Panasonic Revs Up Indy 500 Fan Experience With New LED Displays

Before Juan Pablo Montoya could cross the finish line to clinch his second Indianapolis 500 title, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prepared to accommodate hundreds of thousands of fans for Sunday’s iconic race. As part of its Project 100 — an ongoing major capital-improvement initiative that will conclude with the 100th running of the Indy 500 in 2016 — IMS unveiled 20 LED video displays from Panasonic Enterprise Solutions.

Located throughout the infield of the 2.5-mile oval track as well as in front of the grandstands, the new video displays are intended to provide a clear view of the race for every fan in attendance. However, Panasonic worked with the Speedway to ensure that the displays would not overpower the main event: the race itself.

“Indy has a tremendous tradition at the track, where they have a lot of respect for the way things have been,” says Keith Hanak, EVP, solutions and delivery, Panasonic Enterprise Solutions. “The final solution was really about taking and being respectful to all the traditions.”

Panasonic hit the ground running in early January and completed the project in time for a few test runs prior to Sunday’s race. In total, the networked LED displays measure a combined 11,540 sq. ft. — more than double the size of the previous boards — and contain more than 10 million pixels. Nearly half the new displays feature Panasonic’s 10mm technology.

The highest-resolution videoboard sits at each turn, with the largest at turns 1 and 4, measuring approximately 59 by 38 ft. Smaller boards were installed around the track, including above the Media Center, at the south end of Gasoline Alley suites, and beneath the infield awnings. In June 2014, Panasonic installed a 92-ft.-tall four-sided rectangular scoring pylon, bringing the total of new video displays to 20 in 2015.

“There’s a video screen at every turn now,” says Dan Unger, corporate communications manager, Panasonic. “We’ve been getting a lot of ‘thank yous’ from fans.”

To power the displays, Panasonic worked with the Speedway to upgrade the facility’s control room. Located inside the Panasonic Pagoda on the start/finish line, the revamped room features a Panasonic H6000 switcher and an updated graphics headend that includes Vizrt Viz Engine, Trio, and Multiplay.

“They have the capability to do telemetry, individual driver information, social media, and all the modern things that fans expect at these sorts of events,” says Hanak. “Panasonic worked very closely with [IMS President] Doug Boles in particular. … We had a tight timeline and a lot of screens to update and a lot of fans to satisfy, so we’re very pleased with what we came up with in terms of the ultimate solution. It was very collaborative with them: there were a lot of ideas proposed, and, in the end, I think the solution that we arrived at was the one that Indy was most comfortable with.”

Because the Speedway already boasted a fairly robust broadcast infrastructure, Panasonic repurposed much of the fiber already in place and used many of the same videoboard locations. Because the new displays would be significantly larger than their predecessors, the challenge was in structurally certifying and modifying each location. In some instances, existing structural platforms were scratched, and replacements were built from the ground up. However, the project was completed in plenty of time before fans flooded the gates on Sunday for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“Our focus is preserving the traditions and legacies of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while finding creative ways of using the latest technologies to create an immersive fan experience,” says Boles in a press release. “Through the investments we continue to make in Project 100 and our relationship with Panasonic, we believe we’re providing our fans with the first-class entertainment experience they deserve. Cutting-edge technology, a state-of-the-art video-production–control room and LED digital displays improve our ability to reach more people and promote stronger involvement, enthusiasm, and connectivity between the race and our fans.”

As part of a multiyear agreement with IMS, Panasonic will serve as Official Partner of IMS, the Indianapolis 500, Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and the Brickyard 400, as well as INDYCAR and the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Dan Daley contributed to this report.

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