This facility doesn’t just run track days – there’s ‘mental training’ on the menu too
For a sport that is considered cutting edge in terms of technology, motor sport is in many aspects very backward. Only recently has mental performance coaching been seen in racing, whereas it has been a feature of other sports for years. Clive Woodward introduced it to the English rugby team in 2002, the year before they went on to win the World Cup. And going back further, there are even records of sports psychology being used in the 1860s.
So what does all this have to do with the Porsche Centre at Silverstone? Well, since 2008 it has been running driving experiences and hosts all new Porsche owners for a session at the test track in the same model they have just purchased. But that’s where the similarities with other centres ends, as fundamentally this is a one-stop shop for any serious racing driver.
The centre helps drivers to develop both on track (with guidance from former BTCC ace Ian Flux) and off track, with sessions on data and engineering, physical training and, most interestingly, mental conditioning. As stated, mental performance coaching is relatively new to motor sport and only a handful of F1 teams employ such a method, McLaren being one. But the Porsche Centre is adamant that any driver can benefit.
Mike Garth, the centre’s head of mental conditioning, explained the approach behind it: “We assess drivers on a simulator, their performance under pressure, mental state, concentration while performing and we see what needs to be improved.
“We want to know: is someone sensing, or is someone thinking? If someone’s taking in the visual and aesthetic information in front of them and making their choices accordingly, they’re going to be in a better situation than if they are thinking about what they’re doing, getting emotional and wondering, ‘what did I do last time?’. They’ll be using up brain capacity that should be devoted to just subconsciously driving – they’re over-thinking, which is a key weakness.”
Of course this kind of training, which includes seminars with Red Bull’s Mark Webber and plenty of track time, doesn’t come cheap. However, I suggest it will be sponsors who pick up the four-figure tab rather than professional drivers more often than not. Also, this is where Webber spent much of his time recovering from his broken leg at the start of last season. In other words, it’s the proper job.