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BTCC insight

13 Jul 2009

Our BTCC insider Tim Harvey on how he juggles commentating and racing

When His Royal Highness, our esteemed editorial director Mr Metcalfe, rushed up to me at the BRDC Grand Prix ball, I thought it was to castigate me for my last column. I had just begun mentally preparing my defence against some impending lawsuit that would result in probable imprisonment (or bankruptcy at the very least) when I saw a big smile spread across his face. ‘Congratulations,’ he said.

I knew I hadn’t won any races (hopefully resolved by the time you read this!) or won any competitions, so all I could assume was that I had finally been approved by the bean- counters to get a free subscription to evo. Happy days! But it transpired that Harry wanted to congratulate me on my writing prowess. ‘You’re the first racing driver who can actually write,’ he continued. Well, I thought, that is faint praise indeed…

It was a similar scenario that first introduced me to commentating and presenting back in the late ’90s, when the director of Anglia TV’s regional motoring show decided that I interviewed well as a driver and might serve some useful (i.e. cheap) role in his programme. I presented my first series of The Roadshow back in 1998, and my co-presenter was Paula Hamilton. Best known for appearing in her fur coat in that classic VW Golf ad, Paula was, and perhaps still is, the thinking man’s posh totty. That should make learning all about this presenting lark even more interesting, I thought. Sadly, this was not the case. Her well- reported domestic issues and a battle with the bottle meant that many days’ filming were lost and Paula, bless her, needed so many takes we usually ran out of film.

The whole idea of redoing a piece of film was alien to me. I came from a world where there were no second chances to get the lap right in qualifying, let alone five or six goes at it. Usually my first take was the most natural and best, but then the camera or sound guys would want to do it again ‘just to be safe’ or because they had messed up or could improve the shot. I still always tried to get my bit perfect on the first try, though, and this proved to be great practice for doing live commentary on the BTCC.

It goes without saying that one must not swear or ignore the PC guidelines when doing live TV, but of course things do go wrong… At the final meeting at Brands Hatch in 2005, Matt Neal was battling for the championship with Yvan Muller when the two came together on the fast approach to Hawthorns. ‘F***ing hell!’ I heard through my headphones. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I turned to Ben Edwards to find him looking at me in the same bewildered manner, both of us thinking the other had just sworn on live TV. After a few moments we picked up the commentary and it was only later that we discovered it had been the director in the edit suite who had shouted the comment. Turns out he was so engrossed in the racing it just come out. Fortunately he is not broadcast, so it was not heard by all!

My joint roles of racing and commentating on the same day do throw up some challenges. Often I will be racing immediately prior to or directly after a BTCC race that I have to commentate on, and as the assembly area is usually miles from the commentary box, I will sometimes have to commentate in my overalls, duck out on the last lap and jump on a golf cart to get to my race car! (A scooter would be quicker, but sadly these are banned at car racing meets. They’re still allowed at bike meetings, though. Obviously the public that can be knocked over at bike races are different to those at car races…)

Changing my mindset from commentating to racing is never a problem. Although it’s not the best mental preparation for some, for me it is not an issue. I will have prepared everything with the team in advance and once I get my helmet on I’m ready to go. It can even be an advantage if I’ve been able to see changing track conditions prior to my race. My biggest fear is breaking down or getting stranded away from the paddock during my race when I have to be back to commentate immediately after. Thankfully this has not happened yet, because I really don’t fancy taking up jogging again!

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