ESPN Back in the Drivers Seat for Indianapolis 500

Coming off a four-year ratings high at the Indianapolis 500 last year, ABC/ESPN is primed to ramp up its coverage from the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend. Always one of the largest motorsports productions of the year, this year’s Indy 500 show on ABC will have no shortage of cameras and tech toys to help ESPN capture every angle of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, including an army of on-board cameras in the cars, a quartet of ultra-slo-mos, and a faster-than-ever Batcam system.

“It’s right up there, not only the biggest that we’ve ever done in IndyCar, but it’s into the category of the biggest we’ve ever done in motorsports,” says Rich Feinberg, VP, motorsports, production, ESPN. “While I don’t know every show my colleagues here do at ESPN, but, for a single-day, single-sport event, I would think that the 84 cameras is pretty high on the list for the biggest show that ESPN does period.”

Batcam, In-Car Cameras Highlight Coverage
Last year’s race attracted 6.9 million viewers, the most since 2008, and ESPN has pulled out all the stops this year in an effort to build on that momentum for this Sunday’s ABC telecast.

“The biggest challenge is that this is the largest technical production that ESPN puts on in any given year,” says Dennis Cleary, senior manager of operations, ESPN. “And besides the show, the amount of facilities that are here, the amount of cameras, and the small amount of setup time that we have makes it such a challenge.”

Included in ESPN’s colossal 84-camera complement in Indianapolis will be three onboard cameras per car in 12 of the 33 cars competing in the race, including four cars with Dual Path capability. BSI is once again providing all RF cameras, audio and in-car cameras for the race. Last year’s race in Indianapolis marked the first IndyCar telecast to use BSI’s dual-path technology (ESPN also uses the technology for its NASCAR coverage), which allows feeds to be transmitted from two onboard cameras on the same car at the same time. Cars without cameras will carry dummy units to ensure consistent weighting for all.

Additionally, the Batcam aerial camera system, a staple of recent Indy 500 productions, will once again be flying on a cable over pit road and the front stretch. The Worldwide Specialty Rigging system, however, has been enhanced and is now capable of reaching speeds as high as 95 mph (it previously topped out around 80 mph).

After debuting for ESPN motorsports at last year’s Indy 500, the Ikegami NAC Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo cameras are returning. ESPN has upped its NAC Complement to four — vs. three last year — and will position them in the short chutes at each end of the 2.5-mile track as well as at the fourth-turn exit. The fourth NAC camera has been added to provide a low shot entering the first turn. Provided by Fletcher, these cameras can shoot at speeds of up to 1,200 frames per second.

ESPN will also have four Sony HDC-3300 super-slo-mos, one positioned in each turn, and 12 Robovision HDL 40 robotic cameras on hand.

The Truck Compound
Per usual, ESPN has a massive presence in Indy, with NEP’s SS21 (A, B, C and E units) mobile units serving as its primary production hub and IMS Productions’ HD1 (A, B, C, and ST1) as its secondary trucks. In addition BSI has rolled out two trucks to handle the in-car cameras. A Mobile Sat C-Band Uplink will provide transmission services for the No. 1 ABC Primary feed, backup feed, and ESPN3 in-car camera feeds. Meanwhile a Midwest Uplink truck is handling the ESPN International World Feed. ESPN also has two LIVE Power twin-pack generator sets on hand.

“We’ve actually had both people and facilities roll into the speedway back to last week,” says Feinberg. “I was there this past weekend, and we were beginning our technical setup. We’re very familiar with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having gone there the last 49 years, and we get there twice a year with the Brickyard 400. We have an incredible group of engineers, many of whom have worked Indy and motorsports for our company for a very long time.

“It’s a very large, challenging undertaking,” he continues, “with hundreds of engineers and production people coming to town for the show. But, at the same time, given that we do a lot of racing and big motorsports shows, it’s somewhat of another week at the office for us.”

Hop Into the Driver’s Seat on ESPN3
Viewers of the ABC telecast will once again have the option of live streaming video from the onboard cameras on ESPN3, which will carry the feeds exclusively through WatchESPN and on Indycar.com (for viewers who receive their Internet or video subscription from an affiliated provider). Viewers will be able to choose which driver’s onboard cameras they want to watch from among the available cars, and, this year, for the first time, all of the feeds will include ESPN’s live scoring ticker. ESPN3 also will have replays of the ABC telecast following the event.

“We’re really excited about being able to broadcast the Indianapolis 500 on ABC at 11:00 this coming Sunday,” says Feinberg. “It will be the culmination of months of planning.  We’re really, really excited about it.”