NBC’s Leigh Diffey prepared, focused, thankful ahead of F1/IndyCar Sunday double broadcast

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You often hear the term “double duty” in racing, particularly when it’s a driver or crewmember competing in two races on the same weekend.

You don’t often hear it in relation to broadcasting.

Yet that is exactly what’s ahead for NBC Sports Group broadcasters Leigh Diffey and Steve Matchett this weekend, who will call both the 11th round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the Belgian Grand Prix (7:30 a.m. ET, Sunday, NBCSN), and the 15th round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (2 p.m. ET, Sunday, NBCSN).

The weekend is something of a calendar nightmare from a logistical and staffing standpoint. Usual IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell and Brian Till, who’d filled in for Diffey at three prior F1/IndyCar direct head-to-head conflicts this year, are both on assignment at Virginia International Raceway for the TUDOR Championship event.

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Regan Smith beat Alex Tagliani to Mid-Ohio NASCAR Xfinity race win, in Diffey’s first NASCAR call. Photo: Getty Images

So what’s occurred is rather than bringing in another crew – as Diffey led from the broadcast side on NBC’s second NASCAR crew at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last weekend – a logistical plan has been established for both Diffey and Matchett to head from Stamford direct to Pocono and join the usual IndyCar broadcast and production crew at Pocono after finishing up with the F1 on NBC team.

After a week of venturing into the unknown with NASCAR, but providing extra enthusiasm to an already exciting Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio, Diffey is heading back home with both F1 and IndyCar.

“I feel incredibly privileged,” Diffey told MotorSportsTalk in a phone interview this week.

“This is my 20th year in television, and I have been given the opportunity to do a variety of things. I appreciate the faith from Sam Flood and Rich O’Connor to allow me to do this.

“NASCAR last weekend working alongside Dale Jarrett was such a thrill, since it was a crazy, bizarre finish. I’ve been a NASCAR fan and dabbled in it, and for that to be my first race was something else.

“But this weekend is like an old pair of jeans.”

The double broadcast, with travel, in the same day is a first for Diffey, but not the first time he’s done two events in the same day.

There were multiple times during his sports car broadcasting career, then with SPEED Channel, where Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and GRAND-AM Rolex Series races occurred on the same day.

Then there was a one-off occasion in his native Australia, where Diffey called the Australian round of the IndyCar championship at the Gold Coast in Surfers’ Paradise, then he and Neil Crompton took a helicopter to Brisbane, then a commercial jet to Sydney, to studio host the Brazilian Formula 1 race. BBC provided the F1 commentary while Diffey and Crompton were in the Network 10 studios.

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The start of last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. Photo: Getty Images

From a preparation standpoint, getting everything ready for both F1 and IndyCar requires keeping the details separate. But the different stages in the respective championships should make things easier.

“You have to treat them as they are. What you don’t want to do is have one lose out to another,” Diffey explained.

“Because they’re two completely different things… in many ways, that isolation is helped being in distinctly different positions within the season. IndyCar is building to a championship climax while F1 is building to the second half of the season.”

Adding to the challenge of this day, on paper, is the fact Diffey will have separate commentary crews, but that’s hardly an issue. One of Diffey’s top skills has been his malleability – his meshing with whoever the analyst is. And that’s been evident across not just his motorsports broadcasting, but also in his role at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sochi in Russia.

While the F1 booth of Diffey, Matchett and David Hobbs remains unchanged, with Will Buxton adding insights from the pits, Diffey has worked with any of Matchett, Hobbs, Bell, Paul Tracy and others on the IndyCar side, depending on conflicts.

“As play-by-play I have to be the traffic cop so to speak,” Diffey said. “What you have to do is understand your mates in the booth, how they like to work. You try to facilitate that.

“The best thing that’s allowed me to do that is I’ve always worked with so many different people. At Russia for instance, I had three different disciplines with three different co-commentators!

“For me the big thing is making sure you get on, off air. If you get on well off air, say enjoy a beer and dinner the night before a race, or the days before a race, it transfers well to on-air commentary. I respect and cherish that.”

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Diffey, Matchett and Tracy last called Fontana together. Photo: Getty Images

Diffey, Matchett and Tracy will be back together as a trio for the first time since the thrilling MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in June, a race Diffey calls one of his career highlights.

“The last time it was ‘PT,’ Steve and I, it was the most exciting race I’ve ever called at Fontana,” Diffey said.

Matchett’s omnipresent “WOAH!” lines have been a staple of his IndyCar calls this year, but the former Benetton mechanic has also appreciated every opportunity he’s had to experience the IndyCar paddock.

Where Diffey has been able to assist is in making intros, so Matchett can add his typical technical insights to the broadcast from an IndyCar perspective.

“Certainly I don’t need to help him as a broadcaster,” Diffey said. “We get on very well as friends beyond our on air commitments.

“The biggest help for him is getting down to the paddock, meeting the engineers and team managers. He has such an inquisitive mind, and he wants to understand how it works, what it’s made out of.

“At Fontana, I’d introduced him to Kyle Moyer (of Team Penske) and left him alone. Kyle walked with him alone, and that really satisfied his inquisitive nature.

“F1 he knows inside and out, IndyCar he’s been watching but it’s relatively new. It’s something he’s enjoying the change.”

The day will be a marathon. The first production meeting is at 4 a.m. ET in Stamford before rehearsal, then on air at 7:30 a.m. ET for pre-race from Spa. A charter flight is set for 10:30 a.m. ET from White Plains in Westchester County, N.Y., to get to Pocono, with roughly 90 minutes until the broadcast goes on air from Pocono at 2 p.m. ET (both are on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“To call two races in one day is not new,” Diffey said. “All my years of endurance sports car racing prepared me well.

“You’ll have to try and relax (on the plane), even if it’s just half an hour. The group is all so good at keeping us in the loop so we should be good to go.”

By 6 p.m. ET when the Pocono broadcast is done, Diffey and Matchett will have done their own 14 hours of broadcasting – albeit not on air for 14 straight hours – in two locations, across two series.

It will rank as one of the endurance feats of the year, and ideally, a highlight for viewers of both races on NBCSN.

DIFFEY AND MATCHETT’S SUNDAY SCHEDULE

Lead F1 and IndyCar race-caller Leigh Diffey and F1 and IndyCar analyst Steve Matchett will pull a broadcasting doubleheader this Sunday, calling the F1 Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. ET and the IndyCar ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Diffey and Matchett will arrive at NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn. on Sunday morning prior to their 4 a.m. ET production meeting. Following the F1 race, the duo will depart from Stamford at 10:30 a.m. ET, take a charter flight, and arrive at Pocono Raceway in time to call the IndyCar race on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET.

Following is the schedule for Diffey and Matchett for Sunday’s broadcast doubleheader:

  • 4 a.m. ET – Production meeting at NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn.
  • 5:30 a.m. ET – F1 Rehearsal
  • 7:30 a.m. ET – F1 Belgian Grand Prix on NBCSN
  • 10:30 a.m. ET – Depart Stamford for charter flight to Pocono
  • Approx. 12:30 p.m. ET – Arrive at Pocono Raceway
  • 1 p.m. ET – IndyCar Rehearsal
  • 2 p.m. ET – IndyCar ABC Supply 500 at Pocono
  • 6 p.m. ET – Off-air

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”