Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My first weekend as a sportscar journalist

I was down at the Long Beach Champ Car and ALMS event this weekend, in my first proper reporting gig for The-Paddock.net. It was extremely interesting to see what the life of the motorsport journalist is like compared to attending a race as a punter.

I arrived early Friday morning and found my way to the media center. At Long Beach this was in the basement area of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, where they have a bunch of ballrooms and meeting rooms. John, the website's editor, had secured a couple of spaces in the internet and photo press room, which was arranged with rows of tables, each with power and internet. There was also wireless internet, a number of TV screens showing live TV feeds and live timing and scoring of whatever was on track at that moment. At the back of the room were tables with a whole host of media materials, including the gargantuan ALMS media guide (400 pages) and the latest official press releases from each of the championships competing that weekend.

My goal for the day was to cover ALMS practice and qualifying, and secure an interview with Greg Pickett, owner of the Cytosport team, who were running their first ALMS race. I headed out to the ALMS paddock, but on the way ran into the three drivers of the Intersport Creation LMP1 car. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out my rookie interview technique and I pulled out my voice recorder and asked Clint Field if I could have a quick word. He was very gracious, and we talked and walked. I was working feverishly to come up with follow-up questions whilst he was talking, realizing that I could review content later, but had to think of questions NOW! It all seemed to go very well, and as I entered the paddock I was ready for more.

For this event the paddock was seperated from the pitlane, so the cars were all "staged" prior to heading for the pits. This gave the public a tremendous opportunity to get close to the cars and drivers, and me a chance to get more interviews. My next victim was Ben Devlin, factory driver for Mazda's LMP2 program, and then Romain Dumas from the Penske Porsche team. This was all going very well, and I took my place in the grandstands for the practice session very pleased with myself.

After practice I went looking for Cytosport, and was eventually invited into their hospitality area. Greg spent about 15 minutes talking to me and I got a lot of great material for my article. He was very enthusiastic and I found that I didn't need to ask that many questions because he was happy to just talk about the project.

By now it was clear that a media credential provides not only access to media and team facilities but it also allows you to talk to people in a far more brazen fashion, since teams and drivers know that media coverage is important. At no point was I declined an interview, and everyone I talked to was very open and friendly.

I completed my articles, working for the first time against a deadline, and later in the day went to my first press conference, with the top qualifiers from each class. This went pretty much as I expected, and I found myself asking a question to Dindo Capello from the Audi team at one point, as I was seeking clarification on a couple of points.

On race day things started later, which was nice, but I knew that with a 5:40 race finish, I'd be staying late to finish the race report. Much of the day was spent deciding where to watch the race from. Street circuits are notoriously poor for having general admission viewing areas, but I was pleasantly surprised to find Long Beach quite different in this regard. I eventually settled for a GA grandstand with a view of turn 1 for the start, followed by a migration to an embankment across from the pits once pitstops were imminent. The plan worked well, and I made extensive notes as the race unfolded. I've never been so focused on what was happening at a race, especially with four classes to keep track of. In reality, LMP1 and LMP2 ended up functioning as one big class, GT1 only had two cars, and GT2 was a seperate story, so I wrote the report in two major parts. We eventually got out of the media center around 8:30, a long day to be sure, but exhilarating and fun.

I noticed that the sportscar media fraternity is populated primarily by older men, which shouldn't have surprised me. It's a less glamorous form of racing than open wheel, NASCAR or motorcycles, but it meant that John (who's in his twenties) and I (I'm just out of my twenties LOL!) stood out a little bit. John's got a bright future ahead of him - he's passionate and knowledgeable about the sport, a good writer and a good photographer. Since sportscar racing will always be there even as these older journalists leave, there will be a gap in sportscar journalism for people like John, particularly if they have good tech abilities like he does.

My next assignment is likely to be the Grand-Am event at Laguna Seca in May. I'm less interested in (and less knowledgeable about) that series, so it will present its own set of challenges. After that I'll be at Le Mans but as a tourist not media (by choice), then Grand-Am at Sears Point in August. I'll close out the year at Laguna Seca for the final ALMS event of the season. All good stuff to put on my journalistic resume!


Kropotkin said...

Nice piece, and very interesting. One day, I hope to have the same experience, only with fewer wheels involved!

Congratulations, and nice going!

Nicebloke said...

Well if there's any blogger best qualified to turn legit it's Kropotkin...

You should try to apply for media credentials for some bike events, perhaps you'd have some success?