The Human Performance needs of professional race drivers has never been greater, due to increased demands on the resilience of the Human Body to G Force loads, impact injuries, cardiovascular considerations, and strength requirements for actually driving high performance race machines often without power steering.
As one of the foremost experienced Strength and Conditioning Experts in professional motorsports, with well over 30 years within Series ranging from Touring Car Racing, Le Mans Racing, to Open Wheel racing including Formula 1 and IndyCar Racing. Developing over those years, specific training strategies to address the development of the motorsports athlete. Including that of Motorcycle racing.
So what does a racing driver need to work on with respect to fitness training? Neck strength to deal with the demands of not only lateral g-loads which can be in excess of 4-5g’s and higher in both modern F1 and IndyCar racing, but under braking. This will also be apparent in many of the junior open wheel formula as drivers work up to those aims e.g. F2 and IndyLights. A good example of this is the following:
IndyCar put together a video showing the G-Forces acting on Graham Rahal over a couple testing laps at Phoenix Raceway, and it gives us mere mortals an idea of what these racers experience. Amazingly, per a tweet from Rahal himself, the G-Force meter overlaid on this video doesn’t quite capture the level he experiences. Rahal experiences an average of 5.18 g’s through turn one with a spike of 5.38 g’s. For reference, astronauts experience around 2 g’s during a space shuttle launch (Reference: https://www.roadandtrack.com/motorsports/videos/a32608/see-how-many-g-forces-an-indycar-driver-feels-over-a-lap/ Chris Perkins 2017).
Fernando Alonso’s high speed crash in Melbourne in 2016 a report on the accident was published in the FIA’s Auto magazine and it reveals just how physical the impact was. The findings are that Alonso was travelling at 313km/h when he tried to overtake Esteban Gutierrez, with his impact against the Haas rear wheel taking place at 305km/h. With his front suspension broken, Alonso’s car careered in to the wall at the side of the track with a peak lateral deceleration of 45G.
At Performance Physixx we have come up with a wide range of ways to condition drivers Neck muscles and surrounding tissues involving the use of strength bands which we prefer to isolated variable resistance training machines. The reason for this is that the neck is not isolated under load in the car, thus we try to replicate this in-car experience through training. By using Band and cable machines attached to a head harness (see Image Neck Training Hat designed by Former Professional Race Driver and Performance Physixx Client Markus Niemela).
Also we have commenced using the Iron Neck (see video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUosi9kLuDc this explains what I previously discussed about working the entire physical system with the neck under load.
What about the rest of the body? Well let’s just look at this from a standardized race driver conditioning approach. We will not be focusing on specifics of different types of Race Car, which is a factor in designing the correct training programme due to the time and detail required. Also an individual driver’s injuries and limitations require adaptive training. In 2019 Robert Kubica will require a very detailed, personalized, and experienced approach to his physical conditioning for Open Wheel Racing to get the most out of the Williams F1 Car. Most of his hand capacity is carried out with the left arm and shoulder, thus making those muscles and surrounding tissues stronger, more flexible, reactive ability, resistant to fatigue will be key elements in his personalized programme.
The Core plays a crucial part in minimizing injuries as well as limiting fatigue, and concentration amongst other factors. Exercises that we utilize include Crunches with various adaptations to use the arms within the exercise to prolong the load on the arms, either in a constant maintained manner or variation of the load. A good example is a med ball movement where a training partner feeds a 10/15lb ball to the trainee in a driving seat position with core under constant, maintained tension (see image).
The arms can be directly trained in a variety of ways with arm curls and extensions and then in specific exercises moving the Arm/Reverse Curl into an Overhead Press. Which forces the body to perform multiple tasks and muscle contractions, which is what is going on during a driver’s physical activity in the car (see image).
With the legs by far the best exercise is the seated single leg press, where possible carried out with a sled based plate loaded press. Other specific exercises for a driver is ankle extension and flexion done at the speed a driver would be using these muscles in the car, very fast and reactive to load (see image by John Hendricks for Autoweek 2015)
Cardio of course is crucially important and should focus on what is practically available and what the individual likes to do. Cycling both Road and Mountain bike are favored as these activities can be carried out outside. Both interval and steady state intensity routines should be used as part of a complete training program, to emphasize the development of both fast and slow twitch muscle fibers and the cardiovascular system and recovery rates. All are important for a race driver to train.
I hope this short article has given some practical ideas for current and aspiring racing drivers to implement into your training routines. As well as those of you that just want to be fitter to drive long distances in your road car and become less fatigued during a journey.
Some of the Drivers worked with over the last few years include many of the most prolific motorsports legends including Ryan Hunter-Reay (the most successful American currently in Open Wheel Competition, with more race wins than all of the other current American IndyCar Drivers combined), Oriol Servia, Townsend Bell, Stefan Johansson (F1, IndyCar, Professional Sports Car Racing Worldwide), Katherine Legge, The Late Justin Wilson. Also Hollywood Stars who have raced for real including Patrick Dempsey (FIAWEC) and The Late Paul Walker and many more….