How W Series has embedded itself into the DTM production setup

Setting up a new motor racing championship is inherently difficult. From the cars, to the drivers, to the media, to the television production and beyond, the amount of effort involved means that inevitably, not everything will go according to plan.

Last weekend, the inaugural W Series season ended at Brands Hatch, with Jamie Chadwick winning the championship trophy and a cool $500,000 to go with it.

Off track, how well has the series embedded itself into the DTM paddock? Motorsport Broadcasting roamed Brands Hatch to find out…

The existing DTM setup
On a logistical level, W Series slotted into the gap left by the FIA Formula Three Championship as the leading support series on the DTM bill, taking place at six of DTM’s nine race weekends.

DTM is the German equivalent of the British Touring Car Championship, except unlike the BTCC, the DTM championship travels around Europe, with four of this year’s nine race weekends taking place outside of Germany.

Now in its twentieth season, the DTM production setup features four different entities.

  • TV Skyline – outside broadcaster
  • DTM Productions / ITR – production and editorial
  • Wige – graphics and timing
  • Riedel – RF on-board cameras and team radio

W Series could have taken the existing DTM facilities, without additional wrap-around coverage.

In this scenario, broadcasters would have had to add their own bespoke content if they wanted additional colour – making W Series less valuable to prospective broadcasters. Producing a plain World Feed for W Series makes little sense.

The aim of W Series is to increase women participation in motor sport and, to get the message out, organisers needed a high-quality television product in place. That is not to say that the DTM product is not good, but the ambitions of both are different.

How well has the arrangement worked?
W Series organisers brought in Whisper and Timeline to work on the championship, playing the same roles as DTM Productions and TV Skyline respectively. The additions mean that space in the television compound is tighter than ever, but manageable nevertheless.

The role of Whisper and Timeline covers all wrap-around content, but does not cover the race itself, which remains in the control of DTM’s own providers. During W Series’ first season, Whisper and Timeline produced a live programme for broadcasters to air.

2019 W Series Paddock Hill Bend.jpg
One of the W Series drivers tackle Paddock Hill bend during Saturday’s second practice session.

Speaking to me during the final W Series race of the inaugural season, Whisper’s Senior Producer Harry Allen is happy with how the relationship between all parties has unfolded.

“As Formula E have found out, setting up a race from scratch and directing the whole race yourself is a pretty massive undertaking, and I think the relationship with DTM is a really neat, tidy and high-quality way of dealing with that situation,” Allen told me.

“We could have attempted to go our own way and have six races set-up all by us, all of the circuit infrastructure, everything, but that’s a massive expense,” Allen added.

“Being able to be a support series on DTM, but then present that on Channel 4 and round the world as a W Series programme is great. We make sure that we mention DTM, we don’t try to hide that we’re operating on a DTM weekend.”

Whisper’s in-house graphics arm Chapter 3 Graphics designed the W Series graphic suite, which fans saw during the wrap-around coverage. However, communication was required between Whisper and Wige (DTM’s graphics provider), to ensure that the race graphics aligned with the outer offering.

Allen, who has worked with the BBC in the past on their sports offering, points this out as one of the successes from his perspective.

“We designed the graphics pack which they’ve [Wige] integrated into their system. It all works so that when we come on-air with our graphics, they look the same as their graphics,” he said.

“It’s been pretty seamless with all the partners. DTM, ITR, TV Skyline, Wige, Riedel, Timeline, and our guys. It’s a massive operation, and it’s all worked pretty well I think, we haven’t had any major issues.”

What the team are producing
For Brands Hatch on race day, alongside the qualifying feed, Whisper produced a 195-minute World Feed from 14:15 to 17:30. That might confuse some readers given that Channel 4 were on-air from 14:30 to 16:30.

Although the ‘core’ World Feed is for those two hours, beforehand a variety of features are played out from 14:15 to 14:30, for any broadcasters that have opted to do something different (for example: a studio-based show with their own presenters).

Similarly, all the post-race interviews are played out following the conclusion of the main W Series programme for broadcasters that wish to use them later. The structure of the pre-race build-up allowed worldwide broadcasters to opt-in to the show at two different junctions, giving them flexibility from a scheduling perspective.

2019 W Series Ted Kravitz.jpg
Ted Kravitz in full flow during the start of the pre-race Notebook, recorded on Saturday evening.

In addition, the pre-race paddock segments air on a slight tape-delay. Due to the nature of the support series, cars are already making their way to the grid by the time the show begins to air, making it more logical to pre-record the paddock segments before the drivers’ get into their machinery.

Lee McKenzie steered both the pre and post-race build-up, with David Coulthard and Ted Kravitz providing additional input. Kravitz’s Notebook also played a key role in W Series’ social media output.

The style of Kravitz’s Notebook is like his F1 content, Kravitz wrapping up the fortunes of each of the 20 drivers, along with any other snippets that Kravitz has picked up throughout the race weekend. I watched on as Kravitz filmed the pre-race Notebook on Saturday evening, Kravitz beginning the Notebook from Paddock Hill bend (above) before wandering through to the W Village, all timed to near perfection.

On top of the live content and the Notebook, Timeline and Whisper also cut two separate highlights programmes off-site at Timeline’s base in Ealing: one for global broadcasters, and another specifically for US broadcast partners NBC, who air W Series highlights on Wednesday’s on NBCSN.

“We deliver that to NBC by 5pm on a Monday (12pm in US),” Allen tells me. “NBC then have five hours of opportunity to watch it and give feedback, and then on Tuesday we make any changes and then deliver the final product for them.”

“That’s how we service NBC, who are obviously a huge client for W Series.”

W Series’ is Allen’s first motor racing role but that, he says, is a deliberate move from Whisper. “The reason why I am producing this is because one of the key things we’re trying to do is get W Series to a new audience,” he says.

“The production team around us, these guys go to Formula 1 every race [for Channel 4]. I’m trying to create something that is accessible to a different audience, and everyone around me is keeping me in check making sure we hit the motor sport audience. If there’s anything, any time that is not correct then we’ll meet in the middle!”

Cottingham’s “most incredible” journey
Before Hockenheim, Claire Cottingham was a name unfamiliar to motor racing fans worldwide. Now, just over three months later, Cottingham has commentated on all six races of W Series’ first season.

Speaking to me prior to the Brands Hatch season finale, Cottingham reveals her journey, from getting the initial phone call to now.

“Before they gave me the gig, I had to go in and do a test commentary. I went in to commentate on a race, with one of the guys from Whisper,” Cottingham tells me.

“It was just to see how it flowed and things like that. It was an agonising couple of days waiting, and then I got the phone call. It was one of those surreal, unbelievable moments in life!”

2019 W Series Jamie Chadwick.jpg
Champion Jamie Chadwick being interviewed by presenters Lee McKenzie and David Coulthard post-race.

“I think it’s about having the right person. It’s not my place to say ‘should it be female’ or whatever. It’s worked out that they picked somebody who knew motor sport, has been in motor sport, and that’s great.”

“It should always be the right person to fit the job, and that’s what they did, they believed I was the right person for the job. Whisper have been brilliant to get the right people in the right places and to give women more of a presence in motor sport. When I got the phone call, I thought ‘I’m in on this mission!’ It’s been the most incredible journey so far,” Cottingham added.

Cottingham, who has previously commentated on Formula Renault 3.5 and Formula Renault Eurocup for BT Sport, spoke about the challenges of working on a new championship, and the hurdles it brings.

“Because it’s a new series, much like when Formula E came out, everyone was learning the technology and learning the racing, it’s very similar,” she says.

“We’ve all learnt from Hockenheim to now, the drivers, the production team, everybody. We’ve all grown with it and I think that’s what’s been really fun, to be part of that family and moving it forward.”

A successful first season for W Series
Cottingham’s commentary can be heard worldwide, including in the UK on Channel 4. Allen is happy with how W Series has been brought to a wide audience in its inaugural, thanks to broadcasters such as Channel 4 backing the series.

“I think we’ve done really well, because we’ve brought a start-up racing series to a pretty wide audience, and I think people know about it,” Allen notes.

“When I speak to my friends who have no interest in motor sport, they’ve heard about it, they’ve read about it in the papers, in the broadsheets, they may have even watched it on Channel 4.”

“The good thing about being on Channel 4 in the UK is that people who are interested in Formula 1 will know about the fact that we’ve got W Series coming up, because at the end of the programme they’ll trail it.”

“If you’re watching the rugby today on Channel 4, we’ve sent them a 30-second VT, which will trail our final programme, and off the back of that the presenter of the rugby will say ‘don’t forget tomorrow to tune in, 2:30 on Channel 4 for the finale on W Series.'”

“Whisper is all about the stories, characters, personalities, entertainment is everything. Sport is entertaining, but my opinion on sport is that has to be easily understandable by everyone, so if you’re sitting down with your daughter or son and they’ve never watched W Series before, they can’t think ‘that was boring’ at the end of the programme, and that’s the key.”

“What we’re doing with this is everything around the racing, even if the racing hasn’t done what you wanted it to, we’ll make sure we sell that sport to the absolute maximum and get the most emotion and entertainment out of it.”


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In conversation with Tony Jardine

From reporting on radio in the early 1980s, to analysing Formula 1 for audiences across the globe, Tony Jardine’s broadcasting career has spanned nearly four decades.

I reminisced with Jardine at the 2018 edition of the Autosport Show, as we looked back at his broadcasting career.

How did your broadcasting career begin?

It was by accident! I was at the 1982 South African Grand Prix, working as the JPS Lotus press officer, when the infamous drivers’ strike took place.

The Independent Radio News (IRN) news reporter at the time was not in the press box, and I took a phone call from IRN. IRN distributed the radio news, and they were desperate, they needed a voice piece. I said “I can’t do that,” and they were like “Just tell me what you see down the pit lane.”

I did my first ever broadcast from Kyalami about the strike. IRN asked me to do more pieces, and I ended up becoming their Formula 1 correspondent, as well as doing the day job.

From IRN you moved to the BBC, how did that gig come about?

The BBC deal was a very different kettle of fish, in as much that Murray Walker had a conflict between the British motorcycle Grand Prix and the German Grand Prix. The BBC decided they wanted him to do the bikes, and asked me to make my commentary debut in ’85 alongside James Hunt.

That led to me becoming the full-time pit lane commentator with the BBC, and race commentator for South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). I did a lot of live broadcasts for them, but I do want to stress that broadcasting was never my main job. The PR and communications company that I am involved with (HPS Jardine) is still my main mode of employment nearly 40 years later!

The role of pit lane reporter I imagine was quite different back then, given the archaic technology on offer.

It was quite difficult being in the pit lane as communications were not very sophisticated. It was very ancient equipment, you had to carry a lot of batteries, microphones, and headsets around with you. I was always trying to get in touch with the producer to say “I’ve got a story,” but they couldn’t always hear me.

We also could not do a proper grid walk at the BBC, as you were restricted as to where you could go by FOM.

I was literally arrested by Pasquale Lattuneddu, Bernie’s number two man, by going over some yellow line, and had to sit outside the [Formula One Management] office for several hours like a naughty school boy! You were limited as to what you could do on the grid, but I used to go to the edge of the pit lane and report in from there.

Was the pit lane role your main role with the BBC, or were there other roles you played a part in during their F1 coverage?

I started to get involved with the highlights on BBC Two in the early ’90s. One year, we did the British Grand Prix highlights opening live on stage from the post-race concert, with David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert! I was trying to hear the opening bits of music, so I could make my cue. When I thought there was a gap, I just went for it! I could not hear a word, it was very raw, rough, and ready.

The other thing I provided is what they call a ‘guide commentary.’ When neither Murray or James were overseas, for example in Canada or Japan, but they needed to know what happened, I would lay down a ‘ghost commentary’ over the action. Murray and James would listen to the ‘ghost’ version before they did their own commentary on several hours later.

Towards the end of 1995, we found out that ITV had grabbed the rights to the F1. Did that come as a shock to you and the team?

I was offered a new contract at the end of 1995 and was asked to present the BBC Two highlights from 1997 onwards, as well as doing the pit lane reporter gig. Three days later, the news came through that the BBC had lost [the F1] and ITV had won. I was gutted, as the BBC had empowered me, I said I’d give it a shot.

Jonathan Martin [BBC’s Head of Sport] believed he had a strong relationship with Bernie, and there is a view that he was quite arrogant. “Oh, Bernie wouldn’t do that to us!”, that kind of thing, and then gone.

Tony Jardine during ITV’s coverage of the 2005 Canadian Grand Prix.

Even though my company were involved in promoting the BTCC in the ’90s, I never really thought about staying with the BBC. My expertise was very much from working in Formula 1.

However, as luck would have it, I knew some of the production companies that were bidding for the ITV coverage. One of the guys from ITV saw me individually, and in the end, ITV said to the successful production company [Chrysalis] that they had to take me too! So, I wasn’t selected by them, but ITV had chosen me already.

That’s when they decided that I become an analyst in the studio. I did nine successful years with ITV and thoroughly enjoyed it, in TV terms that is a very long time.

How did the viewing public react to ITV’s offering in 1997?

I think it was quite warmly received. There were a lot of people waiting to criticise, the adverts were a big issue. However, we had our own studio, we had new graphics, we took it up another level.

At the time, it was unheard of to have a team that size, two analysts, guests, two pit lane reporters. Apart from some of the things we missed because of the ad-breaks, I don’t remember us receiving any massive criticism. Jim [Rosenthal] was one of those consummate professionals that does the job wherever he is, and he’s still working today.

The big difference too was that ITV gave it time. With the BBC, one race would air live, and the next would air as highlights, until 1995 when the Beeb started showing everything.

One of the major revelations about ITV’s coverage was Martin Brundle, so much so that he is still involved in F1 broadcasting to this very day.

I used to regularly go to Martin, both from my company’s perspective, and from a broadcasting perspective, as he was always great at talking. Martin could explain technical things in a very simplistic manner, not talking down to people, but just bringing it to a language you could understand, and maybe even have a little quip to boot.

Towards the end of the BBC’s tenure, Jonathan was with Murray in the commentary box and they brought Martin in as a third commentator. Brundle saw the race unfolding, and made a prediction which Palmer disagreed with, and the rest of it. But, what Brundle said was concise, he had a great idea of the strategy, and it was a great drivers’ perspective of what was going on.

It was a no brainer for ITV to bring him on-board. He took all that incredible knowledge, wit, wisdom, connectivity with drivers into the grid walk which we know and love.

Post-ITV, you have been involved with many different broadcasters on various things, close to home with Sky but also overseas.

I went back to Sky after ITV, and worked the live A1 Grand Prix races with Georgie Thompson, even doing my own grid walk from Brands Hatch!

I did some Sky Sports News work as well, previewing each Grand Prix using the touch screen from 2012. I would do two previews in a day building up to a race. I would script it, say what images I wanted, and Sky would get all the graphics.

On stage, I would talk to the presenter, talk through a lap of the circuit on the touch screen and play in all the video, never once using an autocue. The nightmare of course is that sometimes the touch screen would freeze, you’re live and you only have a certain amount of time, as Sky Sports News are constantly going from sport to sport.

More recently I’ve worked with Angus Scott, another former ITV man, on BeIN Sports’ live F1 shows. Many people in that production were also ex-BBC and Sky people, and BeIN really looked after me and listened to me editorially.

I am very fortunate to have had a lot of different jobs within broadcasting, all of which I have enjoyed. The art of good broadcasting is that you make it look easy, but believe you me, when you are doing it, it’s not.

My thanks go to Tony Jardine for spending the time with me on the above interview.

James Allen on…

From print media, through to the small screen and now across multi-platform, James Allen is a name that is familiar with Formula 1 fans in the UK and beyond. Allen’s career has spanned multiple decades, but he was most famous as ITV’s lead Formula 1 commentator from 2002 to 2008 alongside Martin Brundle.

Now part of the Motorsport Network ship, I caught up with Allen during the Autosport Show weekend to look back at the three chapters in his broadcasting career to date. In the style of his own blog name, this post is ‘James Allen on…’ as he reflects on his story so far.

…the start of his broadcasting career
“My first broadcasting job in Formula 1 was in 1992. I had been working with Screensport, which was a forerunner of Eurosport, on their coverage of the Le Mans 24 Hours from 1990 and 1991. I got a call from ESPN, as their pit lane reporter couldn’t do the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix, and we’d done Le Mans as a co-production between Screensport and ESPN the previous year. It was the race where Nigel won the championship, and I got a great interview with Nigel.

“I enjoyed myself very much doing the live pit lane work, so much so that ESPN offered me the job as broadcast reporter for 1993. ’93 was the season of Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti as team mates, obviously Andretti being an American driver was exciting, so I was in the middle of all of that.

“I went to America to do Nigel Mansell’s second IndyCar season in 1994, Nigel and I got on really well. I spent a very happy year covering IndyCars and making the show for ITV working with Chrysalis, which went onto be North One.

“I carried on working with ESPN in Formula 1, until the BBC lost the UK rights in 1996 to ITV. ITV were looking for a production company from 1997 onwards, and I drafted part of the bid to win the production contract for Chrysalis, having worked with them on IndyCar, and that was the beginning of the ITV F1 adventure.”

…becoming pit lane reporter for ITV
“I’d done a lot of broadcasting before I became F1 pit lane reporter, I’d done Le Mans for two years running, which was 24 hours in the pit lane! It was much freer in those days, you could do whatever you wanted.

“There was a lot of scope for improvisation, I had a live camera with me, I could do anything I wanted with that live camera. I could interview anyone I wanted, doorstep anybody, it was a very deregulated environment back then. It did become progressively more difficult as the years went on, but it was great fun on the whole.

“I brought an American training to it, I’d spent four years by then working with really, really good sports TV directors and producers. I was very lucky to be mentored by some of the best US sports directors, so I knew exactly how to engage the audience, what kind of stuff they were looking for, how to think beyond the obvious, don’t just say what’s happened, but what that means for what happens next, and all that kind of thing. I was very lucky and brought that to the coverage on ITV.

1997 Australian Grand Prix Qualifying - Allen and Hill
In ITV’s first live qualifying show at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, James Allen interviews Arrows newest recruit and 1996 champion Damon Hill.

“Editorially I had worked at Autosport for two years, and prior to that I worked for Brabham with Martin Brundle, so I knew him very well from those days. Having worked on the inside of a Formula 1 team, I knew how that worked, how it operates, how it succeeds, how it fails.

“The pit lane role involved looking around for stories, looking around for insights. I’ve always been interested in providing insight and analysis wherever possible. I think the who, what, where and when is great, but I’ve always been interested in the how and the why.”

…his first F1 commentary
“I stood in for Murray when he bust his hip at the 2000 French Grand Prix, which was very useful because I was always the understudy, in case there was a ‘what if’ moment. I’d done a lot of commentary early in my career, Paris Dakar, Formula 3000, you name it, thousands of hours that hardly any people saw in the early satellite days. It was a great opportunity to commentate with Martin, to have a look at it and see how it sounded.

“I had a very intense post-French GP debrief with ITV’s Head of Sport Brian Barwick, who was very good to me and a very big influence on my career. He meticulously went through that commentary, what I’d done wrong, what I could have done better, what I done well, we spent hours going through it.

“It meant that the following year, when we did the transition where I did five races and Murray did the rest, I knew what I was trying to do. There was never any doubt in my mind about being commentator, it’s what I wanted to do since I was 15 years old.”

…succeeding Murray Walker
“It’s a double edge sword. On the one hand, the timing was good, plenty of other people would have liked to have followed on from Murray, but he kept going for a very long time. He and I worked very close together for the first four years [with ITV F1], and I drove him round Europe, he didn’t like driving in Europe so I always did the driving. We spent a lot of time together, which was wonderful, some very rich memories.

“It’s the job I always wanted to do, mass market, free-to-air TV in UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada, tens of millions of people watching, but on the flip-side he’s probably one of the most popular sports broadcasters there has ever been. You’re never going to be him, but nor should you ever try to be.

“I just said ‘listen, he has to stop’ because he’s 77 years old and can’t do this anymore, physically, it was taking its toll on him, and he wanted to go out on the top, so someone’s got to take over from him, and it might as well be me! I took it as a responsibility, I knew that there would be plenty of people who didn’t like it, I knew that there would have been people who did like it.

“Barry Davies, the football commentator whose daughter worked at Jordan at the time, said to me, ‘listen, you’re probably taking on the toughest job in sports broadcasting. If I can give you one piece of advice: stay philosophical, don’t listen to the people who cane you, and don’t listen to the people who think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, because you’re neither of those things. You’re neither a complete loser or the best thing since sliced bread, just somewhere in the middle, and be yourself’, and that was great advice, and that’s the way I played it for eight years.”

…commentating on motor racing
“What makes it tough is that there’s not one point of focus. If you commentate on a horse race, yes, you’ve got 20 horses, but they tend to focus on what is going on at the front because they all tend to be tightly packed together. If you are talking about a football match, or pretty much any ball sport, you basically follow what the ball does. Cycling is another one where you’ve got to talk about multiple narratives in one commentary, and it goes on for four hours.

2008-australian-gp-allen-and-brundle
Allen and Brundle here analysing the 2008 Australian Grand Prix qualifying session. Little did they know at this point was that 2008 would be ITV’s final year covering F1.

“I always looked at it in terms of a front race, a middle race and a back race. I would do it 60 percent front race, 30 percent middle race and 10 percent back race, so I gave a balanced narrative to the coverage. I always got on very well with Martin, he was very supportive. We had a lot of things that we wanted to try, we were always thinking about ‘let’s try this, let’s try that’, we never wanted to stay the same, we wanted to try to move forward. Having a racing driver like him alongside you means you’re always improving things with the broadcast coverage.

“We had some very difficult seasons to cover, ’01 was great, ’02 and ’04 were difficult, but a lot of people think that the 2005 to 2008 period is their favourite period in Formula 1. There was a lot of different winners, the cars were exciting to watch, and we had a great time.”

…ITV’s F1 exit
“We went out on a high with Lewis winning the World Championship. It was the only time in our twelve years of doing Formula 1 that we had a British champion crowned on our live coverage. It was a great moment, with 13 million watching, mass-market free-to-air TV, it was just fantastic.

“The contract we had with Formula 1 ran until 2010, and in my head, I was thinking I’d get to 2010 and do something else outside of commentary. I had a young family at that point with two young sons, and had been to every single race for 16 years. It was a little bit of a shock in ’08, when ITV decided to prioritise Champions League over Formula 1, and the BBC got the rights.

“But equally, I had also started exploring the digital media space with blogs, and so I went into that. I realised that there was a very good business to be had there, around the monetisation of blogs with sponsored brands and things. It was about leveraging my personal brand that I’d built up on the broadcast side on a blog, and then working with companies that wanted to attach themselves to it. That was like chapter two of the story, which was really interesting.

“Would I still have been commentating on Formula 1 on television in 2011 or 2012? No. I’m a bit restless, I do things for a while, then I feel like I want to move on.”

…his post-ITV exploits
“I did the blog thing, which you’re now doing very successfully, and then the BBC came knocking in 2012, to ask me if I wanted to be their F1 correspondent on 5 Live. The only reason I said yes was because I had never done radio, ever. Most people do it the other way round, they do radio first then go into television.

“The radio has been reinvented by the internet, you can really do a lot with radio, and I just wanted to see if I could do it, and actually, it’s much more difficult than television. I set myself a challenge, I really wanted to master this. I had four years in that role which I really enjoyed. I enjoyed working with the BBC radio network, trying to provide insights for people alongside running the blog and the business. Four years was just about enough, time to move on.

“I’m in the third chapter of my career now, which is building this unique vision we have at Motorsport Network. I’m in a management role, I manage 500 to 600 people in 21 countries. We’ve got the Autosport Awards, Autosport International, Autosport.com, Motorsport.com, all the digital media platforms.

“It’s a very interesting business, three different segments, media, experiences and eSports, we’re talking in the back of the Le Mans eSports truck. We’re the only ones that are across everything, it’s a unique project, no one has ever tried it before and will ever try it again. So far, it’s going well, it’s really difficult, it’s a big challenge, but I love it.”

How All Live is changing the face of rallying: production

Whilst many motor racing publications tend to focus on Formula 1 or MotoGP’s broadcasting exploits, elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, a quiet revolution has been taking place that deserves far more attention than what it has received.

To discover more, this writer took a trip up to Deeside for the 2018 Wales Rally GB to see what the fuss was about for a three-part series. If you missed the first two parts, head over here and here

On track, 2018 was an amazing year for the World Rally Championship, with a three-way battle between Sebastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak going down to the wire in Australia. Neuville and Tanak faltered, with Ogier coming away as champion for a sixth consecutive season.

For the fans watching the action at home, 2018 was just as good, with the introduction of All Live, WRC’s over-the-top service that aimed to bring fans closer to the action by airing every stage live.

Although All Live arguably revolutionised rallying for its core fanbase, WRC’s Editor in Chief Kevin Piper emphasises that other outlets, such as the traditional highlights programme, are still important.

“The other content is still crucially important for the territories and broadcasters that rely on those. Recently social media has become far more important over the past five or six years, so you’re feeding that as well,” Piper tells me.

“The News [segments that we release] we appreciate is massively important because that’s bite-size, free-to-air content that major broadcasters may pick up on if there’s been a big moment, that’s great exposure. All Live has come on top of all of that, and added a whole new dimension for the rally fans and hopefully wider audience.”

The rotating army
On-air, All Live featured an array of talent during 2018, with different people coming in and out of the setup during each rally weekend. The studio team rotated throughout, with Abi Griffiths, Kiri Bloore and Alex Legouix sharing presenting duties. The three of them also doubled up as a reporter alongside Molly Pettit during the Service Park gaps.

Similarly, Becs Williams, who is All Live’s lead commentator, also interviewed the key players. The likes of Jon Desborough, Julian Porter, Nicky Grist and Ben Constanduros joined Williams in the commentary booth, and Piper is happy with the strength of what he calls a “versatile” team.

“One of the greatest strengths of this team, and we played our part in thinking about who comes to work for us, apart from the expertise, the experience, the motivation and the enthusiasm is we’ve got, partly by design, partly out of natural evolution, partly necessity, a group of versatile people who are capable in different disciplines,” Piper says.

“We have people who can produce, script and voice. We look for people who can do a bit of everything. We try to make each event unique, here for GB, we’ve had Nicky Grist and Robert Reed, who have added fantastic value to the co-commentary alongside Becs.”

The multilingual team is necessary in a multilingual paddock, which plays into the commentary throughout the weekend.

“I think we’ve been very good when Becs is commentating,” says Marko Viitanen, WRC’s television director. “We have different nationalities in our team who can always translate a language, if there’s something wrong with the Finnish guys I can always translate and get that back up to her, we have Swedish, German, Spanish, French, we can get those little insights.”

“I think All Live to a certain extent has changed the whole sport, because now the drivers cannot hide anything. They can’t say ‘we just overshot a corner’, when it never happened, so that’s changed a lot.”

As covered earlier, the All Live setup also allows the on-air team to speak to people from outside of rallying during the service breaks, such as former football player Sammi Hyypia, with a similar setup expected for this upcoming season.

The numbers game
In-Car Cameras – 48 cameras

45 – On-Board (3 x 15)
3 – Exta FX GoPro On-Board

Action Cameras – 24 cameras
15 – Highlights
9 – TV Live (Line Cut at SS)

Other Cameras – 14 cameras
7 – All Live (4 with RF kits)
4 – Manufacturer Area Fixed
2 – Drones
1 – Helicopter Cineflex

Behind the lens, there is an army of people putting the All Live product together, as Viitanen explains.

“There’s between 70 to 80 people in the crew in total, in operations at one time for All Live, it’s a crew of 50 to 55 people. You always see the cameramen, when you come into the production truck, you see guys doing slow-mos, mixing the pictures, you see those in action.”

“But there’s a lot of guys on the RF (radio frequency signal) and plane side that you never see or hear from, and All Live would not be possible without them. We cannot afford to put 10 or 20 cameras on every stage, across a whole event that would be impossible to manage, so the RF guys are really the heart of the operation.”

86 cameras, 1 event
Although rallying covers a wide amount of terrain, all the production for All Live is done back at Service Park.

“We’ve changed our production dramatically. Rallying is kind of a remote production, all of our production happens here at base,” explains Viitanen. “We get the ground cameras, the on-boards, the heli, the RF cameras, back via either the plane or via satellite, and the whole programme is combined here to create the package that fans see. We put graphics, slow-motions and the like, all that on top of it here.”

In total, there are around 86 cameras per event, although some shots are not available to use live. Special shots, such as the drone and various action angles, are utilised exclusively in the non-live wrap-up programme. The quality of the RF images is critically important to the success of All Live, meaning that the RF team must position the plane accurately during each stage.

“We’re doing over a 100km stretch here as well on the Saturday, the stages are so far away, so there’s more than a hundred kilo meters from base that we actually have the plane flying,” Viitanen explains. “We have two pilots in the air and two technicians, then there is one guy here who controls the plane, so he tells them from the ground where they should fly.”

“His job is to position the plane in a way so that he can receive the start camera, the finish camera, the on-boards and the helicopter. It’s always a combination of how the weather is up there, how much wind there is, what kind of stage you have, if you have mountains on this side or that side, so you have to move the plane from start to finish.”

“We’ll learn from everything this year [2018] and come back next year [2019] with more knowledge,” Steve Turvey, WRC’s Location Director adds.

“You’ve got to remember that every single event we are doing is brand new for everybody. The level of return we are getting now is absolutely staggering, we’re all amazed. To get that amount of data back, three signals from each car with telemetry, everything out in the right order is just a phenomenal achievement.”

Looking forward to 2019
Heading in 2019, what do Viitanen and Piper make of their first year of All Live?

“I think All Live has really succeeded on the way that we have put the technique to work for us, and I think that’s one of the highlights of the production, still with limited technical resources,” says Viitanen. “I have friends who’ll do F1, they cannot believe how much smaller the technical resources that we have compared to them.”

“You can compare the production style to the Tour de France, but the bikes don’t move as fast as rally cars, so that gives us a bit of a headache!”

“All Live has made this whole operation even more interesting, more complex from a technical point of view,” Piper adds, excited for what the future holds. “It’s a great challenge, a great new adventure, and after being involved in sports journalism and broadcasting for more years than what I can remember now, this is the icing on the cake.”

2018 has been year one for All Live. For fans worried that All Live was a one-year experiment, fear not. This weekend in the south of France, and at every rally in 2019, the team go again, but with the knowledge of 2018, this year promises to be even better for rallying fans.

How All Live is changing the face of rallying: planning

Whilst many motor racing publications tend to focus on Formula 1 or MotoGP’s broadcasting exploits, elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, a quiet revolution has been taking place that deserves far more attention than what it has received.

To discover more, this writer took a trip up to Deeside to see what the fuss was about for a three-part series. If you missed the first part, head over here

So, the World Rally Championship has laid its production foundations for the future of the series. WRC gives fans 24/7 access to the championship, broadcasting every stage live on their All Live over-the-top service to fans worldwide. It is a herculean operation that requires a significant amount of planning.

Planning for a rally event, as is true for most forms of motor racing, starts years before the event takes place, sourcing out potential new locations for the rally to conquer. “Normally we get sent a provisional itinerary from the promoter, which we comment on,” says Steve Turvey, who is WRC’s Location Director.

“They already know what we want, sometimes that isn’t possible, sometimes it is a compromise, sometimes it is a negotiation, but there is a common goal to make it work for TV. Some organisers will say ‘there you are, take it or leave it’, others come to us with an open book and say ‘tell me what you want’, and that’s part of the job.”

The operational angle
The planning phase ramps up in the months leading into the rally, with a reconnaissance mission taking place beforehand. Commonly known as a ‘reccee’, the purpose of it is for the production team to source out the best shots for television.

“We drive all the stages during the reccee, choosing the action shots for the highlight packages,” Turvey tells me. “We sometimes trim the live stages to get the best section for the last part of the stage. There’s a few things we look out for, as an example, we don’t want anything that is tree covered, we want the good vantage points.”

Although the team now covers every rally stage live, there is still an element of ‘the old’ and ‘the new’ on the production side.

As in previous years, television networks around the world, such as BT Sport, cover several stages live, meaning that the production team still produces a World Feed for these stages. The remainder are exclusive to the new over-the-top platform, which brings with it a new requirement for the team to consider during planning.

“As a minimum, we want to see every WRC car through each stage for All Live, so we’ve got to consider the timings carefully. We need to make sure there’s enough time between the first WRC car starting and the final WRC car finishing, before the next stage starts to avoid any overlap.”

Turvey’s planning in the weeks before each rally must take this into account. A spreadsheet created by him builds up a timeline for all four days, broken into five-minute intervals, covering on and off-air times, sunrise and sunset, the talent involved with each stage (both on and off-air), the studio guests and so on.

The production team meticulously plans everything to the finest detail, down to the helicopter route! The helicopter might seem trivial, but no plane, no on-board cameras. The spreadsheet is not simply X + Y for calculating the gap between stages, but Turvey uses historical information, such as the average speed to calculate the stage gaps. Turvey describes it as “military operation”, everything reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.

“There’s absolutely nothing left to chance, everything is planned to the second. We know exactly the second the first car starts and the last car finishes. We’re trying to cover the rally, but we’re not trying to change it. The organisers have got ideas of their own, they start at 07:56 [here in Wales] for example because that is the first minute that they will get full daylight for everybody, and then they will be running until they start to get darkness.”

With rallying covering a large terrain, it means that WRC’s personnel are constantly on the move, which they monitors through a own tracking system to ensure that elements outside out of their control do not hold them up, such as marshals, closed roads, “or even if we’re snowed in during Sweden” as Turvey puts it!

“We appreciate it is live TV, so that is very much plan A, sometimes we end up with plan C,” Turvey continues. “If you have an event like Turkey, when the entry list was decimated due to the conditions, what we ended up broadcasting was nothing like the original plan, and that’s the great thing about the people we’ve got. We’ve got multi-skilled, multi-talented reporters out there.”

The editorial stance
On an editorial level, it is critical that the team is singing off the same hymn sheet. At their Deeside base for the Wales Rally GB, there are multiple production offices on the go, which Kevin Piper, WRC’s Editor in Chief, describes as a “multi-layered operation.”

There are at least four layers to the WRC production operation: highlights (both 26-minute and 52-minute), the bite-size news segments, All Live, and the World Feed; and that is ignoring all the invisible layers that are in between.

As stories unfolded during the Wales event, you could hear the production team chatting to one another, ensuring that the outlook was consistent across all of WRC’s products. “I take overall responsibility for the editorial content which is an ongoing process throughout the year,” Piper tells me.

“I take on-board ideas and proactively get suggestions from the rest of the team. We talk to each other between each event so that we know where we want to go moving forward.”

As part of the planning phase, Piper’s team are also in regular dialogue with WRC’s manufacturers and drivers, so that they can get the best on-screen product and interviews on-air. The 52-minute highlights programme contains a mixture of on-stage action, as well as feature segments, which requires co-operation from the teams involved.

“We know what the features for the highlights show are before we arrive at an event, and we’ll shoot these in advance of the event on the Wednesday and Thursday, ready for our editors to edit them during the weekend,” says James Parnis, who leads the 52-minute highlights strand of programming.

“For the Wales show, we’re doing a three-minute feature with Craig Breen and Scott Martin, who are having drone flying lessons from the guys at DJI Pilots. Because of what happened in Turkey, we’re also doing a technical feature, which we shot before the event on drivers and co-drivers having to repair their own cars out on the road section.”

2018 Wales Rally GB - time line snippet
The All Live and World Feed time line for Saturday morning’s action in the Wales Rally GB, covering stages 10 through to 14.

“By pre-planning, shooting stuff and editing stuff before the event even begins, that gets us ahead of the game. That’s the plan anyway, it doesn’t always pan out like that, sometimes we have to be reactive and come up with feature ideas during the event,” Parnis continues.

The features, which WRC also plays out on All Live, help the 52-minute programme breathe although Parnis is keen to emphasise that the on-stage action takes priority. “Look at the Saturday in Turkey, so much happened! Whilst we have our own ideas, if the action out there on the stages is incredible, then that takes precedence. That’s what people want to watch, they want to see the best action.”

Quickly as the weekend ends, Piper is looking ahead to future events. “Once the event is established, you follow the storylines on top of the features as with any live event. Afterwards we have a debrief as we look ahead straight away to at least the next rally, if not a little bit further than that.”

The television feeds
Calling the job of a television director ‘easy’ is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, however the introduction of All Live has helped WRC’s television director Marko Viitanen this year.

“From a director’s point of view, making that one live television stage needed a lot of prep, because you needed to know what happened on the previous stages,” Viitanen says. “Now, when you’re directing All Live, you live the rally from start to finish. You know the order of the cars by heart, you know your shots, because you’re seeing all the on-board shots. You have the information burning through your brains, it is kind of easier!”

“I always compare directing rallying to cross-country skiing. In the best possible scenario, you have several cars on stage, and we can balance and bounce cars between the splits. We can actually put pictures to the stuff you, me, rally fans sitting at home have been watching on the timing screens for years.”

The set-up for the live World Feed stages is different to that for the over-the-top All Live stages. “We have a range of materials on offer for the World Feed,” Turvey notes. “There is a long action section at the end of the stage, covering the last couple of kilometres. We call this a line-cut section consisting of typically seven cameras, with an OB (outside broadcast) van.”

“We have a set team both on and off-air, with Jon Desborough leading commentary. In addition, there is a full graphics package, start camera, finish camera with interviews.”

All the work that Turvey is doing is on-top of his existing role from 2017, and as the team leaves Deeside, Turvey is already planning further ahead. “We’ll do the initial planning for [the next round in] Spain before we leave here, which is the on-air and off-air times. By the end of this weekend I’ll have this information ready for Spain.”

Beyond Spain, discussions are already beginning about next year’s rally, with the possibility of the opening stage moving to Liverpool and Manchester. And with that, the cycle for the 2019 Wales Rally GB begins already, it is the show that never stops…

Coming in the third and final part, we continue our look behind the scenes at the breadth and depth of WRC’s production suite.