Dorna Sports Makes MotoGP Roar With Customized Workflows
Productions include product development and testing with Audio-Technica, Grass Valley
Imagine a sport that attracts a six-figure crowd at every event, self-manages both its entire broadcast and live production all season, picks up and moves its sprawling tent thousands of miles, and does it all again in a matter of weeks — or even days.
MotoGP does just that: 20 races in 17 countries between March and November. In front of about 2.5 million fans, the two-wheeled racing scrimmage can hit 220 mph in the straightaways and an ear-splitting 109 dB on the curves.
On the 1,500-acre campus of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), in Austin, TX last month, the track’s broad curves and tight doglegs and the densely packed production compound of Dorna Sports, the Spain-based commercial-rights holder for Grand Prix motorcycle racing, suggests what it might be like if the Olympics’ IBC were to deploy once every few weeks instead of every two years.
This past weekend, the Dorna show was in Le Mans for the SHARK Grand Prix de France.
Dorna has been pulling it off for three-plus decades, since acquiring the exclusive commercial and television rights of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship in 1991. Its MotoGP productions deploy more than 180 cameras and scores of microphones as host-broadcast provider, sending feeds to such distributors as BT Sport, DAZN, Sky Sports, Canal+, and Servus TV.
“When Dorna acquired the rights to MotoGP in 1991, we realized there was more than one version of it: every country had its own vision of MotoGP,” says Sergi Sendra i Vives, head of global technology, Dorna Sports. “There was no standardization of the production that made the product unique. That would be Dorna’s mission: to communicate the sport better from a production and rightsholder point of view.”
In 30-plus years of fulfilling that mission, Dorna’s MotoGP staff has grown from just over a dozen to more than 500 people. The production has considerable standardization at this point — of the 160-180 cameras per production, 26-28 are deployed at curves and straightaways on all courses — but, Sendra says, that evolved over time at each venue.
“You need to see the bikes — MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3 — the behavior of the racing,” he explains, noting that each year’s fleets of bikes are prototypes, incorporating design and technical innovations their manufacturers are trying out. “The first race [at each new venue] is going to be the first for the riders, too. In the second year, we learn from that — maybe there is a need to change camera positions — and the third is when the positions may be made permanent. I’d say that 70%-80% of the production is the same from place to place, but the other 20% we need to adapt to each venue. It’s not like doing a football game in stadiums that are the same everywhere. That’s why we had to develop our own processes. For every MotoGP race, the riders have to adjust to the track. We do the same.”
Dorna Sports carries its own gear to set up the media compound— an estimated 80 tons of it — all loaded into custom flight cases. Certain cases — the modular, dual-expando production-control room, the audio-mix control room (ACR), the RF-management room — constitute their own package: unplugged, closed up, and ready to be loaded aboard a truck or an aircraft. The company contracts locally for certain services, such as the crane needed to place control units in the broadcast compound and cameras on their perches.
Besides bringing the production gear, Sendra notes, Dorna carries its own production culture. “We’re like the host broadcaster for the Olympics because our people do the same work no matter where the race takes place. We have to adapt for local conditions, like humidity in places like Malaysia or Indonesia, but the process is the same. It’s important to bring the same people who have the knowledge and experience to every race.”The main broadcast cameras deployed around the track include Steadicams, a Jimmy Jib, airborne cams, super-slow-motion cameras, and an eight-gyroscope gyrocam. Some have an Audio-Technica BP28L mono or BP4027 stereo shotgun mic attached. Others are matched with a pair of mono shotguns placed in X-Y configuration of either 90 or 110 degrees of incidence, depending on the location, and attached to track fences to pick up Doppler-type sound effects as bikes approach and depart. Track audio is embedded in the video signal and de-embedded at the ACR.
The Dorna broadcast compound is laid out for workflow. For instance, the output from the ACR is folded into the international program feed next door. The production-monitor displays showing the feeds around the race are arranged in a circular configuration, with camera numbers running clockwise to follow the action. Everything is designed to follow the linear narrative of the race itself.
To keep up with the pace of racing annually, Dorna has developed workflows that allow a considerable amount of postproduction to be done in near real time. For instance, in 2020, Dorna replaced its local servers with Adobe’s Creative Cloud SAAS, including Adobe Team Projects. To take advantage of the 1.4 PB of video content in its archives, the team created proxies for all the files by linking them directly to Premiere Pro via remote desktop.
Bike-Mounted Cams and Mics
A custom assembly developed by Dorna Sports is the positioning of four proprietary gyroscopic cameras, fitted with Fujifilm wide-angle lenses, aboard several bikes for each race: one is situated at the front pointing forward, one is on the rear facing backward, one is a “butt” cam, and the fourth is mounted near the dashboard and points toward the rider. Including a rear-mounted 2.4-GHz antenna, a camera-control unit, and the battery, the entire assembly weighs barely 4 lb. Another camera, mounted on the rider’s shoulder and weighing just over a pound, was added last year.
In addition, the butt cam and the front cam are equipped with a modified Audio-Technica BP899 low-profile lavalier omnidirectional condenser microphone. To record each perspective in stereo, another mic is paired with a shoulder-mounted cam processed for custom-attenuated sensitivity to account for the MotoGP bike’s unique sound-pressure levels.
Each race is mixed in both stereo and 5.1 surround, simultaneously, from a Lawo mc256 console in the ACR. They are linked via a micro harness, developed by Dorna engineers, that combines all video and audio signals on the bike into a single cable.
According to Sendra, the bike-mounted microphones have become central to the storytelling process, enabling viewers to hear not only the SFX of the race but also the chatter around crashes on curves and dismounts in the pits.
A total of 14 H.264 links come from 64 transmitters for the telemetry over 32 antennas distributed to nine endpoints in the pit area. “It’s a huge track,” notes Emanuele Carlini, HFC/OBU (hybrid fiber-coaxial/onboard unit) supervisor, Dorna, “so we need more transmission points.”
(The pits themselves are heavily wired but mainly for telemetry data allowing riders’ crews to monitor performance of both bike and rider. A very small amount of that data may be shared as graphical information on television. Jose “Pep” Mendoza, sound manager, media content, Technical & Production Department, Dorna, says the company is “very sensitive” to the need to keep potentially competitive information secure. “We have to have a careful balance between confidentiality and access. Over time, as the technology gets better, we hope to have more access.”)
Since MotoGP bikes are prototypes, annually tweaked and reflecting each manufacturer’s newest technology, Rodrigo Thomaz, project manager, broadcast partnerships, Audio-Technica, notes that the specific sound of each engine may vary from event to event, the noise sporadically punctuated by the percussive pops of the backfires during rapid downshifts approaching turns. Collectively, they sound like a swarm of heavily armed bees.
The other distinctive production element is deployment of Audio-Technica’s recently developed BP3600 eight-channel microphone, intended to be a single-source capture device for immersive audio, a format that Sendra says is on the near horizon for MotoGP.
At COTA, one was placed on a straightaway and another along the pit road. Each had its own stagebox, a customized version of a Lawo A__stage64 IP-audio unit in a ruggedized case, connected via the 16 or so miles of custom-made 72-strand fiber or Tri-X cabling around the track (nearly 50 miles of wire when RF antennas, 200 endpoints of a redundant Clear-Com FreeSpeak intercom, and other connections are counted, carrying combinations of MADI, Dante, and Ravenna network formats).
The BP3600 made its pre-release debut at the 2022 MotoGP Grand Prix of Spain, helping add a dimension to the event’s broadcast audio. It also underscored a relationship between the Madrid-based production company and the Tokyo-homed microphone manufacturer, one that goes back to 2018 when Dorna’s technicians and A-T’s engineers met in Japan and at races in Valencia and Barcelona. Sendra says the two companies’ engineering teams spent considerable time listening to and watching race footage, discerning the sport’s particular sonic nuances.
“For instance, sound sensitivity is different at different [air] pressures as [the sounds] hit the microphones,” he explains. “We were all learning lessons about race sound that didn’t exist before.”
According to Mendoza, Dorna’s technicians felt that A-T engineers understood the unique challenge of capturing the dynamic and timbral range of MotoGP, perhaps given Japan’s own lengthy history with motorbike development.
“We feel comfortable working together,” he says, noting a development arc ranging from the nuance of the pit road to the roar of the track straightaways, one pointing toward a future that will bring transducers ever closer to the riders themselves. “The Japanese engineers take the time to look deeply into things.”
Audio-Technica’s relationship with Dorna Sports isn’t exclusive but is extensive, the MotoGP events serving as proving grounds for microphone ideas and products. Says Gary Dixon, director, broadcast business development, A-T, “Motorsport provides a wide range of environmental, acoustical, and logistical challenges for our products and has proved to be an excellent proving ground for current and new products. Being able to capture the sound is what helps tell the story.”
Dorna Sports has a similarly close product-development arrangement with Grass Valley, whose Kahuna 6400 production switcher and customized K2 Dyno replay system, with linked metadata and file-management system, are central to the video workflow. Mendoza points out that Dorna handles different sources and feeds at every event, with several partners requiring various formats and deliveries. The Kahuna M/Es and the on-board FormatFusion3 technology support multiformat operations and any combination of SD, HD, 1080p, and 4K UHD, as well as HDR conversion at M/E level. Operators are able to seamlessly handle SDR and HDR in parallel for live productions, including between the Dorna master-control room in Barcelona and the disparate race locations around the world. Each of the three operators at the switcher manages six discrete camera feeds, calling out replay suggestions and feeding them to production.
The relationship extends to the FIM Enel MotoE World Championship, the electric-bike category introduced in 2019 and, like MotoGP, governed by the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM). For MotoE’s sound, the same onboard camera system will also carry new microphones designed and manufactured by Audio-Technica, says Sendra.
MotoGP is everything sports intends to be: exciting, unpredictable, and wonderfully noisy. But Dorna Sports’ production adds a dimension of technical and logistical innovation that will likely find its way into other sports productions in the future.