Sidetracked with Ed Foster

Fitness first
Drivers can burn over 1200 calories every hour they spend racing. That’s more than some people get through in a day, which is why the condition of the driver is as important as the condition of the car

On a recent bicycle trip to Paris I managed to burn 19,000 calories. Despite not quite knowing what that meant I presumed it was quite a lot. It was, but nowhere near as much as I would have got through had I been racing at Le Mans.

After a trip up to Driver Performance in Oxfordshire, the nutrition and fitness specialists who work alongside Aston Martin Racing, I have a new respect for the fitness needed to race in the top echelons of motor sport.

If you’re one of the drivers in GT racing every hour of track action means another 1200-1400 calories burned. That figure is meaningless to most of us so let’s put it another way – every hour of racing you burn 2.8 McDonald’s Big Macs. That means that you could quite happily eat nearly six Big Macs before a triple-stint at Le Mans and work off the excess calories before you handed over to the next driver. Granted, they wouldn’t be the right type of calories to be putting into your body, but for the purposes of indicating what driving a racing car can take out of you they’ll do.

According to Driver Performance you don’t have to be running or cycling to get physically tired. We all know that enduring g-forces will drain you of energy, but one of the most important factors is the driver’s heart rate. “Racing drivers are some of the fittest sportsmen in the world,” John Camilleri, a specialist at Driver Performance, tells me in an office adjacent to the Prodrive factory off the M40. “Their average heart rate might be in the late 160s [beats per minute] when they’re racing. If you work on the principle of the maximum heart rate being 220bpm minus the driver’s age then they’re working at almost maximum intensity for maybe even a two-hour period.

“Adrenaline also sucks the energy out of you if you don’t prepare for it. We normally take some mountain bikes with us to the races and we get the drivers to warm up on those [they’re fixed to training rollers, left] to around 125bpm. As soon as they get into the car their heart rate jumps to 160bpm because the adrenaline kicks in, boosting your metabolism and your heart rate. If you do the warm up then it’s a more gradual increase in workload. If you got straight into the car that massive jump would really take its toll on your energy expenditure, you’d be more tired when you got out and you’d take longer to recover.

“As well as the heart rate you’ve also got to factor in the psychology of it. If you think back to when you first learned to drive, when an instructor was watching your every move – the pressure is similar to that. Instead with professional drivers there are thousands of people in the stands and on TV watching their every move and all that adds its own physiological impact.” In order to prepare for this every driver is given a personalised routine, but in most you’ll find mountain biking as a major theme. It’s one of few cardiovascular training exercises – along with skiing – that can simulate the adrenaline peaks and troughs you experience during a race.

Of course, alongside the training routines the drivers stick to a strict diet, especially at the races. “Looking after the drivers’ nutrition during a race is tricky as the strategy can change at any point. A driver might need to jump into the car at any time so they need to be permanently ready.

“However, you’d be trying to feed them complex carbohydrates that give you a slow release of energy. For breakfast you’d be looking at porridge, which makes you feel full for a long time and then they’d have to eat continuously throughout the race.

“Gone are the days where it’s just a plate of pasta or a plate of chicken. It’s got to look appetising – if you were a driver and you were feeling quite anxious a bowl of bland food isn’t going to be very appealing. Once they’re out of the car then you’ll be straight into a protein-based meal to help their muscles recover. We try and get them to eat as soon as they get out of the car, but very often they don’t want to eat and they’ve got the race engineer in their ear wanting feedback on the car and the circuit.

“Hydration is also absolutely critical. One of the main benefits of staying hydrated is your ability to stay alert.” One of the tests that Camilleri does is to pit two drivers, one dehydrated and one not, against each other on a Batak wall, a reflex test that involves hitting lights as they come on. Invariably the hydrated driver is considerably faster.

Talk soon turns back to Schumacher, who at 43 years old is considered to be in the twilight years of his (second) F1 career. According to the ‘220bpm minus the driver’s age’ equation he’s already too old to comfortably keep 160-170bpm up. “It’s true, but his maximum heart rate is going to be way in excess of the equation. He’s so keen on training… it’s probably one of the reasons he’s been able to have such a long career – he’s just so disciplined. He could potentially keep going until he’s 50. We’ve got Adrian Fernandez [in the Aston] and he’s 49.”

It seems appropriate that Michael Schumacher, the man who brought a disciplined approach to fitness into the sport back in 1991, is still breaking the mould today. His days as an F1 driver may be numbered, mainly because his inherent speed is not what it used to be, but his physical conditioning means he is still able to withstand the rigours of competition.

50 years of the Doghouse
Originally set up to provide support to drivers and their wives in 1962, the Doghouse Owners’ Club now helps raise money for motor racing causes

Many of you will know about The Doghouse Owners’ Club, which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The wives of racing drivers formed the club back in 1962 in order to offer support to each other in times of need. Leonora Hill, the wife of ex-special saloon racer Mick, has been chairman for the past three years. “There were a lot of casualties,” she told me while finalising auction lots for their celebration dinner on October 6. “There were so many injuries and the wives formed a group to prop each other up. It was basically a self-help support group.

“They were based in a suite at Silverstone and it became quite famous because all the drivers used to go there after a day’s racing and be greeted with a glass of wine, a beer or a cup of tea or coffee. The girls all congregated in there and the drivers used to sign the doors (above). We’ve got the original doors [which is the star lot in the charity auction on October 6] and they’re both covered with signatures – Graham Hill, the McLaren gang, Jackie Stewart. And they’re not all from Formula 1, there are also people like Gerry Marshall on there.

“The club has changed since because times have changed, haven’t they? It’s not a sport any more in the old sense of the word – it’s a huge business. Having said that, we get a great deal of support from the likes of Jackie Stewart and even Bernie [Ecclestone], bless him! He’s always very generous. We have moved on from being a self-help group because they don’t need us any more. We’re more of a social club now and we raise money for good causes associated with motor racing.

“In the last few years we’ve done quite a lot to help marshals. We provided drinks for all the Silverstone marshals for a year and when we asked them two years ago what they wanted, they asked for some all-weather shelters. It was an enormous amount of money we had to raise, so we did a deal with Silverstone and we paid for half of them.”

Over the years the Doghouse Owners’ Club has done plenty behind the scenes despite being “a small club”, and the 50th anniversary dinner and dance will raise plenty more funds for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Action Medical Research, Headway and Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance. They’re clearly doing a pretty good job because Jodie Kidd has signed up as patron. Tickets cost £90 per person. Please email [email protected] or visit for more information.

Atom bombs on to the track
You could be forgiven for thinking that there are already too many one-make championships in the UK, but Ariel is launching another, and it’s already on the way to having a full grid of cars

Since the Caterham Academy started in 1995 nearly 1000 racers have passed through its doors, Ginetta has re-launched itself with hugely successful one-make championships, and Radical has become the biggest race car manufacturer in Europe – with 250 cars a year – largely through one-make series. It’s a popular route to take for small British car manufacturers.

Now there’s another make arriving in 2013. Ariel – a venerable motoring name which Simon Saunders revived just over a decade ago for the launch of the critically acclaimed Atom – is about to launch the Atom Cup. Yet another one-make championship may seem like too much for the already bulging calendar for similar series, and if only 15 cars line up next year then it will be judged as such, but will this be the case?

“The reaction’s been really positive,” race series director Mark Harrison tells me. “We’ve had quite a few drivers signed up already. We’re looking to get half the grid by Christmas and we’re on target to do that.” There is already a one-make series in the US under the moniker Spec:RaceAtom, but that is based solely at Virginia International Raceway. Ten races at the same track every year could be enough to tempt some of the competitors to fly over to the UK for the Atom Cup rounds next year.

The race cars are very similar to the road-going versions with 2-litre, four-cylinder Honda iVTEC engines, but the suspension has been changed to Öhlins and an integrated roll bar has been added. So the big questions – how much does it cost? And how much racing will you get?

It’s a lot more expensive than the £20,495 Caterham Academy and Radical’s new £37,500 SR1 Cup, which are both aimed at novice drivers. However, there will be eight race weekends – with two races at each – at all of the great British tracks such as Brands Hatch (Indy and GP), Silverstone (GP and National) and Donington. Also, all three packages available have hospitality thrown in to help with sponsors. The three packages range from £63,834 to £83,582, and the most expensive ‘Gold’ option includes the likes of transportation and storage of the car, tyres, fuel and a track assistant to help with set-up.

The most important part is that you won’t be leasing the car, a process which can often end with large bills in order to return it in pristine condition, but you will own the car outright. According to Harrison the company is sure that the cars will be worth £35-40,000 after a year of racing, so that means you’re looking at a minimum spend of £23,834. But that’s before you’ve got yourself to the meetings and found somewhere to sleep.

The proof of the Atom Cup’s success will be seen at the first race next year, the venue of which is still to be decided, and also at the end of the 2013 season. If it is as popular as some other one-make series in the country it can only be good news for Ariel.

* Carlin is organising a three-day test on October 15-17 in Valencia for young drivers who aren’t sure which category to race in next year.

As one of the most successful teams in the recent history of F1 feeder series, Carlin acts as the eyes and ears for many F1 teams and will no doubt be reporting back after the test.

The team, which has run the likes of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, will be taking 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 cars, the current F3 car and some of the older F3 machines. It will also be offering media training, fitness and nutrition coaching and general guidance.

For more information contact Andy Constable on [email protected]. If budget allows, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.