These are good times to be a shallow-pocketed motor racing fan. There is one good side-effect to the Lewis Hamilton hype-fest. As far as I can tell, there is more motor racing on terrestrial television now than there ever has been. For those of us who don’t want to fork out the cash on a Sky subscription, ITV4 is a godsend.
For the first time ever, GP2 is being shown live on terrestrial television. Straight after qualifying has finished on ITV1, you can turn over to ITV4 to watch the feature race live. Then on Sunday morning the sprint race is also live. That does mean an early start to your Sunday, but man — this is live GP2! It’s worth getting up for. For the first time, I can truly get into GP2.
ITV4 is also showing the FIA GT Championship. I’ve watched a couple of those races and I have to say I’m not really a convert. To think that those races used to last three hours… Who can be bothered?
More impressive, though, is ITV4’s commitment to show BTCC. In the past BTCC was shown on ITV1, so this might actually be seen as a step down for the championship. But ITV4’s coverage is incredibly generous in the amount of time it gives over to BTCC. Most of the programmes last for an incredible five hours!
In addition to showing at BTCC races in full, usually (perhaps even always) live, ITV4 also shows the support races in full. I am just amazed that quite minor events such as the Renault Clio Cup and the Seat Cupra Championship get so much airtime on ITV4 now.
Best of all for an F1 fan like me, one of the BTCC’s support races is Formula Renault UK. This is quite a good championship that can be an enjoyable watch. Among its graduates are names such as Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Mike Conway and Kimi Räikkönen (who amazingly — controversially — made the leap all the way from Formula Renault UK to F1 with nothing in between!). It’s a great place to look for tomorrow’s F1 stars.
I’m a bit so-so about BTCC — I can take it or leave it. But if I have nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon I’ll happily put my feet up and watch it, keeping an eye out for the Formula Renault UK race. You really have to take your hat off to ITV for putting so much faith in the BTCC and its support races.
It’s not just ITV who are impressing with their commitment to motor racing this year. UKTV’s Dave channel has given WRC more coverage than it’s had in the UK for a few years now. ITV4’s old highlights programme was pretty dodgy and was often on at a strange time. On Dave, WRC now has a regular weekly slot. So in addition to coverage of the rallies themselves, there is also an ‘access all areas’ programme. It’s not always the greatest television (think of ITV’s pre-race F1 show), but it’s impressive that it even exists given that WRC has been in the doldrums of late.
All this is in addition to the motor racing coverage we already got, which includes of course F1 and MotoGP. If you keep your eye on the schedules you can also catch highlights of British Formula 3, British Superbikes and the British GT Championship.
All that is required now is some better coverage of A1GP. I used to hate the idea of that series, but when I caught some of the highlights on Channel Five this year I was really impressed at the good racing that was going on. Let’s hope it isn’t just stuck on Sky in future. And let’s hope the highlights aren’t buried away in the middle of the night on Channel Five.