Leigh Diffey discusses uniqueness of broadcasting IndyCar iRacing

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

During a typical NTT IndyCar Series race, NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey is in the broadcast booth along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Seated to his left is longtime statistician Russ Thompson, who provides valuable information throughout the telecast.

These days, however, Diffey is seated at the family dinner table at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. That is his “broadcast booth” during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, a six-event virtual racing series that is being broadcast on NBCSN (Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET from Twin Ring Motegi is the next race).

Diffey’s has been turned into an NBC studio because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. With current technology, the NBCSN crew is able to call the virtual racing series from three different locations as if all three were in the same booth.

THE CAPTAIN CONDONES: Roger Penske tells Dale Jr. about his love of iRacing

“It’s a little odd not sitting next to each other with me being in Connecticut and Paul being in Arizona and Townsend being in California,” Diffey told NBCSports.com. “But the iRacing product is very, very realistic.”

NBC’s Leigh Diffey — INDYCAR Photo

Diffey noted the similarities and differences between calling a real NTT IndyCar Series race compared to an IndyCar virtual race.

“There is one thing experiencing it as a viewer and then something totally different when we go inside of that world,” Diffey explained. “When Paul, Townsend and I are commentating, from where we sat, it’s like it is real. We treated it that way. It felt that way.

“You are calling the action. In this case, there is some very limited extra information as opposed to what went on at the previous race or testing or activity back at the shop. This is more like ‘What kind of rig are you using? Did you build it? Were you up until 3 in the morning? How many laps have you done?’ The information flow is very different.

“As far as the nuts and the bolts, it was very similar to what we normally do, but strange not sitting next to each other. Just getting used to some of the nuances of the iRacing virtual world.”

There are some broadcast locations in the series where the NBC booth does not have a view of the track, such as at some of the street courses on the schedule. But the three-announcer tooth is seating next to each other to call the race.

During the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, however, they have to dramatically improvise.

“It’s weird when you are on your own,” Diffey said. “It’s really weird. Once they say, ‘3, 2, 1 go,’ and you have to start speaking, it feels very normal. We don’t spend the time during a three-hour broadcast looking at each other a whole lot.

“You might gesture, or I might tap Townsend on the shoulder or Paul might put his hand out, there will be some kind of gesture. We do look at each other, we’ll smile, we’ll laugh if someone cracked a joke. If someone has something really pertinent to say, they will raise their hand right in front of all three of us. That dynamic was very different and very weird.

“We have our statistician, Russ Thompson, with us each week at the race track. He sits to my left. Russ wasn’t there. He wasn’t sitting at my dining room table. But Russ was on with us. He was logged in. He is a regular iRacing user and texts us some information that wasn’t readily available to us in that moment. It was a huge learning curve, and it has gotten even better.”

Diffey likes the fact that in virtual racing, drivers are able to get two full resets to their cars in case they are involved in a crash. In the real world, the car either would have to be repaired or eliminated.

In last Saturday’s Michigan 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin crashed at the start of the race. He used one of his resets to return to action once the race resumed and the Virgin Australia SuperCars star finished second to teammate Simon Pagenaud.

The opening race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Watkins Glen International was shown on YouTube and various streaming platforms. Every race since has been televised by NBCSN.

“There was a lot of uncharted waters for many of us, so it was good to have a practice run like that,” Diffey said. “That being said, there were still hundreds of thousands of views and it was very well watched. It wasn’t like we were doing it for ourselves.

“But the point is valid to knock the rust off and get into the groove. We have production meetings with the iRacing folks to go over what the reflections were from the week before and incorporating the NBC Sports broadcast. It will be the same, but you have to juggle the ins and out for commercials, but that is no big deal.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

“The biggest surprise for me that first weekend was based on watching one of the practice races on Friday in comparison to how they raced on Saturday. The Friday race in practice was wild.”

The real form of NTT IndyCar Series racing features drivers such as five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and 100thIndianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi racing up front, fighting it out for the win.

In the iRacing version, however, the field is a bit mixed up. Many of the younger drivers, such as Watkins Glen winner Sage Karam and second-year driver Felix Rosenqvist have been impressive. That’s because both are avid iRacing veterans and familiar with the sim rigs and eSports platform.

“A lot of the very experienced and successful IndyCar guys in the field have been very open about their lack of experience in iRacing,” Diffey said. “Normal family life takes up too of their much of their time and they don’t have time to allocate getting better or grinding out the laps. They are working out new daily routines how they can. I’m really looking forward as this goes along to see who feels more at ease with it.

“Once they are able to invest a certain level of time to it, you will see them more in the mix.”

Diffey has been extremely impressed with the iRacing ability of Karam. The young driver from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, has contended weekly and has stirred sponsor interest as a result.

Getty Images

“I’m not surprised because of his experience,” Diffey said of Karam’s virtual racing experience. “He has some very good statistics on his side as far as his iRacing pedigree is concerned.

“I hope when we return to real racing, he has more fans because of this. He disappeared from the IndyCar scene and then came back to do the Indy 500. Dreyer & Reinbold were working on an increased program for this year. I hope there is more there for him and he will come back with a little more confidence.. .. He has been with iRacing for a long, long time. When he was a kid, he was a beta tester for iRacing. He was helping with the development of that program. He knows the system very well and that has been evident so far.”

When the day comes that the world is allowed to return to normal and real racing returns, there could be a boost of interest from the gamers who are experiencing IndyCar for the first time. After seeing these drivers compete in the sim world, would those gamers be interested in seeing the real IndyCar drivers in an actual race?

“I think so, and I hope so,” Diffey said. “I think it’s very interesting where the crossover point is as far as your diehard IndyCar fan who goes to the races vs. the hard-core sim racing world. I’m not sure where that crossover point is. There is a difference.

“Let’s hope they blend, and that crossover point grows and spreads. It can’t hurt, that’s for sure.”

IndyCar on NBC and NASCAR on FS1 are two sports that have been able to have some form of competition on live TV by taking advantage of iRacing’s natural fit.

Although the racing may not be “real” the virtual form of racing is certainly “realistic.” That has allowed NBC Sports to continue its support of IndyCar on a weekly basis.

“It has worked out convenient that way,” Diffey said. “It’s been a huge challenge for our management and programming, and everybody involved. It has brought out everybody’s creative bits on how to provide programming for our viewers, week-in and week-out.

“This has been wonderful to have these six weeks to look forward to for the IndyCar fans to give them something. It’s a terrific fan base.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Indy 500 on NBC: How to watch, start times, live stream, schedule for race’s 107th running


Capping off one of the fastest months in memory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, here are the start times and information for the 107th Indy 500 on Sunday, May 28.

The world’s biggest race will be broadcast live on NBC and Peacock starting at 11 a.m. ET (green flag is 12:45 p.m. ET). A prerace show will be shown exclusively on Peacock starting at 9 a.m. ET.

Track owner Roger Penske and staff are expecting more than 300,00 on race day. The 233,000-seat grandstands will be near capacity with the largest crowd since the race’s 100th running sold out in 2016.

INDY 500 PRIMERImportant details and facts for watching on NBC Sports

STARTING LINEUPWhere the 33 drivers will take the green flag

After the starting lineup is set Sunday, May 21, cars will be on track twice more — a two-hour practice on Monday, May 22 and the Carb Day final practice from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday, May 26.

Carb Day final practice is Friday, May 27 at 11 a.m.-1 p.m. ET on Peacock Premium. The annual Pit Stop Competition will follow at 2:30-4 p.m. and also on Peacock Premium.

Peacock also will carry the AES Indiana 500 Festival Parade from noon-2 p.m. ET Saturday and the Monday night victory celebration from 8-11 p.m. ET.

Here are the details and start times for the 107th Indy 500 (all times are ET):

TV info, Indy 500 start times, schedule

5 a.m.: Garage opens

6 a.m.: Gates open

6:30 a.m.: Tech inspection

8:15 a.m.: Cars pushed to pit lane

10:30 a.m.: Cars on the starting grid

11:47 a.m.: Driver introductions

12:38 p.m.: Command to start engines

12:45 p.m.: Green flag for the 105th Indy 500

How can I watch the Indy 500 on TV?

Click here for the full broadcast schedule on Peacock and NBC for May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Indy 500 will be shown on NBC. Prerace coverage will begin exclusively on Peacock at 9 a.m. and then move to Peacock and NBC at 11 a.m. and run through 4 p.m., followed by a postrace show on Peacock Premium. All broadcasts also will be available via streaming on Peacock, the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com.

Mike Tirico will be the host for NBC’s telecast alongside Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer alongside analysts Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe. The pit reporters are Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Dave Burns and Dillon Welch.

Universo will provide a Spanish-language telecast with Frederik Oldenburg and Sergio Rodriguez providing commentary on Universo and streaming on TelemundoDeportes.com and the Telemundo Deportes app. Veronica Rodriguez will provide on-site reports from IMS

The race also is streamed via the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com.

Race information

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (500 miles) around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval.

FORECAST: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 76 degrees with a 2 percent chance of rain at the green flag.

DEFENDING RACE WINNER: Marcus Ericsson, who is one of nine previous Indy 500 winners in the field.

TIRE ALLOTMENT: There are 32 sets of Firestones for use throughout the event (down from 34 last year).

QUALIFYING: The 33-car field was set May 20-21. Alex Palou qualified first for Chip Ganassi Racing’s third consecutive Indy 500 pole position.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the UPDATED 33-car grid in the 107th Indy 500.

RADIO BROADCASTS: Carb Day, 11 a.m. ET Friday; Sunday, 10 a.m. ET. Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Paul Page will provide commentary. Nick Yeoman (Turn 1), Michael Young (Turn 2), Jake Query (Turn 3) and Chris Denari (Turn 4) are the turn announcers with Ryan Myrehn, Alex Wollf, Rob Blackman and Scott Sander on pit road.

PRACTICE SUMMARY: Speed charts from when cars have been on the 2.5-mile oval (the May 16 opening day was rained out).

May 17: Practice l Combined

May 18: Practice l Combined

May 19: Practice l Combined

May 20: Practice l Combined

May 21: Practice l Combined

May 22: Practice l Combined

May 26: Practice l Combined


Links to IndyCar stories this month on Motorsports Talk:

Annual photo shows women having an impact on Indy 500 results

Roger Penske feeling hale at another Indy 500 as Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner

Honda needed 45 seconds to approve Graham Rahal racing a Chevy at Indy

A.J. Foyt takes refuge at Indy 500 while weathering grief of wife’s death

Gordon Johncock: The most unassuming Indy 500 legend

Honda needed 45 seconds to approve Graham Rahal racing a Chevy

Alex Palou on his Indy 500 pole, multitasking at 224 mph and a Chip Ganassi surprise

Marcus Ericsson, engineer Brad Goldberg have ties that run very deep

Graham Rahal will replace injured Stefan Wilson in the Indy 500

Family nightmare repeated: Graham Rahal bumped from Indy 500 by teammate

Arrow McLaren, Ganassi strong; Rahal cars struggle on opening day of qualifying

What drivers are saying about Indy 500 qualifying

Remembering the era of Indy 500 qualifying engines increasing speed, danger

Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt share 60th anniversary of an important moment

NASCAR champion Kyle Larson visits Indy 500 practice in preparation for 2024

“Unleashing The Dragon” uncorks big emotions for Marcus Ericsson and team

Awaiting Ganassi offer, Marcus Ericsson draws interest from other teams

Kyle Larson visits Indy 500 practice ahead of attempting the 2024 race

Indy 500 qualifying: ‘Four laps, 10 miles, frickin’ fast’

Graham Rahal mulling future with the team his father founded

Romain Grosjean knocking on the door of his first IndyCar victory

After family detour, Ryan Hunter-Reay back on the road to the Indy 500

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing enjoy best race of season

Jimmie Johnson unsure of returning to the Indy 500


Click here to read NBC Sports Edge’s guide to contenders and darkhorses, including a full breakdown of past winners, veterans and rookies in the 107th Indianapolis 500, as well as the best bets for the race.


No. 10: A.J. Foyt becomes a three-time winner in 1967 as Parnelli Jones’ dominant Granatelli turbine car breaks

No. 9: Sam Hornish Jr. beats Marco Andretti in 2006 on the race’s first last-lap pass

No. 8: Al Unser Jr. edges Scott Goodyear in 1992 for closest finish in the race’s history

No. 7: Rick Mears becomes a four-time winner of the race with a thrilling pass in 1991

No. 6: Louis Meyer becomes the first three-time winner and starts milk tradition

No. 5: Dan Wheldon wins second Indy 500 after J.R. Hildebrand crashes on last lap

No. 4: A.J. Foyt becomes the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500

No. 3: Helio Castroneves “reopens America” with his fourth Indy 500 victory