to win a championship. Obviously he’s got to have some desperation to make something happen. This is his last crack at it for his career.
And then there’s the Target Chip Ganassi team. The last two races in a row, Chip has parked cars and pulled the drivers out of the cars at the end of the race to the disbelief of his drivers. So there’s unrest within that team to support Scott Dixon. So it’s going to be a very interesting two races, how it all plays out, inter-team rivalries, and how it shapes the championship.
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, well, this is always one of my favorite weekends. Darlington is to me — winning the Southern 500 was one of the highlights of my career. It’s such a hard race to win, such a difficult racetrack. Going there is just always really fun, exciting, and the throwback weekend, with all the old paint schemes and the teams have really gotten into it with the uniforms, and in some cases the retro hair styles and retro mustaches. It’s just such a fun weekend.
But then when you throw the battle for the championship on top of that, you’re starting to see Clint Bowyer has got himself in a position where he’s probably got to win to get in, Elliott, McMurray, Kenseth, they all can’t afford bad races. Joey Logano needs to win to get in; Erik Jones has brought the pressure the last few weeks, put himself in position to win. So those guys trying to get in, it’s a really, really big race. It’s a race where you can easily get into trouble, so those guys racing for points can’t afford to get into trouble, and then on top of that, you have people that are still earning points that they can use in the Playoffs, so there’s just so much on the line with two races left in the regular season and going to a very, very difficult racetrack with the excitement of retro weekend. It’s just a fun weekend, exciting weekend. I’m looking forward to getting it going tomorrow.
This is for David Hobbs. David, I don’t think silly season went the way that Fernando Alonso kind of expected it to be or hoped it would be, and none of those top rides look like they’ve opened up. David, do you think we’ve seen Fernando Alonso win his last F1 race?
DAVID HOBBS: Well, I think you’re definitely right that Fernando Alonso would have been bitterly disappointed two weeks ago when Kimi Raikkonen was confirmed as driving for Ferrari again because I really do think that he was hoping that a drive might appear there for him. The McLaren Honda has not performed anything like as well as it should have, and over the last three seasons, and even though Honda are making big noises about the car, the engine improving, I think it’s going to be very lucky for it to improve enough to win, and I think you might well be right, we may have seen Fernando Alonso’s last Formula 1 win, but I’m not absolutely convinced we’ve seen his last win because I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t find a way — if he really feels that he has no hope in Formula 1, which it kind of looks a bit that way at the moment — he’s obviously not going to go to Mercedes, he’s not going to go to Ferrari, and the McLaren-Honda does not seem to be performing as well, there’s talk of him going to Renault, but they are still struggling. They have to make some big improvements to win next year.
And he may well turn his talents to IndyCar, which of course he did earlier this year with the Indy 500, where he performed incredibly well and was certainly in with a chance until his Honda engine expired, much to his disgust no doubt.
Yeah, I think you may have seen Fernando have his last Formula 1 win, which is a great disappointment not only to him but to a lot of us fans because Fernando is one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers, was on track to win four or five championships, and he’s ended up with a mere two. Mind you, I’d take his two championships any time.
Leigh, you’ve had the opportunity to call all three series this year, and it was just pointed out, you’ve gone as far as calling two in one day. Your preparation or approach, does it change based on what series that you’re calling?
LEIGH DIFFEY: Not really, no, because you kind of — you do the same style of preparation — well, I do anyway, just myself. I do the same preparation for whatever I’m calling. That’s divided up into lead-up preparation and then what I call in-the-moment, like in-the-weekend preparation, and then it all leads up to doing the race.
And in addition to that, I’m doing rugby on Saturday, as well.
You just have to compartmentalize. You’ve just got to take it, whether it be series at a time or event at a time, but yeah, I mean, you’ve got to make sure you’ve done it on the front end, the homework and the preparation on the front end. But yeah, it’s just switching your brain at the time when it needs to be switched into which mode and which series. But I mean, I’m lucky, like you said, that I’ve worked on all three series this year, and I watch a lot of motorsports, because it’s not my job, it’s my passion.”. So yeah, looking forward.
But no difference in preparation. I mean, you’ve just got to grind it out. I always tell my kids, I do more reading and writing now than when I was in university.
Paul, you alluded earlier to Pagenaud’s frustration after Gateway where he said he lost both trust and respect for Newgarden. Today at a media luncheon, Pagenaud admitted his emotions got the better of him. Do you believe all is good between the teammates, or how might that play out, and also for David, in terms of the rivalry we’re seeing in IndyCar, if you can talk a little bit about what we’ve seen so far this year out of Hamilton and Vettel, if that’s kind of reached a different level, and for Jeff, maybe it’s talking about what we’ve seen out of Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson because they’ve certainly had some frustrations earlier this year. If I could hear from Paul first, please.
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think in the moment, obviously he was very frustrated. It was a — for sure it was a risky pass that Newgarden took. But the door was open, and it was barely enough to get through, and Newgarden said, okay, the door is cracked open just enough for me to get through, I’ll kick it open the rest of the way, and I don’t think Pagenaud liked that very well. He felt he had the move covered. He was frustrated after the race, and frankly he kind of gave the race away. He could have closed the door down a little bit more, but he left it just enough open for Newgarden to come through.
I think having looked at it in hindsight and having spoken to Newgarden this week, I had a conversation with him, and you know, they had a little bit of a — not an argument but a disagreement after the race, and he was reminded of the fact that he pulled the same kind of move on Power at Mid-Ohio the year before and hit him wheel-to-wheel and pushed him off the track for the win in the closing laps of Mid-Ohio. So he kind of had selective memory of some moves he made.
So I think having thought about it now for a week, he’s probably over it, and he knows he needs to win the next two races if he’s going to win the championship, and you’ve got to move on.
DAVID HOBBS: I would just like to add one thing to Paul’s comments there and to Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. Risky moves, surely that is exactly what racing is supposed to be about. I do think we have come to a bit of a stage in the last few years where risk is looked on with horror, and the fact is really that’s what it’s all about.
Now, to go back to Hamilton and Vettel, the last two years, the biggest talking point in the paddock has always been between Hamilton and his own teammate, Nico Rosberg, but this time the focus has changed a bit between the two protagonists, which is how it should be, and I don’t think there’s any bad blood there yet, but of course we’re getting down to a point where there certainly could be.
Now, we did see in Baku when they were behind the pace car, and Sebastian Vettel is normally the coolest, calmest and most collected guy that you could possibly find, but unfortunately in Baku, his dark side came out somewhat, and behind the caution car, he actually turned in to Hamilton’s car, which is not the sort of thing you see very often in Formula 1. And it displayed a chink in his armor, which I think that Hamilton will exploit as the fight continues down to the championship at the end of the year, which I’m sure it will do right to the last race in Abu Dhabi.
But I know that Hamilton now knows that Vettel is not entirely as cool and calm as he might seem to be.
JEFF BURTON: And listen, I think all these moments that you’re talking about are created by solid competition, by people that are digging hard, that are giving 100 percent, and that’s motorsports, and that’s what we’ve seen with Jimmie (Johnson) and Kyle (Larson). We’ve seen two highly competitive people that have been very close to each other on the racetrack, and Kyle Larson is trying to — although he’s been in the sport for a while, he hasn’t been in a position to win a lot of races, and to be running in the front as much as he has this year, so he’s trying to figure out how that works, and he’s pushing some buttons, and that’s what his job is. His job as a young driver is to go push those buttons and figure out what is too far, and Jimmie’s job is to keep him from doing it. I think it’s just a natural, natural thing that you see.
I think as the playoffs ramp up and you get to those moments that happen at key moments within the three-race segments, then tempers could flare because now much more is on the line. Certainly it looks like to me Kyle and Jimmie still have some things that they don’t feel like they have worked out, but that’s motorsports. That’s racing, and that’s what you’re going to see when you have really, really fierce competition.
For PT and Jeff, with Josef Newgarden in IndyCar and then with this whole wave in NASCAR, whether it’s Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, William Byron, what have you, Erik Jones, there’s been a whole rash of young drivers kind of emerging on the scene. How impressed are you guys with how this kind of young generation has done thus far this year, and were either of you guys ever impacted negatively when say a young guy came in the sport and you saw what they were able to do?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I’ll start. Listen, I think that every retired driver can easily say that young drivers came into the sport that impacted them because that’s the natural progression. Richard Petty doesn’t drive anymore in Cup. Mario Andretti doesn’t drive anymore. As you advance into your career, there’s — the great thing about being a race car driver is everyone always wants your job, and there’s people that are working hard to take it. There’s people that are working hard every single day to bring the fight to you, to take those wins from you, to displace — not necessarily out of malice, but that’s what you do. You go compete. You go try to take the win from people, and when you get to a certain point in your career and you’re not winning as much, well, then it’s much easier to be replaced, and it’s also much easier even if you’re not replaced to raise your hand and say, you know what, I’m not getting it done anymore, it’s not as much fun to me anymore, and I’m going to go do something else, and that’s the way it is. That’s just the way it is. And if you’re not willing to accept that, that that’s the way it is, then you’d better just don’t get involved, because it’s the way it is now. It’ll the way it’ll be tomorrow. It’s the way it’ll be the day after that. It’s the very essence of racing.
You know, you don’t have a lot of 60 year olds racing. Younger guys come with talent and skill, willingness to do things that an older guy isn’t willing to do, and that’s just the natural progression.
PAUL TRACY: Yeah, I mean, to go back to Newgarden, you know, he’s not new to the series. He’s been around for four or five years now, and when he first came in to the series with Sarah Fisher, I knew right away just watching him on track that he was a tremendous talent. He had a lot of talent, a lot of speed. He was brave, and I had said a couple years ago when he was driving for Fisher and the team was folding — about to go on the brink of folding up, I said, you know, publicly in an interview that somebody like Penske or Ganassi needs to give this kid a chance because he’s the real deal, and it didn’t happen at that point, and he got picked up by Ed Carpenter, and he obviously had a great couple years with him, and then really started to kind of come into his own in terms of the speed and got some wins last year.
You know, there’s no question that — you know, and I had a meeting with Roger Penske last week. We sat down, Townsend Bell and myself and Kevin Lee, and I said to Roger, I said, this kid is like — he’s the whole deal. He’s American, he’s good-looking, he’s fast, he’s brave as hell, he gets all the sponsors in, he goes to all the sponsor events and loves doing it. He moved down to the shop. He’s in the shop every day with the guys. He’s with his engineers at dinner. He’s everything that you would want as a driver, and Roger completely agreed with me. He goes, ‘I haven’t had a guy in a long time that has integrated himself into our team as quickly as Josef has done in six months.’
Jeff, how have you viewed this throwback platform? Have you seen a platform around one race generate interest like this before in your time at NASCAR, and how tough do you think it’s going to be to keep it going as we get where it’s not so novel anymore?
JEFF BURTON: Yeah, you know, other than like with Indy the first time or something that was brand new, I don’t know that there’s been anything like this, that’s been received like this. The reaction from the fans when you’re at the racetrack and you see the enthusiasm like that, you can see it. It’s real. And even bringing in Ned Jarrett, bringing that group in to call the race, Ken Squier, I mean, that’s — the first time we did that, I got home, and the next day my phone just wouldn’t quit ringing. Like that was so cool for people to hear those voices. It’s brought a tremendous amount of energy to an already historic race.
As far as keeping it going, you know, I want to believe that there’s enough history in the sport that there’s enough things to celebrate about the history of the sport and that can keep it going. We’ll see, as we all know, things to die off in enthusiasm, but I think there’s enough generations and enough periods in the sport where times were different that you can celebrate that, and we’ll see as time goes on, but I think it can continue.
How much are you looking forward to the Miami Vice garb?
JEFF BURTON: It’s been the highlight of my year, yep. I told them I could just dig a Van Halen shirt out of my drawer, and that’s all you’ve got to do, a pair of jeans and Van Halen shirt and I’d fit right in, but they wanted Miami Vice, so that’s what we’re doing.
Steve Letarte has said in interviews he’s raiding Rick Allen’s closet to borrow some 1980’s garb. Can you give us a sneak peek at what you might be wearing during this throwback weekend?
JEFF BURTON: I believe the whole booth is Miami Vice themed. I believe that’s what we decided. Now, I will tell you there’s been many times we’ve discussed the throwback closing, and to be — they changed only at the last minute knowing that I wouldn’t wear what they delivered to me, so we all agreed to Miami Vice, but we’ll see if that’s what actually happens.
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