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

Eli Tomac wins Tampa Supercross, takes red plate home

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With his third win of the season, Eli Tomac took the red plate from Ken Roczen at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Entering with a one-point deficit, Tomac left with a four-point advantage in the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross championship hunt.

Tomac has struggled with starts so far this season. Saturday, he was part of a four-rider separation on the opening lap. He slotted in behind Adam Cianciarulo and went to school on his teammate.

“Our starts were better,” Tomac told NBCSN after the race. “That was the key. We put ourselves in a position early so that we could go to battle and ride the way we’re supposed to ride.”

Tomac claimed his 30th career win as the riders behind swapped positions. Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart started out with top-five runs. Both had the podium in site before they faded and gave last year’s Big Three free reign at the front of the pack.

“Early on I was just following Adam,” Tomac said. “With these short lap times I knew we had a lot of laps under our belt tonight. So I kind of just settled tonight and then made the push just before halfway.

“And I thought I’ve go to go if I’m going to go. So I was able to switch up the sand there. That was really cool with the option. A good passing spot.”

Cooper Webb finished second. It is his fifth podium of the year, but he felt he could have challenged Tomac if he had gotten through traffic a little faster. Roosters from the sand section blinded him and forced a more cautious approach from on top of his KTM.

Roczen minimized his points loss with a third-place finish. It could have been much worse. At about the halfway point, Roczen fell. Luckily for him, Cianciarulo went down on the same lap and took much longer to right his bike, which allowed Roczen to hold onto a top-three spot. Roczen ended the race nearly 11 seconds behind Webb and 18 behind Tomac.

Last year’s Big Three all stood on the podium.

Speed has not been a problem for Cianciarulo. He has been fastest in qualification every week including Tampa, but he is still learning how to get to the finish without making mistakes.

Last week Cianciarulo lost the lead late at San Diego when Webb was able to study his line. This week Cianciarulo had the opportunity to study Tomac, but he refused to simply ride and gain experience.

Earlier this week, Cianciarulo told NBC Sports: “The adversity I’ve faced – the mistakes I’ve made – have all been basically caused because of not settling. Just trying to get the absolute most I can out of every race. I guess in a way you can look at that and say it was inexperience or a rookie being a rookie.”

Cianciarulo went from second at the midway point to ninth at the checkers.

Justin Barcia and Justin Hill rounded out the top five.

Stewart had one of his best runs of the season, but he faded in the closing laps. On the final trip around the track, he nipped Jason Anderson at the line.

Shane McElrath won the opening round of the 250 East division, just as he has done in his last two 250 West openers. Feld Entertainment Inc.

250 EAST: Shane McElrath won the opening rounds of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Both of those came at Anaheim in the 250 West division. Switching coasts did not make any difference. McElrath drew first blood in the series with a 3-second advantage over last year’s 250 East champion, Chase Sexton.

“Nobody outside of my wife and I really know what went into this year and what a hit we took last year mentally,” McElrath told NBCSN. “It was a struggle. Everybody goes through their down times, and I really had a lot of growing to do last year.”

Sexton got off to a bad start on the first lap. All the news wasn’t bad. After getting mired in the pack at the start, he picked his way through the field and settled into second about halfway through the main event. Sexton made up 8 seconds as the clock ticked but simply ran out of time.

“I didn’t execute my start like I needed to,” Sexton said. “You can’t come from fifth and expect to catch them by the end of the race.”

In his first race back after a year and a half with a broken back, Jeremy Martin stood tall on the last rung of the podium

Garrett Marchbanks and Jordan Smith rounded out the top five.

450s

Heat 1: Eli Tomac is not known for his starts. It’s time to rethink that after Heat 1. Tomac bolted to a big lead on Lap 1. … Malcolm Stewart led the field to the first corner. He slid wide exiting the corner and slipped back several spots before charging back to second. … Cooper Webb backed up his win last week with a third-place finish. … Vince Friese finished ninth to grab the final transfer. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Ken Roczen stalked Adam Cianciarulo until the rookie buried his front wheel in the sand section. That stalled his momentum and allowed Roczen to take the lead. It set up a huge battle for the final battle for the top spot as the two crossed under the checkers nose to tail … Roczen won over Cianciarulo. … Zach Osborne took the final rung of the podium. … Back after a two-year hiatus, Broc Tickle finished fourth. It was like he had never been off the bike. … On Lap 1 Blake Baggett jumped into the back of Jared Lesher. They collected Joshua Cartwright, who got pinned under his bike and limped off the track. Baggett recovered to finfish eighth. … Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Chad Reed had to go through the LCQ, but he qualified for his 255th 450 Main where he would finish 19th. … Kyle Cunningham provided a lot of drama as time was running off the clock, but missed a corner and settled for second. Ryan Breece finished third. … Making his first Main of the season, Adam Enticknap swapped positions with Daniel Herrlien throughout the race and nipped him at the end.  | LCQ Results

250s

Heat 1: Shane Mcelrath grabbed the lead early and held it throughout the heat. He won by 14 seconds, but much of that was because of mistakes by the second- and third-place riders. … Garrett Marchbanks had a quick off early in the race. He recovered to finish second. … Jordon Smith struggled in the sand. He went down early in the sand section, but he held position for a while. A second mistake in the sand allowed his teammate Marchbanks to pass him. … The final transfer position was a barnburner as Nick Gaines held off a determined charge by Hunter Sayles on the final lap. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Chase Sexton told reporters before the race that he is determined to dominate. So far so good as he let the entire heat in route to the top spot on the podium. … Jeremy Martin settled into a comfortable spot four seconds back as the battle for third heated up. … Jo Shimoda held it for a while, but was eventually overrun by RJ Hampshire, who took the final rung of the podium … Shimoda faded to fifth. … The final transfer spot went to Cedric Soubeyras. … Joey Crown finished a respectable eighth and also transferred. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Jimmy Decotis made his move at the right time. With less than a minute on the clock, he caught and passed Curran Thurman. … Jimmy Decotis finished third. … The battle of the night was for the final transfer spot. Jalek Swoll made a dramatic pass in the final turn, but bogged down in the whoops and allowed Isaac Teasdale to catch him at the line in a photo finish. Teasdale took the final spot | LCQ Results

Click here for 450 Main Results | Season Points
Click here for 250 Main Results | Season Points

Next race: February 22, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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