Simracing Commentary: From a Broadcaster’s Perspective.

Simracing has always been in the shadows, however over the last couple of years, we have seen how simracing has begun to push more and more into the light and gain more traction in the racing setting. Be it the up and coming GRC world championship qualifiers, Formula One, the CTC Lotus 79 Series or the Maxx Bantz Open, a series will never take off and be amazing unless you have a commentator behind it.

Jake Sparey commentating
Racespot TV, GSRC & V8s Online commentator Jake Sparey making the jump into the real world side of things @ Mendips Raceway

Some of the most awe inspiring moments have an iconic voice behind it and you can look into any sport for the money call. Martin Tyler’s career was cemented with Sky in 2012 after his bellow of “Aguero!” Richie Benaud in the 2005 Ashes as Michael Kasprowicz would be dismissed three runs short, offering only the simplest of language to get over the situation. “Jones!” The man who caught the ball, “Bowden!” The umpire who gave the final wicket and “Kasprowicz the man to go and Harmison has done it.” The batsman declared out and the bowler who delivered the magic ball. Or most famously in motorsport by Martin Brundle, “is that Glock?” as Lewis Hamilton went to take his first F1 title.

Sporting moments are all remembered by the call, which goes hand in hand with the action. My goal with this article is to be open about what I deal with during a broadcast and what I look at with myself to improve and to share what runs through my head throughout a race.

Before I start though, I must jump in and say that I am not perfect when it comes to commentary and I make some of the mistakes that are described below. The goal is always to improve your craft and with anything that is a craft, there is no such word as perfection. Also with things that I describe, there is no guarantee that this will work for you, and naturally some things will sound better than others, trial and error is normally the way.

Before a Cast

Something that is very simple but easily forgotten is everything you need to do before a broadcast. I’m not going to sit here and offer suggestions on the absolute best way to broadcast a race but more rather share my thought process. I have worked for all four of iRacing’s biggest road commentary teams being Racespot TV, Apex Racing TV, V8s Online and the Global Sim Racing Channel, and with working for many companies, style is always going to be different.

Connery Maddick commentating
Racespot TV Commentator Connery Maddick @ University of Derby varsity esports event

It may be something as simple as how you get your cues to how action is handed to you, to the software used and the way you structure your language, the first thing I ask myself when preparing for a broadcast is, “what company am I working for?” For example, Racespot TV is the biggest simracing broadcast company in the world, who broadcast in the British style of commentary, very formal, to the point, however you have your own freedom when it comes to how you open up with what you say. This holds up almost identically to V8s Online and the Australian broadcasting style however with that style, how you can say things is more informal, you have the space to showcase more of your personality to fit the more intimate nature of the broadcast.

This though changes drastically with the Global Sim Racing Channel and the American style which loves to run off of a script, meaning you are writing your intro and your outro before the race has even begun, giving yourself no surprises, and no opportunity to be stuck behind the microphone. Often your creativity will come out in what you write, but you need to be careful to not sound forced or contrived.

The next question I ask is, “what role in the broadcast am I playing?” There are differences between being a play-by-play commentator and a colour commentator, and your role drastically impacts what content you put out. A broadcast duo or trio is like a dance. you need to be able to flow well with your partner while making sure you are following the right steps. A good broadcast duo will be able to seamlessly flow between steps, or how I prefer to understand a race, to imagine each race as a book, and between chapters, you can make the narrative feel natural.

For a play-by-play/lead, I view the role as being the bridge between the audience, the main dish. The role of the play-by-play is to be able to guide an audience through a race, keeping them informed on what is happening and what is on screen while being able effectively combine what is being added as flavour by a colour commentator. The role often needs you to be proactive and to be an active listener, to be able to direct questions about a topic while keeping abreast of two or three different topics developing on the circuit. At the same time, you need to be clear with your points, as you cannot assume your audience knows everything, especially when a new viewer can watch any broadcast at any point in time.

A colour broadcaster relies less about the storytelling aspect but more rather is there to enhance the broadcast. Often it is the colour commentator’s role to add information to the viewer about what the vehicle is doing or give background on what a driver is doing, and how you flavour sometimes has a big effect on the overall broadcast. If you are too strong, you sometimes find that people cut over the top of each other which hampers the information being sent and also can lead to sounding like two people arguing about a brake caliper on a classic sports car.

If you are too weak, you can often find that the information is either repetitive or not enough, which leaves a broadcast turning bland and single track, frequently escalating down to a pit of boredom. Sometimes you will need spice, other times you need to be plain. It is about the balancing act between the pair that always needs to be considered when creating the perfect dish that is a broadcast.

The last thing I ask myself is, “what sort of event am I covering?” There is a massive difference in tone between a five minute Rallycross heat and four hours of a 24 hour event. Differences in style between sprint and endurance events need to be accounted for while still allowing for light and shade in both areas. It also depends on category too in terms of how you pace yourself. A skip barber race for example often sees a lot of vehicles in close proximity, therefore passing is a frequent part of a broadcast. Likewise it would be very difficult in a Formula One race to keep up a high intensity when there are next to no overtakes going on. You need to be able to half guess what sort of action you would typically get.

Building To Action

Building up to a race is arguably more important than the race itself. It is here that you set the scene for your event, be it a one off race, a season opener, the mid part of a season or a championship showdown, the opening build to the action is to set the narrative for your audience to follow. With any story, there are main characters and there are side characters, and every single one holds different weights of importance. Through the course of before a race and qualifying, and during the race too, you need to be able to build up your characters so that the action means something more.

Wil Vincent commentating
Perhaps the most well recognised voice in simracing, Wil Vincent in the view of many raised the bar in terms of simracing commentary when it comes to tension building

like a wrestling booker, your job is to try and get the talent “over” or popular. The job is to build up the character of a racer to add reasons to why someone watching should care. Facts and stats make for a good backbone on what sort of ability a character has but at the same time, what gets left out of broadcasts is the human element. Personality is often missing from building someone up and the only ways in simracing that you are going to get that across is if you have seen the driver race a lot or if you take the time to talk to some of the drivers.

Interviews at the end of races can be very useful because not only can you talk to them in person, but if you are clever, most people stay behind and want to talk and be friendly. If you ever want to understand how a driver behaves and get his personality, all you need to do is talk.

It is also very important to build up the setting too heading to a broadcast. The track you race at makes a massive difference to the type of story you tell. A street circuit like Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve will have a completely different racing style to New Hampshire’s Roval course. You need to be able to showcase the track’s strengths and weaknesses to the audience so that they can appreciate more about how a driver races, whether they are looking for the safe move or if they are willing to take more risks as an example.

The Run to Turn One

The start of the race is the most important part of any race that you cover. This is typically where you are most likely to find the bulk of the action and making the start memorable and exciting is crucial. Be careful though on overthinking the start though. Going too fast often leads to tripping up on your own words, negating any effect you were going for. It isn’t a crime to go slower as long as you get your words out the way you want to.

It is very important to find a few subjects to talk about in the initial run too. Always talk about how the man in the lead starts because it is always a story whether he has the lead through one or he doesn’t. Often you should pit the pole sitter against the driver in second position and how he makes his start, and behind that, typically you tend to look for anyone within the front three or four rows who makes positions early so that you can already think about integrating secondary storylines into the broadcast.

The one weakness I personally have heading to turn one is that i don’t always see what goes on in the back, meaning I am always very reliant on my producer to say something in my ear or for the colour to jump in. This would only be the case through the run to turn one as to counter this, i normally cycle back through the field to catch everything.

Most of what you find with the opening corner is like the first battle in a movie. It is high paced, energetic and there may or may not be a significant death along the way. If you get this part correct, you bring the rest of the story into your hands.

The Opening Laps

The opening laps are very important to the event, especially for maintaining your viewer. This is where most of your action is going to be so you need to be able to pick up on the early storylines that are developing. An early spin instantly sets up the recovery angle, whereas an early breakaway, while fleeting, could be crucial to building up a character later down the line. It is in this part that you tend to find notes sprinkled in about prior achievements or prior races. Make sure to sell why a driver or a team is doing so good while also being able to maybe offer a construct that maybe adds a human layer to the team or driver, because not everyone in your story can be the good guy!

Make sure to settle down into a rhythm and find your gear because you should look to try to run between 60 and 80% in terms of tone and pitch. Most of your ability will be displayed here, make sure to make the shop window look pretty.

The Middle Bit

The middle bit is where most people begin to struggle as the action tends to die down. Finding what to say to fill air time is often the hardest challenge that a broadcaster will go through and especially in long endurance broadcasts, you have a LOT of time to fill. During this time is when you get into the nitty gritty things like talking about the vehicles and how they operate, if there are pit stops, they become massive as talking points and ultimately, this is where you have to work your hardest to keep your audience.

Rasmussen losing control while chasing down teammate Job.

A great race will naturally do that however you have to keep your audience engaged. Make sure that you don’t end up repeating yourself, and make sure to focus on storylines lower down the field to add new characters to the mix. Variety is the spice of life, so make sure to showcase as many people as you can without detracting away from any good action on track.

Building up to Home

The latter laps are about your outgoing storylines. These are your final battles. this isn’t ever going to be a story with an inconclusive ending, unless you have stewards decisions that can influence the ending. 99/100 times, you have to make sure your story is building up. Focus on the leading battle then push backwards to the podium and the top five or ten.

Picture of the vendaval simracing car and the radicals online car having their final lap incident

This is the grand finale to the final lap, you have to be able to go at 100% at any time but you need to be able to build at 80-95% depending on style. In endurance, when you struggle to find the last battle, the 80-95 percent will be about highlighting the key points of the event whereas a sprint race will be much different.

The Final Lap

DO NOT SANDBAG YOUR FINISH!! what I mean by that is that you cannot afford to sell your story short. This is the final memory the audience is going to have therefore you have to sell the impression you want at the end. If there is a battle for the win, you start hitting 98% waiting for the action to make it hit 100-110%. if there isn’t really a battle, you sell the achievements of the event, and sell why the winner has won, and why he deserves to win.

Your job as a broadcaster is to get people over as I said before. The end is the biggest push, because someone walks away a winner, and someone a loser, and as a story, that is everything you want it to be, because the more basic the emotion, the easier it is for the audience has it to understand.

Also make sure to pick the right battle to look at. The battle for 38th is not as important as the one for 3rd. More important characters have more to win and lose, the audience loves seeing battles that mean something.

In Summary

How you tell your story is up to you, however the principles I follow for any race is as follows:

Start
Action
Character Building
Strategy
Vehicle
Build
Money Call

Make sure that you work out the right tone, pitch and reaction from situation to situation and whatever you do, make sure to be unbiased on your call. Don’t focus all your time on your best friend or the championship leader. Everyone needs to be shown, so make sure you don’t hold any legitimate favouritism.

That has been an insight into how I look at a race, and while it isn’t right or wrong, this article was written to showcase my thought processes while I try and navigate through a broadcast. It can often be a thankless job, but it is one in simracing that I adore more than anything else. I love telling the stories that forms the history we stand on. If you want to get into commentary, the important thing to remember is that its about finding your style.

Sure I can tell you how I do it but everyone has a view and a preference. Make sure you take as much info as you can and use it to construct your own tower. With that said, there is a portal into my haven, and something I have never really had a chance to talk in great length about.

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