In a guest article ahead of the season finale in South Africa on November 9th, Nigel Chiu (@NigelCJourno) looks at the World Rallycross Championship and why in his view it is setting the benchmark where motor sport broadcasting is concerned...
The 2019 FIA World Rallycross Championship has been the most exciting, entertaining, and unpredictable season you could possibly ask for.
Whilst the on-track action has been outstanding, the television coverage has matched the quality of the racing.
Coverage of any sport can make or even break how you feel about that sport. It might be the most thrilling Formula One season ever but a poor broadcast can be detrimental.
Conversely, you could be witnessing a boring, predictable season but the coverage can salvage things somewhat and keep you interested.
Easy to watch in the UK
Something that makes World RX unique in some respects is that it airs live and free-to-air on Freeview, a rare breed for motor sport these days.
The series airs live on FreeSports, with coverage also available via BT Sport. In addition, fans can watch coverage online via both Facebook and YouTube.
With a strong presence across social media coupled with the championship airing on one of Britain’s biggest free-to-air sports channel, already, this is a massive plus before even discussing the actual coverage itself.
Since 2018, every qualifying session has aired across World RX’s Facebook and YouTube channels, with coverage extending to their support categories as well, including RX2 and European RX.
The semi-final and final of each race weekend airs live on the two mentioned social media platforms as well as BT Sport and FreeSports.
How does the World RX format work?
Q1 (4 to 5 cars race)
Q2 (4 to 5 cars race)
Q3 (4 to 5 cars race)
Q4 (4 to 5 cars race)
Semi-Finals (top 12 drivers from qualifying, 2 races with 6 cars each)
Final (top 3 from each semi, first to finish wins)
If you do not catch the qualifying sessions, then needn’t worry as the first of the two-hour television show on Sunday’s covers the best of the qualifying action to get you up to speed with who has made it to the final stages of the event.
In addition, rather than ignoring the support categories, the two-hour show covers the support categories immediately after the main WRX race so viewers are more likely to continue watching.
Something that helps World Rallycross is the brilliant commentary team of Andrew Coley and Dan Rooke which, to use one of Coley’s popular words, is mega!
Both are very knowledgeable, forming a great commentary duo. The two have formed part of World RX’s coverage at every event this season, a departure from previous years where the likes of Andrew Jordan, Guy Wilk and Tim Harvey were alongside Coley.
The chemistry was not always apparent between Coley and his co-commentator in previous seasons. Having one or two co-commentators across the season works better than having five or six different commentators in my view which is what used to happen.
Coley commentates like he is a top, former driver (despite having only raced in minor rally events) and is now the ‘voice of rallycross’ with his passionate and unique commentary which fans love.
Usually, the co-commentator talks about most of the technical aspects of the sport, but Coley not only acts as lead commentator, he also gives the viewer a fascinating insight into the world of rallycross.
He clearly does his research before events and has an excellent relationship with the drivers, conducting the press conferences as well as interviewing the drivers for features.
How he does all this as well as commentating on up to ten hours of live coverage, plus having to voice over the highlights and narrate over the TV show is staggering.
Somehow, Coley keeps a high level of intensity throughout the weekend, making very little mistakes (correcting himself when he does) and still has a voice by the end of it despite the fierce action!
Rooke is the perfect companion to Coley with a calm approach which interweaves nicely into Coley’s style.
The 2017 RX2 runner-up has great observations skills, noticing and understanding the actions of the car, and is very quick at spotting if someone has a problem (for example if a driver is suffering a puncture).
Something that many modern day commentators forget is to tell the viewers what is happening outside of the pictures that fans can see, except Rooke’s simple but highly effective comments (such as whether a driver has the gap to take their joker lap and come out in clean air) are very helpful to the viewer.
Coley himself does a good job with this but Rooke adds that something extra, noticing anything that Coley may miss to form the perfect commentary.
In a way, it is very similar to the BBC’s Formula 1 commentary pairing from 2011 of Martin Brundle and David Coulthard which personally I believe was the best commentary pairing F1 has had in the UK. So much knowledge, passion and enthusiasm which suits both the hardcore fans and the casual audience.
Presenting, analysing, and reacting to the situation
Laura Winter and Neil Cole present the World RX qualifying show, gathering the opinions of drivers just minutes before they line-up onto the grid. The drivers are always up for a chat, with refreshing honesty on offer from all.
Post-race, the team interviews the winner of each qualifying heat in a ‘WRC-style’ manner with the sound of the 600bhp engine harping away in the background with the driver still full of adrenaline.
If there has been a major incident between two drivers, Cole or Winter will always get an interview with them as soon as possible which is exactly what the fans want to see.
The production team rips the script up, placing emphasis on the incident, ensuring that the team covers all angles – both in terms of analysis and interviewing perspective.
Clearly, the producers, directors and everyone involved behind the scenes are excellent at reacting to the situation as it comes rather than going off a script. This mindset and methodology is the right way to go about motorsport coverage (as ITV showed back in 2005 with the Indy fiasco).
During the actual on-track action, the choice of camera angles and what to show is generally spot on.
We see in-car onboards of the drivers pumping themselves up moments before the race and once the lights go out, the director chooses to always focus on the cars, only showing the fans or the team personnel in the spotters’ tower after the race or in between races.
With so much going on in rallycross, occasionally the director fails to spot things, but key moments such as two cars getting close at the joker lap merge, or cars going nose to tail are always shown with onboard cameras used at the right time to enhance the intensity of the battle.
In my view, the World RX is arguably the most unpredictable motor sport out there, and if they can do the television side well, delivering an exceptional broadcast, then other motor sport categories can too.
Have you watched the World Rallycross this year? What do you think of their broadcast offering? Have your say in the comments below.
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