Rally fans are spoilt when it comes to modern-day coverage of the World Rally Championship. The introduction of WRC All Live in 2018 has been a revelation for the pinnacle of rallying. It is hard to imagine how we coped without it.
Speaking to Rally Insight, WRC commentator Becs Williams gives an inside look at the first three years of WRC’s ground-breaking production.
“I think All Live itself has been the biggest change for the WRC’s coverage,” explained Williams. “Prior to that, the only live coverage we had was audio only through the radio.
“You had to visualise things yourself and radio was hugely successful because of that aspect but to all of a sudden having this incredible access to every single stage, to be onboard with drivers on every stage, to have static cameras, and helicopter footage, it is amazing.”
From Teemu Suninen’s dramatic first stage crash on Rally Monte-Carlo to Craig Breen’s rapid gearbox service on Arctic Rally Finland; All Live has already captured some incredible moments two rallies into 2021.
But as Williams explains, the jump into on-the-edge, state-of-the-art technology didn’t come without its teething problems.
“I remember when we started in Monte-Carlo, which was a huge baptism of fire, on Thursday night the start of WRC All Live did not go to plan for anyone.
“We had two stages in darkness and we did All Live plus the radio. There was a crazy amount going on but also nothing really worked.
“The helicopter couldn’t fly and we had just switched to a new timing provider so there were some issues with the splits.
“It was all a bit chaotic to say the least and walking out of our working areas we were just going ‘Whoah, this bloody get better tomorrow.’ And it did!
“Immediately the next day was 100% better but in a way it was good that we had problems on Thursday night. It woke us up to the fact that this was technology at its furthest stretch.
“We are trying to show live moving vehicles over a 20-mile track and we are trying to broadcast that completely live.
“It’s not possible to get a four-day live broadcast perfect. If you get it all perfect then you are superhuman.”
As for the obvious question to the voice that has been at the WRC’s forefront in the 21st century – has WRC+ turned out as expected?
“I think it has been even better.
“I don’t know what my perception of All Live was at the beginning. I think if I’m truly honest, I was worried that All Live would come in and the radio would no longer have its purpose.
“The radio did disappear four rallies into the season. We lost our funding from various sources and as I had been there from the start of the radio project, it was pretty hard to accept – 17 years is a long time!
“However, I was really enjoying the new All Live format and from a personal perspective, I wanted something that would challenge me and push me forward, a new learning experience.
“All Live definitely had the challenge factor I was looking for. I couldn’t wait to get into work every day.
“I didn’t know what All Live was going to be like, I didn’t know how they were going to do it because I knew how difficult it was just to get radio signal on some of the stages.
“I think I spent the whole of 2018 just being quite surprised that everything was going so well.
“The feedback was fantastic but everyone in the team was still thinking about how it could be done better: what features can we do, how can we include support championships.”
WRC coverage has been constantly evolving and coronavirus restrictions threw in an unexpected curveball. Despite the extra challenges the quality of production has continued at an exceptional standard.
Of course, like any product, the consumer will have areas they feel could be improved. A regular reproval being the amount of screen-time support categories get.
“We do see the feedback and we understand more than anyone how important giving coverage to the support championships is,” said Williams.
“Most stages run in a loop of three or four, and can run pretty close together in terms of time.
“We try to squeeze in as many support cars as we can that are using the live onboard kits but once the next stage has started with World Rally Cars, our coverage must head there.
“The helicopter will have already moved and so will the repeater plane which circles above the stages and bounces the broadcast signal.
“It is a massive thing within the organisation; that we want to promote the support championships.
“We know how important the support championships are and we create edits every day to show them in action. These are used on All Live and across social.
“On some stages we get the opportunity to show more supports, in the Arctic for example we picked up coverage after a live terrestrial TV broadcast to follow the rest of WRC 2 and hopefully all of WRC 3 with All Live.
“Mads Ostberg was with me and we were having a ball chatting all things support until [Emil] Lindholm crashed and blocked the stage and then there were no more cars!
“That was hugely unfortunate but it can happen!”
As the WRC heads to Croatia for the first time, everyone following the series will be hoping for yet another thriller.
In a period where travelling to and spectating on events is largely out of question, the production team behind WRC’s All Live service has never been as invaluable.
The fact that they are still all striving to improve and better the product, in a similar fashion to the crews they are recording, speaks volumes for their commitment to give rallying’s world championship the coverage it has long deserved.
Tomorrow Rally Insight and Becs Williams review whether WRC’s premium service has improved the championship’s accessibility.
Photos courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport