U.S. television coverage of the FIA World Endurance Championship takes another significant step forward this year, with the addition of a dedicated in-house commentary team, led by Bob Varsha and Calvin Fish, for FOX Sports’ live coverage of the globe-trotting series.
For Varsha, a veteran sports broadcaster who has called Formula One, IndyCar and IMSA racing action, not to mention the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other world-class motorsports events over the last 30 years, it marks his return to top-level sports car racing after not being renewed by IMSA for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship broadcasts this year.
Sportscar365 caught up with Varsha for his thoughts on his new venture covering the WEC and a preview of what’s to come on the FS1 and FS2 broadcasts this year.
Given the challenging situation that unfolded with the IMSA broadcasts, how pleased are you to be back on the mic in a top-level sports car racing championship this year?
“I’d be lying if I said the IMSA situation wasn’t a huge disappointment. My roots in television goes back to those guys in the ’80s, with their predecessor as IMSA. There were a lot of ties there.
“Things change and you move on. My favorite race in the world is Le Mans and I have that and the rest of the World Endurance Championship, which is a really exciting series.
“It seems to be constantly on the up, with a complete field of 32 cars for the full championship and 60 cars at Le Mans. We know how much the stars of IMSA want to go to Le Mans, Mike Shank and all of those guys.
“It’s an exciting place to be and I’m grateful to have it. I look forward to doing it with Calvin [Fish] and [international feed commentators] John [Hindhaugh] and Graham [Goodwin].”
Last year’s broadcasts had yourself and Calvin as presenters of the show, with the international feed being used for commentary. How will that change this year?
“In the past we did it much in the same way we did MotoGP and Formula E to this day. As a FOX personality, I’d welcome people on the air, do a little bit of preparation and then throw to the series announcers on-site for the actual race call. That’s how we did the WEC last year.
“This year we decided to up the ante. Calvin and I will call the race, with an occasional visit — I’m not sure yet how we will work it out — from John and Graham.
“For the six-hour races, we’ll need a little break along the way. That’s the idea of bringing them in and letting them carry the ball for a while while Calvin and I take a breather.”
Is it exciting to see the WEC’s growth, particularly from an American standpoint?
“Absolutely. We all know Corvette’s success at Le Mans. Now Ford is back and they’re going to run the full season. There’s a lot of growing American interest in the WEC and I Know there’s a huge interest from the WEC in having a larger footprint here in the U.S.
“I had a meeting with Pierre Fillon from the ACO and Gerard Neveu from the WEC and Andrew Craig, who represents the interests of the WEC organization in the U.S.
“They want the best possible coverage and exposure they can possibly get. It’s great to be a part of an organization with that kind of enthusiasm and that kind of ambitious goals.”
What does it mean for WEC to have this kind of commitment from FOX Sports to help grow its championship in the U.S. market?
“FOX is a worldwide company so its sporting portfolio should include worldwide championships like this. You don’t get too many opportunities, short of the Olympics and Formula One.
“Motorsports generally are the true world championships going forward because other sports tend to have quad-annual and bi-annual world championships, where motorsports — in all of its diversity — is out there every year racing in countries around the world, in front of diverse audiences and at great racing facilities.
“I think it’s only appropriate, and I hope the FOX executives agree with me, that they’d be involved with something like the WEC and giving it the kind of exposure a world championship deserves.”
Does the WEC rekindle some your memories of international sports car racing from the ’80s?
“There’s nothing better than a true World Championship. I cover Formula E, for example, and as exciting, fun and groundbreaking as it is, there’s not yet enough global participation for the FIA to call it a World Championship.
“But the WEC has that. And I think the crowds we see every year at the races and the manufacturer involvement across the board, it’s spectacular. The entire field looks great. There appears to be plentiful sponsorship, cutting-edge technology…
“Everything you’d want from a race, especially my favorite is the diversity you’d find, not only the mechanical diversity in the cars and classes but the driver lineup is extraordinary. It represents so many corners of the world.”
Are there any particular stories you’re looking forward to sharing this season?
“We’ll certainly be telling the Ford story. Obviously that’s a red-white-and-blue topic for us. The extraordinary LMP1 hybrid technology as it grows and the guys go faster and faster using less and less fuel… There’s just an abundance of stories in this series.
“There’s huge growth in the LMP2 category and [it will be interesting to see] what impact that’s going to have going forward, not only on the World Championship and Le Mans but on racing on this side of the pond and IMSA’s dealings with the ACO in trying to come together with a workable LMP2 formula that concerns the marquee class over here as well as the second-step class in WEC.”