You can’t go to a NASA race without seeing cars with GoPro cameras mounted all over the place. The relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use cameras have become essentially the club racing industry standard for capturing heroic on-track antics — or embarrassing off-track mishaps. Anyone who has used a GoPro camera for any length of time has had the camera battery die or the SD card run out of memory right before something really cool happened that you wanted to watch again and again on video. This seems to always be the case for endurance racers who run long racing hours, well beyond the capabilities of the camera battery and SD card memory. Invariably, as soon as the camera is out of juice, something crazy happens right in front of you.
With a few extra pieces and parts, we figured out a way to set up a GoPro Hero2 camera to record in-car footage during the entire 25 Hours of Thunderhill. The system worked great. We didn’t miss a single second of on-track action and we made the footage much more dynamic by capturing the audio between the driver and the spotters. With this setup, the audio and video are all recorded onto the SD card in the GoPro Hero2 camera.
To start, you need a GoPro Hero2, or GoPro Hero3 camera. Earlier versions of the cameras didn’t come with an external microphone input. It was through the new external microphone input that we routed our driver’s communication system audio to record on the camera’s SD card. Once you have your Hero2 or 3 camera, next you will need a cage mount and skeleton case from GoPro that will hold the camera in place and still allow access to the USB charging input, the external microphone input and access to eject SD cards during pit stops.
Once you have the camera mounted where you want it, you simply plug in the USB charging cord into the camera and then plug the other end of the USB cord into a USB 12-volt adapter into the car’s cigarette lighter power supply. If your cigarette lighter 12-volt supply has been removed from your racecar — as most have — then simply add a 12-volt power supply near the camera to plug in the adapter. That way, you never have to worry about the camera’s battery dying again because it is now hard wired for power.
Now that you have full-time power, your next obstacle will be memory. The GoPro Hero2 accepts 32 gigabyte SD cards and the GoPro Hero3 works with 64 gig SD cards. During the 25 Hours of Thunderhill we pulled SD cards out during pit stops after about every 3 hours while filming at 1080p/60 frames per second. The skeleton case made it easy to remove the SD card without pulling the camera completely out of the case. Warning: We learned the hard way to turn off the recording before yanking the card out. Otherwise it will permanently damage the SD card. After learning that lesson, our work flow changed. When the car would come in for a scheduled pit stop, we would power off the camera, swap out the SD cards, then turn the camera back on and start recording again. We set up all of our GoPro cameras for one touch start to expedite the process during pit stops. It worked great and only took about 20 seconds.
Now that you have power and memory dialed in, next you need good audio. Most endurance racing teams use some sort of communication system to keep the driver and the crew talking to each other. The problem with most systems is the in-car camera doesn’t capture any of the audio from the radio. This has now been solved with a radio-to-camera interface called the TVC15 built by I/O Port Racing Supplies. The TVC15 is simply plugged into the driver’s communication wiring harness and then plugged into the external microphone input on the GoPro Hero2 or Hero3 camera. The Hero3 needs a plug adapter, which GoPro and I/O Port Racing Supplies sell.
For communications, our racecars use Sampson Racing Communications gear, which includes a hard-wired radio, an antenna, a push-to-talk button on the steering wheel and a wiring harness that connects the driver’s helmet to the system via an IMSA style plug. The wiring harness uses a five-pin connector, which I/O Port Racing Supplies built its TVC15 to easily plug directly into. You don’t need a degree in electronics to make the system work. It is simply a plug-and-play unit.
The TVC15 will send all of the radio audio to the camera, but it also has an external microphone jack so you can also record engine and car noise as well. The end result is a mixture of great car sounds and driver audio that makes the videos very dynamic.
Here are a couple of tips when setting up the system, which we learned the hard way. If you wire in an extra 12-volt plug to power the camera, make sure you run it outside of the vehicle’s ignition so the camera is not turned off and on with the vehicle’s engine. If you use the TVC15 radio-to-camera interface with a radio that uses a battery or a GoPro that is using a battery —— not installed per this article — it will work like a champ. But because our radio was hard-wired and our camera was hard-wired, we ran into some sort of closed loop, ground, radio-interference issue. We solved the problem by using a DC-to-DC converter to the power supply for the camera or the radio. Just one of the two is needed. I/O Port Racing Supplies is currently designing this for endurance racers who run a system similar to our cars. I/O Port also has different plugs for different radio harnesses, if yours is different from Sampson Racing Communications.
The end result is a video system that records longer than your car’s tires, brakes, drivers and even engine will last. With this system, your camera won’t run out of battery right before the craziest thing you ever saw happens right in front of you. Now you will have all the footage captured and you can submit it to be the GoPro “Move of the Month” in a future issue of Speed News magazine.
This video was captured during the 2012 running of The 25 Hours of Thunderhill using a GoPro Hero2 camera, an I/O Port Racing Supplies TVC15 radio-to-camera interface and Sampson Racing Communications radios. The setup is mounted inside the No. 38 Krider Racing E2 entry, a 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R. The crew chief is Brad Bowles and the spotter is Tim Persico. The two drivers are Bryan Heitkotter and Rob Krider during the final minutes of The 25 Hours of Thunderhill. The team is desperately trying to hold onto a podium finish at the end of a long race. The driver and crew audio is what makes the video really stand out from other in-car GoPro footage.