There are so many sensations that fans miss when watching a race on TV. They don’t see the dramatic elevation changes, they don’t wrinkle their noses at the smell of cooked brakes, they don’t feel the ripples of air dispersing around them as a pack of cars drives past them at 200 miles an hour.
And those are just the small details you get when you sit at the side of the track. Imagine the feelings the drivers will experience that the fans will never know about.
“More people have skydived out of airplanes than have ever gotten in a car and raced,” Andy Jeffers, owner of Sports & Entertainment Media, who coordinates dashcam placement and sales for NASCAR, told ESPN.
In traditional stick and ball sports, the action is confined to a relatively small area. If you’re not watching home runs land at McCovey Cove during a San Francisco Giants game, you can bet the majority of the action will take place in the arena.
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However, in motorsport, racers get caught when they traverse several kilometers on the circuit at once. There are many areas that broadcasters need to cover, which means filming from a distance and using wide angles. These tactics give spectators all the action, but at such a distance they do so at the expense of transmitting the speed the riders are achieving.
“How do you show speed? That’s the hardest part [broadcasting] Any form of motorsport: show speed,” said Jeffers. “It’s hard to talk about a driver: ‘Man, what these boys and girls are doing, that’s unreal! You’re on the limit all the time!’ For real? The antenna [camera] is great because it shows so much, but it can also look like LA traffic.”
That’s why so many series work with broadcast partners and broadcast hardware developers like Broadcast Sports International to find new and unique ways to get fans in the driver’s seat.
Last season, Formula 1 began experimenting with a camera integrated into a driver’s helmet. NASCAR has been perfecting the art of capturing video of the driver’s forehead since 2017. In MotoGP, the two-wheeled equivalent of F1, several riders’ protective leather suits now feature a shoulder-embedded camera.
“It’s really hard to replicate the experience of a Formula 1 car,” Dean Locke, director of broadcast and media for F1, told ESPN. “It’s not just about acceleration, it’s about braking and until you see these cars in real life you don’t appreciate that.”
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) June 24, 2022
It’s one thing to convey how fast these racers go, it’s another to illustrate the physicality they are subjected to at triple-digit speeds.
“For the people who have never hopped on a bike, it’s incredible,” said Suzuki MotoGP rider Alex Rins after the introduction of the shoulder cam last November.
As athletes, riders and drivers would like to share these experiences with their fans. They pride themselves on showing the strength of their bodies when subjected to the kind of G-forces that the cast of Top Gun: Maverick have become accustomed to over the course of their extensive training regimen.
In Formula 1, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was at the forefront of helmet camera development, and his Bell helmet was the first to broadcast video to the international audience of the series from Spa, Belgium, last August.
“I find [the drivers] I find it really interesting that they’re able to take the excitement of driving these cars to a broader reach,” Locke said.
But not only viewers at home benefit from this technology.
At NASCAR, some drivers collect whatever helmet cam footage they can find and use it as a learning tool. It’s valuable to see a driver’s inputs in real-time, every wheel spin or brake slam, and how those actions are reflected in telemetry data.
“The younger drivers love it because it’s a huge learning tool for them,” Jeffers said. “The old school riders, how many kilometers did they do in practice and tire testing?
“These guys came about when you learned something just by looking at your butt and how your butt felt in the seat of that car. Now, with limited practice, there’s a disadvantage for the younger guys because they don’t know these tracks or how the tires will wear or how the car will drive.”
However, being a sport at the highest level, there are always those who will try to steal a bit of information from a rival and use it to their advantage.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 29, 2022
Cameras mounted in the footwell can be insightful in learning how drivers are getting the most out of their brakes, which can be particularly valuable on street circuits. Ricky Rudd, a 23-time NASCAR Cup Series winner and notorious track ace who retired after the 2007 season, had no interest in such a camera setup because he didn’t want to teach his rivals how to when on can unlock him the tracks went right.
Cameras that allow fans a view from the driver’s seat also give competitors a glimpse of vehicle data and information presented to drivers via displays on the steering wheel or dashboard. Several teams in NASCAR now obfuscate this data by displaying inaccurate numbers, using internal codes, or conversions so only they know the true meaning of the numbers on screen.
As camera and broadcast technology continues to evolve, so will the series’ pathways to bring fans closer to the action. The very first helmet cam in NASCAR, worn by Danica Patrick at the 2017 Sonoma Round, consisted of a visor attachment device, a GoPro-like camera, and a power cord. Today the whole device weighs less than an iPhone.
However, the future of fan immersion isn’t just visual. Formula 1 is working to improve the audio experience for viewers at home and to find new ways to use biometrics to illustrate the physical forces faced by drivers.
“Where can we innovate? Where can we bring fans back into this experience? Biometrics are interesting,” Locke said. “Can we do something about the stress levels? G-force readings that we can get from a driver and compare them to fighter pilots and astronauts because I’m sure it’s very similar.”
Regardless of the speed at which these technological developments take place, fans at home on the couch will never have the same experience as those sitting off the track – at least until Smell-O-Vision becomes a reality. Until then, enjoy the dawn of this golden age of experience that racers around the world experience every weekend.
https://www.espn.com/racing/story/_/id/34142507/motorsports-bringing-action-your-living-room-never-before Motorsports like F1, NASCAR, MotoGP are bringing the action into your living room like never before