NBC Sports Revs Up IndyCar Series from Inside New Remote Production Truck

With the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series grand prix season underway alongside the glamour of the F1 season the NBC Sports motorsports team, led by coordinating producer Rich O’Connor, is in high gear to deliver all the racing action.

“It’s hard to compare the two because with F1 we’re mandated to take their feed which they pretty much control,” says O’Connor. “So we just take their feed into our building [in Stamford, CT] and integrate it here.”

The 13-event IndyCar Series, however, gives the NBC team much more control. Three mobile units from IMS Productions (HD-5, B-1, and C-1) are used to produce two HD feeds with 5.1 Surround Sound that are sent from the various circuits back to the aforementioned NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center. There are also six support trucks, including IMS ST-1, OPS-1, BSI for wireless cameras, JHE, Midwest Uplink for international needs, and a Calhoun Uplink for NBC Sports Network needs.

NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series grand prix schedule began on April 13 with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, CA, and concludes with the MAVTV 500 on August 30 in Fontana, CA. Coverage includes two doubleheader events – the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston and the Honda Indy Toronto – with two races from each location. NBC Sports Group’s race coverage also features the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Firestone 600, the Pocono IndyCar 500, the Iowa Corn Indy 300, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at the historic Milwaukee Mile, the oldest operating motor speedway in the world, and the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.

“This weekend we’re in Alabama and I call it the Augusta of racing because you get there and it’s beautiful with grounds that remind me of The Masters as there are the same kind of trees and flowers,” says O’Connor. “And the course is very rolling so our challenge is to convey the changes in elevation. So the camera placement director will do surveys and then it’s just a bit of luck when the cars hit that part of the track.”

“We’re certainly in control of our own destiny when choosing how to cover the races and we work in partnership with IMS Productions from Indianapolis and use their technical facilities,” says O’Connor.

New this year is the HD-5 production unit that just hit the road in the beginning of April. The Long Beach Grand Prix was its first race.

“For a truck doing it’s first show it was amazing that there were no big issues as most of the time during a multi-hour live show there will be more bugs,” says O’Connor. “And in many ways the front bench felt like the front bench in HD-1 [which was used previously] but HD-5 has more room on the sides and the tape room is significantly larger. But it still felt like home.”

O’Connor says the production philosophy is to let the race come to the production team. For example, in Long Beach there was no shortage of things happening on the track and there was a lot of passing in the back of the pack. Each race has 28 cameras for coverage and studio needs (including three RF crews in the pit area and in-car cameras from BSI) as well as more than 100 microphones and 25 miles of cable. All told the team of more than 110 will average 55,000 miles of travel for the 13 races.

“In the next-to-last round of pit stops we were able to tell the three-lap story of the stops because we weren’t in commercial break,” he adds.

Commercial breaks are always a challenge in racing coverage as the action is continuous. NBC Sports national commercial breaks feature non-stop coverage as the screen features two windows, one with the race and another with the commercial (viewers hear the commercial’s audio). Local breaks, however, require full-screen commercials meaning that race fans are in the dark about what is going on in the race.

The production from one race to the next is tailored to the specific circuit and if a race has been going on for many years, like the Long Beach Grand Prix, or at a track like the Texas Motor Speedway the blueprint is pretty well established for camera and mic placement.

This year also features a more compressed race schedule for the IndyCar Series. That means that at the end of the season there will actually be a stretch with three races in three weeks and then a stretch of four back-to-back races to close out the season.

“That will be a challenge,” says O’Connor. But one the team at NBC Sports its partners are up for. The next race is this Sunday at 2:30 pm EST.

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