ESPN’s Sprint Cup Coverage Goes Full Throttle With Robotic Hi-Motion Cameras

A year before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races over to NBC Sports Group (the Peacock announced a 10-year deal with NASCAR last week), ESPN’s stock-car–racing coverage is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the network expanded its use of Ultra Hi-Motion last weekend during the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and will continue to showcase the technology throughout the final 17 races of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series.

ESPN’s live, flag-to-flag coverage of the Brickyard 400 included four Ikegami NAC Hi-Motion II cameras provided by Fletcher. Two were used in a robotic configuration; the first, numbered Camera 11 in the production plans, was mounted on the pit wall by the “yard of bricks” that comprises the venue’s the start/finish line.

“Camera 11 is on the pit wall at the yard of bricks,” said Operations Producer Terry Cook, speaking prior to Sunday’s race. “Its coverage is to get cars coming into the pit, and then, since it’s a robotic camera [and] we’re down on the pit wall, we’re right near the action; we can get the crews working on the cars, jacking them up, changing tires, and that kind of stuff.”

The second camera, outfitted with an 86x long box lens and numbered Camera 32 in the complement, sat on the outside wall of turn one, to the driver’s right.

“Its coverage primarily will be to cover the start of the race or the restart of the race after a caution, and then it can also get some pit-stop action,” he noted. “It is low to the track surface [and] sits about 4 or 5 ft. off the track surface on the inside of the fence so it’s not shooting through any obstacles.”

ESPN debuted the high-speed cameras in a manned configuration during last year’s coverage of the Sprint Cup Series. Working with Robovision, the network employed the two Hi-Motion II cameras in a robotic configuration for Brickyard 400, enabling it to get closer to the action while adhering to NASCAR’s safety mandates (camera operators are not permitted on the racing side of the pit wall). The robotic cameras capture footage and store it in the camera head, which is then accessed and played back by an EVS replay server operator in the truck.

The third Hi-Motion II camera, manned by a camera operator and equipped with a 100x lens, was stationed in a high camera platform atop the grandstand, capturing turns one and two. The fourth, also manned and with a 100x lens, covered the short shoot between turns three and four from a high camera platform.

Looking Ahead
In this Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway and beyond, ESPN plans to carry two Ikegami NAC Hi-Motion II cameras in manned configuration. At Pocono, nicknamed the Tricky Triangle, one high-speed camera will be located on “the tunnel turn” — the straightaway from turn one to turn two — while the other will be stationed at turn two going into turn three.

As for future uses of the robotic configuration, the Brickyard 400 served as a testing ground, and, as the season progresses, ESPN may decide to return to the configuration. That decision, said Cook, will be determined on a track-by-track basis.

Rounding Out the Complement
In addition to the four Ikegami NAC Hi-Motion II cameras, ESPN deployed 68 cameras at Brickyard 400, including a Sony slow-motion unit in turn three and three small Iconix cameras. One Iconix, similar in size to lipstick cameras, was mounted in the wall in turn four; the other two were “grass cams.”

“There’s an in-ground vault in turn one in the grass and also one in turn three, and we put the electronics in that vault, run a cable out, and we’ll have a camera right at the edge of the track getting that low perspective,” Cook explained. “Traditionally, we’ve only had one in turn one, but we added one in three this year.”

Since 2007, ESPN has deployed NEP SS21 A, B, C, and D units for its NASCAR coverage. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, approximately 130 staffers crewed the kickoff to ESPN’s NASCAR schedule.

BSI Shifts Into High Gear
ESPN installed three cameras in eight cars for the Brickyard, using dual-path transmission powered by Broadcast Sports Inc.

“We have driver cam, and then the other path we can switch from a rear bumper cam or roof cam,” said Cook. “We can shoot roof cam ahead of the car and then, [with] the driver cam, shoot the driver simultaneously.”

As the Sprint Cup series progresses, ESPN may experiment with alternative locations for in-car cameras. Options include a foot cam, which would show the driver working the clutch; a brake cam, particularly in a shorter track like Bristol; or a suspension cam, tucked in the wheel well, showing the mechanics of the car.

ESPN will return its helicopter cam — introduced at the Brickyard 400 in 2011 — for marquee races in the Sprint Cup series. The helicopter, also powered by BSI, will provide aerial coverage from a low-front camera.

Batcam Grounded
One camera that is not returning is the Batcam. ESPN planned to use the aerial-camera system at the Brickyard 400 and again at Watkins Glen; however, NASCAR suspended the use of aerial camera systems pending the completion of the investigation into the system failure at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. During Fox Sports’ telecast, the cable that moved the CAMCAT aerial camera snapped and fell, injuring 10 fans and damaging several cars, resulting in a 30-minute delay.

“We have an excellent working relationship with NASCAR and totally understand their position,” said Rich Feinberg, VP, motorsports, production, ESPN, in a statement. “We look forward to beginning our NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule at Indianapolis and televising 17 great weeks of racing.”

The Chase, NonStop
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup — the final 10 races of the Sprint Cup series that constitute NASCAR’s playoffs — will begin on Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway and end on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the 10 races of the Chase, ESPN will bring back NASCAR NonStop, the network’s split-screen approach to in-race commercials introduced in 2011. The first half of the race will be presented with traditional commercial-break format; the second will feature non-stop NASCAR action from the track on the right-hand side of the screen while commercials run on the left-hand side. ESPN’s scoring ticker will continue to run along the bottom of the screen.

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