First constructed in 1961, the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit – situated in Midrand, Gauteng – has a proud motorsport heritage. Fifty-eight years ago this month, a Porsche 550 Spyder driven by John Love and Dawie Gous raced to victory at the track’s inaugural Grand Prix event, and Kyalami soon became one of the motorsport world’s favourite international venues – with its flagship event, the 9 Hour Endurance Race, attracting crowds in excess of 100,000 spectators.

Following the acquisition of the circuit by the Porsche South Africa Group, headed and owned by motorsports legend, Toby Venter, the facility benefited from a major renovation programme which commenced in May 2015 – including a resurfacing of the circuit and safety upgrades to meet FIA Grade Level 2 standard. However, Kyalami has recently further suped up its offering with several first-in-country AV upgrades, transforming the venue into a world-class conferencing, exhibition and events space over and above its prestige as an international racing circuit.

 AV Integration got a tour of the revamped Kyalami by Willie Venter (Head of Group Legal) and Stefan Marais (Kyalami’s Head of IT), as well as Sasha Savin (Sales Director) and Gary Delport (Technical Director) of Delcor Advanced Solutions, who told us more about the exciting newly-installed AV infrastructure.

UPGRADE TO IP

As Marais explains, “The whole idea for the upgrade came about when Toby Venter agreed to offer Kyalami as the venue for the Kyalami 9 Hour Endurance Race [21-23 November 2019]. We knew we needed to have a system in place where the SRO [Stéphane Ratel Organisation] community could come over from abroad and we could have a camera system and a race control environment in place – we could have an operations room available, where decisions could be made by officials – and so we started with that goal in mind.”

“The starting point and the foundation of this system,” he continues, “was our PA system. It runs around the circuit and consists of 13 towers – and we decided to build on this current infrastructure. The question was, ‘How can we integrate the existing audio infrastructure into a new visual component, using our existing platforms?’”

He describes the “first phase” of the project as consisting of the installation of a “96-core fibre ring around the track – terminated into the 13 towers. This means that every audio and visual device on each tower runs on its own core of fibre. It’s all IP-based, IP to Dante, and Dante out. We’re on a single SFP set-up, and we’re running just under six kilometres of fibre at the moment. This is also redundant fibre – which means we can switch over between the different cores and for every PA tower, we have four fail-level points because of the multi-cores.”

Marais points out that scalability was a crucial consideration from the outset. “Your foundations need to be sound, and that’s why we went for a 96-core fibre. Had we stuck with a 48-core we would’ve encountered problems. The design of the head end and back end were part of our initial conversations with Delcor, and we went for a scalable solution from the beginning.”

Sasha Savin of Delcor – a company which boasts more than 30 years’ worth of experience in the field of specialised security integration – elaborates: “We went for a modular system design. It’s more of an investment up front, but you never need to throw anything out – you just add as your needs evolve. Our advice is always to keep it modular, and that way you can always expand”; while Gary Delport, whose background is in network infrastructure and programming, comments that he “always knew” audio and visual technology was going to move to IP – saying that he’s been anticipating the switch for “more than 20 years.”

“We went for a modular system design. It’s more of an investment up front, but you never need to throw anything out – you just add as your needs evolve. Our advice is always to keep it modular, and that way you can always expand”

Sasha Savin, Sales Director at Delcor Advanced Solutions

Kyalami’s fibre-ringed towers are crowned with JBL speakers powered by Crown amplifiers – supplied by Wild & Marr and installed by HFX Systems, who “helped tremendously with the design of the rig” – and can be operated from a single, centralised device via touchscreen technology.

As Sasha points out, this has additional safety benefits in addition to its ease of operation. “Our audio rig is also connected to the fire evacuation system. We have touchscreen integration – so we can mute or activate every tower from one platform – and we can also perform monitoring in one centralised place. This means we could send out an alert message, or the full fire evacuation drill, from one device, and we can be assured that every speaker is responding.”

SPECIALISED VIDEO SOLUTIONS

Once the team had their IP backbone and audio system in place, as Marais says, “It was time to get visuals up and running on the same platform.”

He explains: “I had an idea of how we needed to have the cameras in place and we wanted to implement an internationally-certified system that would play a part in hosting race events – and so we needed to comply with certain standards. I was lucky enough to attend the Spa 24 Hour race earlier this year – and we all learned a lot while we were there. We saw what systems our international counterparts ran and came back with ideas for designing our own.”

“The international tracks run a PTZ-based system, which is fantastic because it runs at 65 frames per second – which means no lag. However, the shortcomings are that – if the PTZ camera isn’t pointing in a specific direction – it can lose the action if a car goes or the track or disappears around the corner. So we consulted with Delcor and they specifically brought in 65 frames per second cameras that could sit in a static position and catch all the action –for example, if a car went off the circuit– and still not have any lag.”

A first-in-country application, the most interesting part of the camera set-up is, however, the back end. Featuring built-in analytics, Savin says: “It’s a proactive system. It’s based on reviewing hundreds of hours of footage and any interaction will trigger off the GUI – the graphics interface – and it will instantly show up on the monitor. It reduces the amount of people it takes to monitor the system from about 20 people down to two. This kind of application is used extensively in security – but this is a unique application of it in motor sports.”

“Because the system is based on a security platform, there are so many in-built redundancies and fail-safes. We have two MDMRs running here, we have three graphics cards – and we believe that’s the best model to go for, as security systems always need to be up and running and fully-functioning, 24/7.”

Stefan Marais, Head of IT, Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit

ROBUST VERSATILITY

The benefits of Delcor’s involvement extend beyond their video solution for the race track, as Marais points out. “Because the system is based on a security platform, there are so many in-built redundancies and fail-safes. We have two MDMRs running here, we have three graphics cards – and we believe that’s the best model to go for, as security systems always need to be up and running and fully-functioning, 24/7.”

Speaking about Kyalami’s power supply, one of the biggest issues plaguing South African venues – he says: “Every PA tower has a battery back-up that can give us up to six hours battery life. Because our systems are inside the building, we have a generator that can power all of them – and we have a UPS that keeps everything alive for that 10 seconds before switchover. However, with the towers, we really had to think about this transition period – because we can’t afford for the system to be down, even for seconds. So, together with HFX, we put the whole system on the internal UPS – so it all stays active, all the time.”

Willie Venter explains how this robust foundation has allowed the venue to expand its offering far beyond being a premiere circuit. “The precinct of Kyalami has pioneered itself into a new kind of venue. It’s a world-class convention centre – the venue of choice in South Africa for conferences, open-air events and motor racing. It’s an unprecedented venue because it caters for a variety of events – what the team has put together is a multi-faceted solution for a multi-faceted space. This is what fascinates me most about this project – when we are able to serve people on such a wide spectrum.”

Marais outlines how the design of the venue’s AVoIP system allows for an easy integration between applications. “The audio system works in two contexts: both around the track and in our events and conferencing environment. It still works through the same centralised IP-based system, and we can customise it based on multiple events taking place at the same time.”

The venue’s conferencing facilities include large video walls fitted with Pro Spectre screens supplied by Electrosonic – “industrial-grade displays that have been specced so that they can be updated through one switch” – and he tells us that “we will soon be one of the first venues in South Africa to have a dark fibre connection. Between the Cell C data centre and Kyalami there will be no transmission tower – no relay, no downtime – which is a huge benefit for everything we do, from events, to conferencing and broadcasting.”

On the broadcasting side of things – another function that has been enabled by the venue’s high-end IP infrastructure – Marais says that, for the return of the race track’s iconic Kyalami 9 Hour Endurance Race, “All the outside broadcasting feed will be IP based on a multi-cast layer, pushed to 40 pit lane RJ45 plugs and 40 more within the pits. It will not only carry OB, it will also carry the timing feed and it will also carry a VLAN-based internet gateway, so every team will not be able to see the other teams’ data. We also needed certain recording facilities – including playback to multiple sources so that officials could review footage for penalties with no lag – but the SRO have signed off on our system, and so we’re ready to go.”

Willie Venter concludes by reflecting on the “anti-fragile” nature of the AV upgrade, and how it has allowed the perfect platform for the Kyalami race track to grow into a multi-purpose venue offering the latest in AV technology and IP connectivity.

“We will stay at the leading edge,” Venter says. “What we have developed here goes beyond robust – it is anti-fragile. We have developed the system so that it gets stronger if things go wrong. At the start you can never know everything you are going to need, but this system improves in adversity.”

“The precinct of Kyalami has pioneered itself into a new kind of venue. It’s a world-class convention centre – the venue of choice in South Africa for conferences, open-air events and motor racing.”

Willie Venter