Grant Denyer talks tech, cars and TV

At the recent launch for the PSP Go, as well as GT PSP, we caught up with Seven Network regular Grant Denyer. In a wide ranging interview we covered all things tech, cars and TV.

At the recent launch for the PSP Go, as well as GT PSP, we caught up with Seven Network regular Grant Denyer. In a wide ranging interview we covered all things tech, cars and TV.

CNET: So have you been playing GT PSP a lot?

Grant Denyer: No, this is the first time, but I would have loved it earlier because I went over to Germany [in May] and did a 24-hour race [at Nurburgring].

Why's that?

GD: I had such limited time in the race car — only two laps — on the circuit before the race started, and there was no way that I'd ever learn the Nurburgring's 192 corners in that time. So, I had to take a PlayStation 2 console and a copy of Gran Turismo 4 over to Germany to help me learn the track.

How many hours did you spend on GT's rendition of the Nurburgring before racing?

GD: About five; a few hours in Australia and then a few over there.

That's still pretty good track memory...

GD: Repetition's the key.

What car did you drive at the Nurburgring, and what was the race?

GD: It was the 24-hour race there that's been going since the 1970's and I raced a Porsche 911 RSR. We were up against 200 other drivers from around the world, including F1 drivers and touring car champions.

It's like six Bathursts stuck together and there's no wonder they call it the Green Hell, because there's a person killed there every week &mdash about 50 were killed there last year. It's dangerous, unreal and truly one of those life achievements that I can check off my list.

How'd you go?

GD: We finished third in one of the toughest categories — SP7 — and ninth overall out of a few hundred cars.

Seeing as you're quite accomplished as a racing car driver, have you ever considering doing it full time?

GD: Yeah, I have. To be honest, all I ever wanted to be when I was young was a racing car driver. The only reason that I got into television was because I didn't belong to the "lucky sperm club" and didn't come from a rich family. So I had to find a way to fund motorsport and I figured that TV would be a great way of finding sponsors. As it turns out, TV has kinda turned out well for me.

Currently, it's a bit of a tug-of-war in my head. I don't think I can drop my television commitments to become a full-time racer because I'm in a very fortunate place right now. So, for the moment, I'll keep racing in the Bathurst 1000 and part-time here, there and everywhere — I'm currently leading the championship in the Mini Challenge.

It doesn't sound like you've got very many free weekends at the moment.

GD: I drive in two categories: the V8 Supercar Fujitsu Series [a feeder for the main V8 Supercar series] and the Mini Challenge.

I going to re-evaluate what I'm going to do at the end of the year. After breaking my back last year [while practising for a monster truck stunt], I wanted this year to prove to myself that I could still race well — win a couple of races and put that whole period behind me.

Did breaking your back affect the way that you race or approach life?

GD: Definitely. I'm actually winning more races than I ever have and I think it's because going through something as traumatic as a broken back made me re-evaluate my priorities, and it's made me appreciate things a hell of lot more. I'm now not only more relaxed on a race weekend, but also enjoying it a lot more. I find that I'm taking life by both hands and not taking anything for granted.

What cars do you have in your garage?

GD: Because I race a Ford in the V8 Supercars Fujitsu Series, I've got an FPV F6. And when I broke my back, I lived out a dream and bought a classic 1965 fastback Mustang.

Have you been cleaning that on the weekends?

GD: That's all I ever do with it. I don't drive it, I just polish it.

Did you restore it?

GD: It was restored just before I bought it. I'm not much of a mechanic and I don't have enough time to do that sort of thing, so I bought one that was already fixed up.

And what was the first car you ever owned?

GD: Toyota Corolla Twin Cam 1.6-litre DOHC. Beautiful, little high-performance car. I kept it beautifully washed and maintained. There was no smoking or eating inside that car, you even had to take your shoes off first. I had musk sitting in the ashtray.

How did you come into car racing?

GD: I grew up in a farming family, so we were driving around the farm at seven years of age and piloting the tractor by the age of 12. That explains my love for machinery.

You started in go kart racing. What was the next step up from that?

GD: Ute racing, where I won a championship. Then I got an invitation from Dick Johnson Racing to compete in the V8 series, where I won rookie of the year, as well CAMS personality of the year, and finished ninth in my first Bathurst 1000.

Now that you've scratched your Nurburgring itch, are there any other tracks that you want to conquer?

GD: I'd love to race in the Le Mans 24-Hour endurance race. As I love endurance racing, that would truly be the pinnacle, especially after nearly winning the Bathurst 12-Hour last year — we led by a long way, but a small error meant that we finished second.

Endurance racing involves between two to four drivers. So what do you do when you're not in the car?

GD: Depends on the car and its fuel tank. In this case, we'd be in the car for an hour and a half at a time. So, I would usually cheer the guys on.

Did you nap at all?

GD: At night, you try to squeeze in a couple, but you're only sleeping in short stints. I find that if I sleep for a short period of time, I tend to wake up more tired, so I pretty much went straight through and only took little naps when I needed to. Actually, it was too exciting most of the time, because we were up as high as third.

Do you change your driving technique during the night portions?

GD: You add in a greater margin for error because not only can you not see as far, and your peripheral vision is non-existent, so you can't see around corners. Plus you can only see 10 to 15 metres in front of you, which when you're travelling at 260km/h does make you a little more cautious.

You do some work with the Spastic Centre. Tell us a little bit more about that.

GD: I'm the technology ambassador for the Spastic Centre. Cerebral palsy is a condition that only affects the functions of your body, rather than your brain. Unfortunately these people are very intelligent, but locked in bodies that won't quite do what they want them to do, and technology's a great way to give them back some of their mobility and help them to lead more normal lives.

What type of technology helps cerebral palsy sufferers out the most?

GD: Although cerebral palsy comes in many forms, it's usually walking aides. For instance, it enabled a girl who could barely walk go roller-skating. They built a frame around her, giving her stability in her core, and it allowed her legs to be able to move and skate. Afterwards she was smiling for hours because it was the first time she had been able to move under her own steam.

Unfortunately there's no cure for cerebral palsy, so research is still being carried out to figure out what causes it.

Does the technology have to be adapted for every individual?

GD: Yeah, there's not usually the one piece of equipment that can help everyone, meaning that it has to be tailor made and that pushes up the price significantly.

So are you a techy type of guy?

GD: Well I do like squeezing the most out of things. Being as heavily in racing as I am, I'm well aware that it's one new gadget or widget here or there, or one change of geometry, that can be the difference between winning and losing.

Back when I was the weatherman on Sunrise, we used to travel around Australia a lot. So, each member of the crew had a PSP and we used to play it against each other a lot.

What did you guys play?

GD: We'd challenge each other's lap times on the V8 Supercars game, squeezing hundredths of second here and there, also a lot of shoot 'em up games. We also began reviewing the weather clips we shot on the PSP, as well as movies.

Leading question, I know, but do you have a favourite motoring show?

GD: Top Gear UK. Honestly that's a sweet spot in television that you can't just be manufactured: three great personalities together with top-notch production values.

I guess another factor is that it's not just for gear heads.

GD: Yeah, it's not just about kilowatts and cubic inches. That's why a great portion of its viewership is female. Much of it about connecting with the motor vehicle in a way that's never been done before — it's taking the piss, it's having fun and it's communicating to an audience. Too often television gets it wrong and underestimates what an audience wants.

And what I enjoy most about working in television is telling it how it is, and very few people can do that and do it well.

Is there someone that you look up to or aspire to be, in terms of telling it like it is?

GD: Graham Kennedy and Steve Vizard, when he was hosting Tonight Live. These days there's not enough of that kind of live variety programming that's loose and off the cuff. Even with the return of Hey, Hey! It's Saturday, there's still a big hole in that market. I think the networks have spent too much money and time making reality, celebrity or competition-based programming.

At the end of the day, the reason we watch television is for escapism: to chill out, have a laugh and forget about the troubles of the world. I don't think we're making enough of that type of programming. And my plan, over the next couple of years, is to produce and steer a couple of new projects that will fill that gap.

Are you going to try to fit automobiles in there?

GD: Well cars will be there in some shape or form. Although I can't say too much, there's a format that I'm working on that involves giving someone that doesn't have the budget to realise their dream to become a racing star.

What's your favourite TV show screening right now?

GD: Without a doubt it's Family Guy. Although I tune into the news, I primarily sit down in front of the TV to tune out and have a giggle. I love the way they look at life, the television industry and politics.

Plus I find Family Guy fantastically confronting and, you know, they tell it how it is. They offend, but they offend everyone equally — so it's not offensive if everyone's offended. They make that cartoon the way I'd like to make television.

So is that your favourite TV show ever?

GD: Ooooh, I was a big fan of The A-Team when I was a kid. The Dukes of Hazzard too, especially Luke and Bo Duke. In fact I had a T-shirt with them on the back. And I'm still in love with the Hey, Hey! It's Saturday era of television.

What's your favourite gadget?

GD: That's a good question. I haven't quite made the step to anything as advanced as an iPhone. [Almost on cue, Grant's Palm Centro is returned to him.] I'm lagging behind with phone tech and it's annoying the hell out of me. In the past it was the previous generation PSP, just because we were using it all the time on planes, buses and trains, and, in many ways, it was our only escape.

Are you a Windows or Mac person?

GD: I'm a Mac man, although I haven't been in that camp for very long. I'm a trained editor, because when I was doing the weather on Sunrise I was the editor and producer, as well as the presenter. So, I do a little bit of video editing at home.

Was this something you had to learn when you were working at Prime Television?

GD: Yeah, in Wagga. As I didn't go through uni to become a journalist, I naturally wanted to round off my skills and learn everything there was about the medium.

The tech must have changed a lot in that time.

GD: When I started, it was basically straight tape-to-tape editing and now that the process is entirely digital, it's easier, faster and slicker. What I find astounding is that you can basically make a national broadcast worthy production from your own laptop with some entry-level software.

Just five to 10 years ago, the only people who could produce a good looking show was the TV industry and at huge cost too. Now everyone can make a very tidy HD production, providing the concept is sound. So, hopefully, this will mean that better programs can come out now, where the emphasis is on content, rather than the slickness of the project. Although I think TV should always be about content first and look last, technology has evened things in that regard.

Do you think this will help community-based television and production?

GD: Yeah, it's empowering a lot of people to do their stuff. You only have to look at Christian television, who now have massive facilities up in north-west Sydney, including studios and what not. They're pumping out material to churches, which is of an exceptionally high standard.

For too long we've left television programming to the academics. It's as boring as hell as far as I'm concerned, because the people that communicate the best are real people. The more trained you are, I find, the more unable to actually connect one on one with the viewer.

How do you think the internet is affecting TV in Australia?

GD: It's changing the marketplace dramatically and it's got the Seven Network a little worried, because people can access what they want, when they want it, and not have to wait for it to appear on terrestrial television. The new direction that the networks are going to take to counter that is to owning your own concepts. If you've got your own show that no one can get anywhere, they have to come to you to watch it.

If we were just running Lost, Desperate Housewives, FlashForward and so forth, you could get them straight from the States. So, we need to stem that tide.

Thanks for talking to us Grant.

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