WHEN YOU are sitting down watching the coverage of the Bathurst 1000 this weekend, take some time if you can to realise just how damn good it is.
Because, while I admit I’m ridiculously biased due to playing a tiny role in calling the support race action, I reckon it’s up there with the best coverage of any motorsport event in the world.
The level of production and resource involved dwarfs any other Supercars round and if only due to the always-challenging logistics of Mount Panorama, easily trumps any of the sports confined to nice, comfortable stadiums.
The numbers behind the broadcast are remarkable.
For starters, there’s actually not just the one broadcast produced – there’s actually four.
The stuff you see on-track – each session, the race, commentary and support categories is produced by Supercars Media: the in-house production company operated by the championship that produces coverage from every round.
External to that, FOX Sports and Channel 10 have their own hosts and reporters that fill the gaps between the coverage. So when any given session finishes, FOX Sports will cross to Jess Yates, Mark Skaife and Craig Lowndes in their studio, while Channel 10 will go to Matty White, Aaron Noonan and their own team in a separate part of the track as well.
Essentially, if you have two TV’s and one tuned to each channel, the in-session content will look the same while the stuff between it will all be different.
Then there’s a separate ‘world feed’ which is what is distributed internationally. Sky Sports NZ, for instance, takes the full FOX Sports coverage including the hosts and their content, but other broadcasters around the world don’t and may need something without the talking heads.
Finally, the on-track feed (known internally as ‘Big Screen’, for obvious reasons) does their own thing. They have their own hosts and commentators and their own pit lane cameras. They take a ‘clean’ feed of the Supercars session feed that goes to FOX and Ten to tailor the coverage for fans at the track and those in the suites, rather than those watching at home.
It’s a balancing act that requires to-the-second coordination and great communication across each day to make sure everyone is up to speed with changes as they happen.
It’s a massive logistical effort that requires four separate broadcast trucks to produce; Two for Supercars Media to bring the sessions to life, and one each for Channel 10 and FOX Sports to do their own thing. FOX Sports alone will carry 45 hours of live content from the Mountain, that feed mirrored on SKY NZ. Channel 10 are live from Friday with more than 20 hours live on free-to-air.
There’s a whole lot of gear and resource required to make it happen, too.
More than 250 people help put the product to air while there’s more than 160 cameras around the circuit, in-cars, in helicopters and on cables to get every angle.
160 cameras – think of the logistics of that: Each one needs to be installed, wired, powered and linked to the broadcast trucks in the back of the Supercars paddock. Some are wireless, some patch into the circuit’s in-built fibre network and some rely on hundreds of kilometres of cable laid by the crews in the weeks prior.
Setup for the Broadcast takes nearly a week; the production trucks and offices arriving on the Saturday prior.
‘Rigging’ – the process of connecting everything together – commences on the Sunday a week prior to the race and continues through the week before the first live program, broadcast Wednesday afternoon, goes to air.
By this time the FOX Studio – a mobile facility constructed from four shipping containers and transported around Australia by, and I’m not kidding, Chaz Mostert’s dad – will be built.
Early in the week the builds will commence in pit lane for Channel 10’s studio and Mark Larkham’s ‘Hino Hub’ where he delves into the race strategy and technical insights with aplomb. It’s at this point the commentary boxes are built as well – they occupy a suite of offices above pit lane and there are three of them: one for the big screen / on-track broadcast, one for Supercars and one dedicated to the supports.
What’s more, this year is the 40th anniversary of the introduction of Racecam, Channel 7’s pioneering in-car camera technology that would spread the world over.
Back in 1979, Seven broadcast hazy, broken-up pictures from Peter Williamson’s Toyota Celica that brought the viewer into the race for the first time, his famous commentary harrying bigger, heavier cars along across the top of the mountain is iconic.
This year, every one of the 26 cars in the race has at least three angles on-board, if not more, meaning there’s no escape for any driver should they make an error while one of the 30+ trackside cameras are pointing the other way.
Keep your eyes on the air, too – the Bathurst chopper cam is a celebrated part of the Bathurst folklore and, thanks to the elevation change the circuit enjoys, produces remarkable shots that few circuits in the world can provide.
What does it all mean? Well, when you’re relaxing with a beverage on Sunday enjoying what is hopefully a cracking race, you’ll be hard-pressed to miss a moment as the race unfolds.
On TV it should and probably will look seamless, smooth and under control but behind the scenes there’s an army of remarkably talented people working tirelessly to make sure the coverage you enjoy is as great as the Great Race itself.