Motorsport, of any kind, is physically and mentally demanding. But for those who compete at a professional level and want to be winners, then their fitness needs to be comparable to that of an Olympiad.
V8 Supercar, Australia’s premier motorsport category and Formula Ford, the world’s junior development category in motorsport, are demanding on drivers with them needing a great deal of stamina and endurance to race for hours on end. Plus, according to Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA), these drivers typically burn more than 2000 calories per race, depending on their size and build, and they lose approximately 2% of their body weight due to dehydration and excessive heat.
Being race fit, increasing and maintaining health and fitness levels, and performance is not an easy task for any driver. But it is a necessity, especially if V8 Supercar and Formula Ford drivers expect to win races.
Craig Lowndes – V8 Supercar Champion and Bathurst 1000 Winner
Craig Lowndes, 39, three-times V8 Supercar Champion and five-times Bathurst 1000 winner, is a professional driver that understands what it takes to win. Lowndes who began his racing career in a Go-Kart, then went on to win the national Formula Ford title in 1993 and then the Holden Silver Star class in 1994. He joined the Holden Racing Team (HRT) and debuted at Bathurst later in 1994 and became a full-time V8 racer in 1996.
Lowndes says that his success is attributed to his increased physical and mental fitness.
“Over my racing career I have become more mentally and physically strong,” said Lowndes. “The key for my mental fitness preparation is having confidence in my car, my team and my own performance,” he said. “It is also knowing what the car can and can’t handle during a race.”
“Plus, as I get older I find it’s actually getting easier, as I have become more mentally strong and more aware of what I can and can’t control during a race,” said Lowndes.
Lowndes, who says that heat is a big health and fitness factor during a race, also feels that other factors that can become real issues during long races are fumes from the car and cramping from sitting down for so long.
To overcome these problems and also to increase his health and fitness levels, Lowndes works out, eats sensibly and looks after himself.
“I workout during the week,” said Lowndes. “Most of the work we do is cardio exercises like running or bike riding. I usually do anywhere up to 10 hours or more a week, if I can,” he said. “It is hard to maintain my peak fitness level at my age. I need to work a lot harder to get the same result that I was seeing 10 years ago.”
“I am not on a strict diet, however I make sure I eat everything in moderation and try to avoid the bad foods as much as possible,” said Lowndes. “My diet has changed over the years,” he said. “I have become a lot smarter in knowing what is good for me and what isn’t.”
Lowndes, who rates his current fitness levels as an eight, says that he could be a bit lighter.
“It takes an enormous amount of determination to stick to my exercise and nutrition plan,” said Lowndes. “You have to be dedicated in these areas to be the best,” he said.
“I believe all drivers are elite athletes,” said Lowndes. “You need to have good fitness to remain focused and in control of your car out on the track. But, I don’t follow any food or fitness ritual before I race,” he said.
“After a race we’re usually in transit flying home, so I usually walk around on the plane, do a bit of stretching and, if I can, go for a swim or ride when I get home,” Lowndes said. “It takes me roughly the same time to recuperate, even as I get older, as my body has become used to the demands of the sport,” he said.
When the racing season concludes, Lowndes unwinds, but does not stop.
“I usually wind down my training after the season has finished, ” said Lowndes. “However, I certainly don’t stop. Instead, I do activities like bike riding or swimming to keep my fitness up,” he said. “I think I am lucky that this sport isn’t as taxing on the body like a lot of others. So it does not have a massive impact on my body, especially over the years, but I still need to keep fit.”
Lowndes says his best advice to others who want to get fit is to eat healthy and have everything in moderation. He also believes you need to do regular exercise.
Will Davidson – 2009 Bathurst 1000 Winner and V8 Supercar Championship Runner Up
Will Davidson, 29, began his racing career in Go-Karts at the age of 12-years. He then advanced to Formula Ford in 2000 and took out the championship in 2001. Davidson first drove a V8 Supercar in mid-2005 and by the end of year had secured a full-time seat.
For Davidson, racing is all about strategy.
“I make sure I am well prepared before every race and I know exactly what I will be up against,” said Davidson. “I read through the team’s plan for the weekend, study how I have gone in the past and go through any engineering or team issues prior to race day,” he said.
“When I race I make sure I am focused and that I concentrate on what I am there to achieve, which is winning races,” said Davidson. “I use trigger words during each race,” he said. “These help me focus on my goals and concentrate on what I need to do to win.”
Davidson encounters two other issues, besides extreme heat, when racing.
“The biggest issue I encounter is fatigue as I am in the car for a long time and need to concentrate on everything that is happening around me,” said Davidson. “Hydration is also a factor. Without the proper amount of fluid, muscles get weak and it’s hard to keep focused during the race,” he said.
“To overcome this I work out during the week and I focus a lot on cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming and cycling,” said Davidson. “I usual do about two sessions a week for about two hours a day,” he said.
In addition, Davidson also follows a strict diet.
“I follow a very strict nutrition plan – I eat a lot of carbohydrates leading into a race then eat more lean meals post-race like chicken, meat and plenty of vegetables,” said Davidson. “I believe we’re elite athletes, as the sport is physically and mentally challenging and we always have to be at our peak during each event, especially if we’re to achieve success,” he said.
Davidson rates his fitness as a seven to eight out of 10 and feels that there is room for improvement.
“I believe I could improve on my strength,” said Davidson. “I do a lot of cardio work,” he said. “However, going forward I believe having good strength will be the key to future success on the track.”
“It takes a lot of determination to stick to this,” said Davidson. “However, I know that if I exercise and eat right it will help me during events and in extreme racing conditions like heat,” he said.
“It takes me about five days to recover from each race and I always make sure I do a light training session like cycling or even yoga to help in my recovery,” said Davidson.
When the racing session concludes Davidson maintains his fitness by doing a lot of cardio work, this includes bike riding and swimming, which allows him to condition his body and prepare for the next season.
“I recommend that anyone looking to get fit exercises and eat healthily as much as they can, and that they focus on the personal goals that they want to achieve,” said Davidson. “I would say eat leaner foods like chicken and meat and never over-eat.”
Davidson’s sporting heroes are Lance Armstrong and Ayrton Senna. But, after having driven an Formula One car he has a great deal of admiration for many of the drivers.
“Cycling is one of the most demanding sports and for someone to have won the Tour De France so many times you have to admire Lance Armstrong,” said Davidson. “He has incredible mental and physical strength and is someone I have always looked up to,” he said.
“Ayrton Senna was such an amazing Formula One driver,” said Davidson. “I believe the best of all time,” he said. “He is definitely missed in the motorsport world and I look to him for inspiration before each race.”
“It was such an amazing experience to test an F1,” said Davidson. “Just to see first-hand the preparation of the teams and the pace of these magnificent machines,” he said. “It makes me admire drivers like Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo even more having driven in one.”
Mark Winterbottom (Frosty) – 2nd in the 2008 V8 Supercar Championship and 3rd in 2006 and 2010
Mark Winterbottom, 31, who started racing Go-Karts at the age of 10, began his V8 Supercar career in 2003. For Winterbottom success is all about preparation and keeping calm.
“Preparation is vital,” said Winterbottom. “Preparation starts weeks out from a race. Watching old footage and looking over data to get familiar with a track,” he said. “When at the track it’s all about keeping calm.”
“Hydration is big part of our performance,” said Winterbottom. “Cramping can cause some issues and with that the inability to stretch as we are locked in the car with a racing harness,” he said.
Winterbottom trains hard and eats well to improve his current level of health fitness, especially after his skiing accident.
“I train everyday with my trainer Paul Turk who also trains the Essendon footy club,” said Winterbottom. “We mix the training between weights and cardio,” he said. “Weights will involve strength work one week then power work the following week. Cardio includes volume runs, Fartlek training and some V02 max work.”
“I eat healthy at home, but I am really into my supplements,” said Winterbottom. “I take Body Science (BSC) Kos pre-workout and BSC fuel protein to recover after a workout,” he said. “The supplements help recovery and general diet helps maintain a good weight, as weight in our sport is vital.”
“Racing drivers are definitely elite athletes,” said Winterbottom. “We used to be labelled with the perception that sitting down driving a car can’t be that hard, but with TV shows and cross promotion other sports are starting to realise we are fitter than first thought,” he said.
“In terms of fitness, I would say my strength is currently a one as I am lifting heavier weights for longer reps,” said Winterbottom. “My running fitness is about a three as I broke my ankle water skiing over Christmas and I am only just starting to get back to a good pace,” he said.
In terms of improving his fitness, Winterbottom says that time is his biggest challenge.
“Time is the hardest thing I have to deal with,” said Winterbottom. “I am always travelling around the country doing promotional work and that stops me from having a set program,” he said.
“I used to find it hard to train on my own but since I started training with Paul it has made a lot easier to hit the gym every day,” said Winterbottom. “Having a fit training partner is the key,” he said.
“I suggest anyone who is struggling with training should find a training partner who is of a similar fitness,” said Winterbottom. “There will be days that you don’t feel 100 percent, but a training partner will push you through it,” he said. ” Also, do things you enjoy and see this as an outlet, not a chore.
Winterbottom has a pre-and-post-race ritual.
“I like to have a big plate of pasta on Saturday night before the big day on Sunday,” said Winterbottom. “I also drink a certain amount of electrolytes and magnesium to help with hydration and cramping,” he said. “In terms of training, I always have the Thursday before a race as rest day.”
“After a race I will jump into an ice bath to help with muscle recovery,” said Winterbottom. “I also load up on the right fluids and protein to help, as we have to back up the next day,” he said.
“When the racing season finishes, as a family we go away water skiing and enjoy some time off,” said Winterbottom. “My team FPR put a training camp on in late January,” he said. “This forces me to train over Christmas so I can’t have too many pies.”
Andrew Gillespie – 2012 New South Wales Formula Ford 1600 Championship Leader
Andrew Gillespie, 21, has been racing since he was 7-years-old. First racing in the 1998 Queensland Midget Rookie State Title in Go-Karting, Gillespie progressed onto Formula Ford in 2011, when Anglo Motorsport tested his aptitude and gave him the opportunity to compete. 2102 has been a year of successes for Gillespie, which he believes is due to his physical and mental fitness and determination.
“I always watch on-board videos to get in the mindset of driving the track while visualising each corner and thinking of different scenarios and how I can react to these,” said Gillespie. “I also make sure I’ve had a good night sleep before, as it’s easy to deteriorate throughout the day if you’re tired,” he said.
“During a race there is a large amount of information you have to process in a short space of time and it can be easy to over-think and analyse,” said Gillespie. “I always try to stay as calm and relaxed as possible while getting into a flow and rhythm during the race,” he said. “Physical fitness also plays a part, you need to be strong so you don’t start to deprive the brain of oxygen. It’s much easier to concentrate on racing.”
Gillespie says that G-force when racing can be an issue.
“While racing you can experience a significant amount of G-force which places the body under a lot of stress,” said Gillespie. “It’s something that can be difficult to train for, as you can’t replicate this in a normal gym environment, he said. “Also in a single seater car the cockpit is quite small and narrow, so simple things like steering and changing gears is slightly harder because you don’t have as much leverage.”
To overcome these issues and maintain his level of fitness Gillespie works out.
“Most of my training is spent on cardio activities,” said Gillespie. “I enjoy running and cycling,” he said. “During a typical workout at the gym I generally do three sets of 12 and alternate between main exercises like the chest press, push ups, dips, shoulder shrugs, front raises, lat pull-downs, wrist curls, crunches, oblique twists and squats. I’ll spend between eight to 10-hours per week training.”
“I don’t have a specific nutrition plan because I like to have some variety,” said Gillespie. “Although I do eat a well balanced, healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and I do have a slightly higher intake of carbohydrates and protein to help build and maintain my muscles,” he said.
“Generally all professional racing car drivers are elite athletes,” said Gillespie. “To be able to compete, at the top, in such a demanding sport you have to be able to drive at 100 percent during any part or the entire race,” he said. “Fatigue is a crucial and determining factor that affects a driver and their ability to physically drive the car as well as their thought process and reaction times. This is why most drivers have a rigorous training program to combat fatigue throughout the entire race meeting.”
“In the days leading up to a race, I have a special training program then I return to my usual so my body is fully recovered and rested,” said Gillespie. “Most importantly, I also increase my water intake to ensure I’m fully hydrated before I even arrive at the track,” he said.
“After a race meeting I prefer to have a day or two mainly doing light cardio, either running or swimming,” said Gillespie. “I find that these lighter exercises help with my recuperation process,” he said.
Gillespie rates his current level of fitness as a seven out of 10 and says that he needs to find more time.
“Personally for myself it’s all about time,” said Gillespie. “Working an average of 50-hours per week I have to find as much time in the day as possible for training between my other commitments,” he said. “Generally my training session are shorter but more intensive to compensate for this.”
“Of course, there’s always temptations and deterrents to put your off your plan, ” said Gillespie. “The main thing is to always remained focus on the big picture and the end goal,” he said. “I always remind myself it’s about ‘short term pain for long term gain’.”
“During the off season I’ll step back into a kart as it can be difficult to train particular muscles, including the neck, and it’s also good for keeping my reaction skills high,” said Gillespie. “I thoroughly enjoy cycling and running, especially in more remote locations, which is where I like to spend most of my time training,” he said. “Although I do spend a lot more time in the gym working on specific areas, so I’m able to step into the car, the following year, fitter then the previous season.”
Gillespie says that when it comes to good health and fitness it is important to enjoy what you do, no matter what type of exercise you chose to do.
“If you have fun and enjoy yourself it makes fitness and training that much easier,” said Gillespie.