Live Champ Car on the Internet

The first round of the US Champ Car series was held at Long Beach, California last weekend. Race fans from across the world were able to watch via a live Internet stream. F1Fanatic took a look at the service and considered whether we might see the same for F1 anytime soon.

For many Formula One fans, the US Champ Car series is like a close, perhaps slightly poorer, cousin. The series runs single-seater chassis, mainly on road courses, but also oval and street circuits. There has often been driver movement between it and Formula One: In the 1990s, arguably the heyday for Champ Car, Nigel Mansell, Michael Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve and Alex Zanardi transferred between the two with varying degrees of success – Mansell and Villeneuve becoming champions of both disciplines.

Since then, and the notorious split between the Champ Car and Indy Car series leaving two separate, and less entertaining, categories behind, it has still been worth keeping an eye on Champ Car as F1 drivers continue to swap between the two – ex-Champ Car title winner Cristiano da Matta being one example, and F1 refugees Justin Wilson and Timo Glock.

As ever, keeping track of international motor racing series in Britain is extremely difficult if you don’t have satellite or cable television, and you’re looking for something other than F1. (CART, IRL, DTM, WRC – none of these get live coverage on any domestic British channels, which is disgraceful given the amount of British participants in them – and not just as drivers.) Fortunately CART are broadcasting each round of the 2005 series live over the Internet using their ‘Race Director’ package.

This package promises full, advertising-free coverage of all of the X rounds, viewable from six different feeds, plus access to their entire archive of CART footage from the last four years. All this for USD $4.95 per month or USD $29.95 for the season (GBP ???2.63/??????3.87 per month, GBP ???15.84/??????23.33 for the season.)

So, how well does it work? Getting started is very easy. Signing up and paying for the service is simple – go to cart.com, follow the relevant links and tap in your credit card number. You get immediate access to your account, and we were up and running in less than five minutes. So far, so good.

The race director window allows you to move between live action (when it is being broadcast and the archived footage. The layout is stylish but clumsy, in that it can be unclear exactly what you should press to get what you want. When watching a race, for example, you can follow a live leader board for the current standings. Of the two links that offer this, one opens the board in a second window, allowing you to continue watching the race, and the other opens it in the same window, interrupting your viewing. Not quite so good.

The archive is fairly comprehensive, featuring track sessions, driver interviews and promotional material. Disappointingly, actual race footage for 2001 and 2002 is limited to just ‘highlights’ of around five minutes, with no commentary. Full races of the two more recent years are provided, and in a range of formats (Windows Media Video, Real Video and Quicktime.) This adds significant value to the overall package, but the absence of some of the earlier material (which used to be available for free via this website) is a minor let-down.

The live footage is also very good. This is only provided as a Windows Media stream, which requires at least Windows Media Player version nine (available free from microsoft.com.) The quality is not bad for an Internet stream – 320??240 size with 44khz mono audio. It ran very smoothly at nearly 500kbps over our 2Mbps broadband connection, even when using other Internet applications. During the 1hr 30m race I noticed only two brief interruptions in the stream.

The coverage provided is the American NBC feed, and a few words have to be said about the quality of their broadcast. Technically, it is superb – lots of on-board shots including the excellent helmet camera (which you can even view as a separate feed.) But the presentation is poor with far too many interruptions of the live action for ‘spot features’, including painfully dull interviews with drivers along the lines of ?????ǣwhat’s your favourite TV programme??????? Also, American viewers obviously have to put up with many advert breaks, as the footage is constantly interrupted with long gaps where the commentators say, ?????ǣWe’ll be right back,?????? and then nothing. Unsurprisingly all these distractions cause them to miss vital bits of action.

Technical problems were minimal, but worth noting. Much of the archive material plays far better in Real Video than in Windows Media Video. Also, the Race Director interface occasionally refused to work in the Mozilla Firefox browser, but ran happily in Internet Explorer.

But it’s important to emphasise two things: one, apart from on satellite, you can’t watch this series live any other way in the UK; two, it’s less than ???16 for a season, and the footage quality is really quite impressive. As more people buy high-speed Internet connections, we will hopefully see better quality footage on offer.

For the meantime, though, the Champ Car Race Director is highly recommended for fans of the series. It’s time that Bernie Ecclestone sorted out a similar offering or F1, so we can keep track of what is going on during those cursed advertising breaks, and follow drivers other than those that are the same nationality as the host broadcaster??????

If you’re planning on keeping track of the Champ Car season, check out our season calendar with British start times for all the races.

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