By Dave Lewandowski
Bob Jenkins was struck by the perceived speed of the new IZOD IndyCar Series cars as they navigated the 1.67-mile Sebring International Raceway short course during testing earlier this month, and turned to relay the observation to a colleague on pit lane.
That was his second notification that the next-generation car-turbocharged engine package is certainly different from 2011.
“The first thing I thought of when I saw the new car on track was it looks fast, and that’s the way it appeared on TV, too,” said the veteran broadcaster, who will lead NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this weekend. “As far as the engines are concerned, that was the biggest surprise when I heard them because you could actually carry on a normal conversation with someone not far from the racetrack when the cars were going around.
“That will be more appealing to the race fan; it’s more like they were 10 years ago.”
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The re-branded NBC Sports Network (formerly VERSUS) enters its fourth season of a multi-year partnership, and its lineup features 10 IZOD IndyCar Series races in addition to qualifications and special programming.
Jenkins and analysts Jon Beekhuis and Wally Dallenbach Jr. will be on the air at 4 p.m. (ET) March 31 to call the three rounds of qualifications on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park. The pre-race telecast begins at 2 p.m. (ET) April 1.
Preceding the race day coverage will be the debut of “INDYCAR 36” (1:30 p.m. ET), which will feature Tony Kanaan.
As a TV viewer of the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25, the reliability of the Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines and the competition on the tight 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit stood out to Jenkins.
“My biggest fear was that there were going to be parts all over the racetrack on Sunday, engines were going to be blowing and, in fact, there was nothing like that and I’m very encouraged,” he said. “The fact that there are three engine manufacturers I don’t think it could be better for the series. Obviously, there’s going to be one engine that’s better than the other two – at least initially – and you have the top two teams with different engines — Penske with Chevy and Ganassi with Honda.
“All in all, it’s going to make for an interesting 2012 season.”
Complementing the booth announcers will be current IZOD IndyCar Series driver Townsend Bell, Marty Snider, Kevin Lee and Robin Miller on pit lane.
“Jon has just done an incredible job — as he always does — this past winter doing his homework and finding out all the nuances about the cars and regulations that are in effect this year,” Jenkins added. “Wally will be able to relate to what the drivers are thinking while in the battle.
“And at the meeting we had in Sebring, I was so impressed with Townsend and the questions he asked and his obvious interest in being good in the pit area. He’ll be a great addition to our team, and he’ll bring a different perspective as far as a driver being able to relate to what’s happening on the racetrack.”
An IMS Productions crew followed Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 GEICO | Mouser Electronics-KV Racing Technology w/ SH car, during the St. Petersburg race weekend for INDYCAR 36.
“This show will give viewers their first real opportunity to go behind the scenes with a driver – from riding in the car with them to the racetrack to their team meetings,” said Robby Greene, president and COO of IMS Productions.
The excitement and drama of the season-opening race is captured – along with the disappointment of completing only 21 of 100 laps because of an electrical issue.
“We are not really sure right now what it was or what caused it, but my dashboard just went blank and the car shut down,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Looking around, it is a beautiful day with everyone remembering Dan (Wheldon). It reminds you that there are a lot more important things in life than dropping out of a race.”
INDYCAR 36 also will be replayed three times during the week following each NBC Sports Network race.
NBC Sports Network also will televise qualifications and Carb Day activities from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Additionally, Firestone Indy Lights races will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network this year. The St. Petersburg 100 will be televised at 5 p.m. (ET) March 29. Mike King, Beekhuis and Jake Query are the announcers.