ABC’s Indy 500 Puts Viewer in the Driver’s Seat With New On-Board Camera System

Fresh off signing a rights extension that will keep the Indianapolis 500 on ABC/ESPN through 2018, ESPN will roll out a colossal production at Indy Motor Speedway this Sunday, complete with a record-size camera complement and a new-and-improved on-board camera system from BSI (Broadcast Sports Inc.) that deploys a record four cameras.

“We think on-board pictures are compelling for viewers, especially in a telecast like the Indy 500, which we believe more people are watching than normally watch other open-wheel competitions,” says Rich Feinberg, VP, motorsports, ESPN. “It’s a holiday weekend in this country, and I know, growing up, it was a tradition in our family to watch the Indy 500.”

The On-Board Fantastic Four
The in-car camera systems are expected to be deployed on 12 (depending on final sponsorship arrangements) of the 33 cars in this year’s race. The BSI four-camera  systems debuted for IndyCar Series in March at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, FL, but this marks their first appearance at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” IndyCar’s new chassis from car manufacturer Dallara allows BSI to seamlessly integrate all four cameras directly into the body design and electrical system of the car. Cars without cameras will carry dummy units to ensure consistent weighting for all.

In addition to a 360-degree roll-hoop camera, cameras will be fastened to the rear wing (for a panoramic forward-facing shot), in the right-side radiator duct facing the front tire (for side views of the racing action), and on the rearview mirror (to capture the driver steering and shifting).

I Feel the Need, the Need for Dual-Feed
Sunday will mark the first IndyCar telecast to use BSI’s dual-path technology, which allows feeds to be transmitted from two onboard cameras on the same car at the same time. ESPN first used the dual-path technology for its NASCAR Sprint Coverage (which features three on-board cameras) at last year’s Brickyard 400 at Indy Motor Speedway. As many as 16 on-board camera feeds can be monitored at a time, meaning that, although all 12 cars will have dual-path capability, ESPN can monitor only four secondary feeds at a time.

“In Indy, based on production discretion, the driver shot would be the first feed, and the other feed would be switched between the other three cameras,” says ESPN Operations Manager Dennis Cleary. “We, along with the director, can ask the BSI technicians to switch the feeds. Then, as cars get eliminated, we can change between different feeds.”

Also for the first time, viewers of the ABC telecast will be able to live-stream video from the onboard cameras on ESPN3, WatchESPN, and Indycar.com (available online and on smartphones, tablets, and Xbox Live to viewers who receive their Internet/video from an affiliated provider). Viewers will be able to view all available driver onboard cameras as well as listen to individual team radio channels. ESPN3 will have replays of the ABC telecast following the event.

“As producers and engineers and talent and storytellers, we are constantly thinking about producing content for every screen, whether it’s tablets, whether it’s digital, whether it’s dotcom,” says Feinberg. “And I think that, this year, there will be more content available surrounding the Indy 500 than ever before.”

All Over Indy
As always, ESPN will have a massive presence this weekend at Indy Motor Speedway that goes well beyond the average IndyCar race. The network will deploy NEP SS21 (A and B units) as its primary mobile unit and IMS Productions’ HD1 as a secondary truck.

In addition to the (expected) 48 in-car cameras, ESPN will scatter 47 cameras throughout Indy Motor Speedway (totaling an astonishing 95 cameras), including eight Robovision robotic cameras, four POVs (two of which are Iconix cams), four Sony HDC-3300 super-slo-mos (up from three last year), and a helicopter cam from Helivision, three NAC Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mos, and the beloved “Batcam” (an Indy Motor Speedway staple).

Sunday’s race will mark the debut of the much hyped NAC Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo cameras for ESPN motorsports coverage. ESPN will have three NACs on hand, courtesy of Fletcher Chicago, positioned outside turn two and turn four and near the pit entrance.

The Batcam will also return to Indy this year to provide unique aerial views over pit road and the front stretch. Provided by Worldwide Specialty Rigging, the Batcam is a two-point aerial system that can move at more than 80 mph; it is used by ESPN exclusively for Indy Motor Speedway races.

“We can use [Batcam] for beauty shots, crowd shots, and we can use it to document pit road because it literally flies over pit road and a portion of the racetrack,” says Feinberg. “We can also use it for coverage as the cars are coming down the front stretch headed towards turn one. It’s an exciting shot, unique to that racetrack and offers some glorious views of the pageantry of the Indianapolis 500.”

ABC’s coverage of the Indianapolis 500 begins with a one-hour preview show from Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 11 a.m. ET, with the race telecast at noon. The green flag is at 12:12 p.m. “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has aired on ABC every year since 1965.