When I entered the media center at Losail a few weeks ago, I happened to be thinking about how many people contribute to our enjoyment of MotoGP. From the journalists who write the background stories and race reports, to photographers who show us things we can't see on video, to the large number of people who produce the TV feed, each has his or her role in bringing us closer to the racing and increasing our enjoyment of what we see.
Years ago I was an avid bicycle racer, very much inspired by watching Greg Lemond take on the world in a sport dominated by Europeans. The TV broadcasts featured the commentary of a man named Phil Liggett, who still works as one of the main voices of cycling broadcasts in English. Liggett's enthusiasm and passion for cycling are inseparable from my experience of watching those 1980s Tours de France (and every one since, in fact), and he has stuck in my mind as someone who will be, for many, as big a part of the events he described as the events themselves.
For as annoying as poor commentary can be, good commentary can bring to the viewer's experience an element of enjoyment that comes only from being simultaneously educated and entertained. In MotoGP we are fortunate to have a team of commentators who bring a unique combination of expertise and passion for their subject to the British Eurosport broadcasts. Toby Moody and Julian Ryder are similarly inseparable from the MotoGP experience of the Eurosport viewer as Phil Liggett has been for many cycling fans.
So I asked Toby and Julian if I might join them briefly during a broadcast. For this request I had a very selfish reason: I wanted to have at least a handful of images of Toby and Julian at work for my archive, because to me, they are a significant part of the greater MotoGP story. In typically gracious form, they welcomed me into their small room there at Losail and said I could snap away while they worked.
Though many reading this will be familiar with the passion they bring to each broadcast, the audio of their commentary doesn't show us what's actually going on in the booth, so I thought I would describe that briefly to go along with a few images from the 10 minutes I spent with them during the Moto2 FP2 session.
The first thing that struck me is that what they make look so easy is in fact quite difficult. They work from notes they've gathered between sessions, notes scribbled after chats with people in the paddock, and made never knowing exactly what they might have an opportunity to share with the audience. The view out of the booth is very narrow, and their comments are made responding mainly to what they see on two monitors, one with the world feed and the other with the official timing information. If you don't think this is difficult, try turning the sound down and see if you can say anything interesting in real time while the action goes on in front of you.
But the most impressive thing to me was how they work in tandem nearly as a single intelligence to maintain the rhythm of the commentary. They use hand signals, nods of the head, and voice inflection to lead each other along a shared path of live commentary that is often much more interesting than what is happening on track. I am accustomed to hearing the finished product, but seeing it happen before me allowed me to appreciate how much skill goes in to making the performance look easy. There's the old cliché of the married couple, each of whom can finish the other's sentences, and Toby and Julian certainly have an element of that type of relationship, based on years of working together and knowing instinctively what the other is going to be thinking five or even ten seconds in the future.
The result is that we are gathered into their world of two close friends talking about a sport they truly love. The immense knowledge they share between them and the way in which they share it makes us care about what we are seeing as they talk, and in instances like the first rounds of the season, this is even more important than usual. Even they are still learning what the new Moto3 bikes look like, which rider is on which bike, and what it is about a given personality that is interesting or otherwise something we should care about. Any sport, even motorcycle racing is, after all, boring unless you care about the outcome. Toby and Julian are able to pass along their own intense interest in the results of each session, and to me that is what makes their broadcast so special. When they are going crazy because some Moto3 rider you've never heard of just passed another Moto3 rider you've never heard of, the fact that they care so much about what has just happened is usually enough to get your interest.
I fully expect that the millions of viewers who enjoy MotoGP on British Eurosport will look back on the Moody-Ryder broadcasts with as much affection as they do having watched Rossi tell his story from season to season. I fully hope that the Moody-Ryder broadcasts continue for many years to come.
Sincerest thanks to Toby and Julan both from me personally and on behalf of MotoMatters for allowing me into their world and for the tremendous job they do.