Falling in love with WRC’s hybrid era through All Live

A new season of the World Rally Championship began last month, as a titanic battle between the two Sebastien’s unfolded. Loeb battled Ogier, with Loeb eventually coming out on top.

All the action aired live on WRC’s over-the-top platform All Live for the fifth season running.

One avid watcher of the weekend’s events, Carl Dolan, who works on F1 as a TV Sound Supervisor and himself a former national rally driver, sent in his thoughts on how well All Live worked…

If you, like me, think the greatest drivers in the world have names like Seb, Ari, Colin, Walter, Carlos or even Malcolm, then you probably know that a new era has just started in the World Rally Championship.

The 2022 season started with the introduction of the exciting new Rally1 hybrid cars during last month’s Rally Monte Carlo. I was glued to my device all weekend watching Sebastien Loeb’s masterful display live as he swept the field aside in his beautiful looking Ford Puma.

Rallying – or ‘rally’ as some would now seem to say – is a notoriously difficult sport to cover, with its own very special set of challenges. If the action is constantly on the move, then how do you follow it?

You could send the cars round a special side-by-side track, or let them race around a loose surface circuit, but then it becomes racing or rallycross. To do this belies the very essence of what rallying is about, as the drama really takes place in the remote forest tracks of Finland, or on the tight, twisty roads above a Principality, and not on a synthetic race track.

The revolution, televised

For years the technology has not existed to do rallying justice on the small screen. Trailblazing the coverage was down to legendary filmmaker Barrie Hinchliffe. Starting in the late 60’s, Barrie produced some amazing, evocative films that captured the sport perfectly.

He was a cinematographer who understood that he was telling stories about people and that the cars were just a vehicle for that. He knew that running around a forest with only a single 16mm camera meant it was difficult to directly cover the actual sporting contest.

For instance, watching a Ford rally mechanic take the axle of an unsuspecting holiday maker’s Capri is a golden piece of TV.

Slowly technology moved on but even on BBC’s Rally Report in the 80’s & 90’s – getting the pictures back to Chester, editing them and getting it on-air in time was a logistical nightmare. What we needed was live coverage from inside every car, in those days a distant dream!

But now the technology is well and truly here. WRC’s over-the-top (OTT) All Live coverage has finally captured what we always wanted to see. Cutting live between multiple on-board cameras, helicopters, stage side cameras; mix that in with live splits & stage times and follow that with immediate driver reaction interviews at the end of each stage and you have yourself a great recipe. Now the action really does unfold in front of you.

> How All Live is changing the face of rallying (foundations, planning, production)

Not since I listened on my scanner to stage times crackling in from the plane above me in Wales on the RAC, have I felt so in touch with what is happening on the ground. And you are there for everything. Seeing Gus Greensmith’s reaction live when teammate Loeb failed to beat his stage time and so grabbing his first WRC stage win was fabulous TV, capturing the human side of the sport again!

With Becs Williams and Julian Porter offering enjoyable and insightful commentary, the two really helped capture the weekend’s action.

Re-thinking the basic concepts

Going forward, I think it is time to rethink even some of the basic concepts. For instance, centralised Service Parks and clover looping stages were brought in to help TV coverage but maybe it is time to go back to longer events; or chase cars fettling cars live by the side of the road?

Rallying’s popularity declined a little when the sport became TV friendly, but if you change a sport for TV then the very sport itself can suffer. Television should cover a sport not control it.

However, rallying’s ‘of the moment’ nature means it is perfect for modern day social media and OTT content. The event unfolds over a weekend, so people with busy lives can dip in and out as they wish. With stage times arriving minute by minute, data hungry platforms, such as Twitter work well during the weekend.

The World Rally Championship has a bright future with the new hybrid era. The cars look and sound amazing, the backdrops are beautiful and now we have the delivery platform to enjoy it on.

Currently only three manufacturers – Toyota, Ford & Hyundai – are fully committed to Rally1 but others must surely be watching with interest. For me, rallying represents the most direct link from motorsport to road car technology and with rallying taking the lead with hybrid technology, the future looks more sustainable here than elsewhere.

It will also be interesting to see how much influence the new FIA president, himself a former rally driver, will have on the future of the series.

Now I must ring up my Toyota dealer and find out if there is any news on when my own WRC inspired Yaris GR4 is being delivered!

The next round of the 2022 World Rally Championship season, Rally Sweden, takes place across the weekend of February 24th to 27th. Live coverage of every stage airs via WRC’s All Live platform and BT Sport, with highlights airing on ITV4 on Wednesday 2nd March.

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