An interview with:
Dr. Steve Olvey
Dr. Patrick Jacobs
Part 2 of 2
Q: In basketball, players that hit a wall of fatigue, a lot of times their outside shots, their legs start to go, they're not able to make that shot. Is there a correlation to drivers experiencing that same type of fatigue, and because of that their bodies don't react, and can cause accidents?
Dr. Olvey: Yeah, we've observed through the years, and because of this in that case we watched drivers very closely from the safety trucks, sat around the racetrack to look for any erratic lap times, erratic behavior on the part of the driver. What you see when fatigue sets in is the driver starts to lose his ability to concentrate and to anticipate things as well as to react to things in front of him. There is a definite increase in the accident rate of fatigued drivers, which is another reason why they need to be in good physical condition, not unlike what happens on the ski slopes. When you talk to physicians in Colorado, they'll talk about the rush of injuries toward the end of the day on the one-last-ride type of thing. We're very aware of what the drivers are doing toward the latter stages of races in particular.
Q: Dr. Jacobs?
Dr. Jacobs: I'd have to agree with what Dr. Olvey has said. With ensuing fatigue, there are decrements in both attention and concentration, and also in fine motor skill. Obviously, driving a Champ Car, both are required. Anyone familiar with motor racing can often recount incidents where you may see some of the lesser-experienced drivers being able to keep up to the forefront early on in a race. As the conditions, be it the heat conditions or just the stresses associated, say, with a very intense road course, do start to manifest themselves towards the latter phases of the race, you'll generally see the older, more conditioned, experienced drivers tend to be at the forefront more than the lesser-conditioned drivers.
Q: Oriol, in a sense you were the guinea pig on this thing. Did you learn something about yourself, what you should be doing as you looked at these findings?
Servia: There are always things you can do better. I mean, I've been working very hard for four years with a coach that's been coaching drivers such as Pedro de La Rosa for nine years before me. He's been around motor racing. I've already been working a lot. But there's always things that you can learn from other experiences, from other people. So, for sure, there's still a lot to improve. Like we're talking about, sometimes putting a heart rate monitor when you're testing, things like this, you get surprised about things. One day I was just doing some testing, doing some laps, and my heart rate went up to 170.
That I think is one of the things that shows you've got to be in good shape because in a race, at least you're going to be between 160, 175, I would say. You're going to be two hours at that rate. You better be in shape. Another example, if anyone listening to us can play 15 minutes to PlayStation in the racing game, at the end you end up sweating. You're playing PlayStation on a comfortable sofa at home. To all that excitement, you add the G forces we go through, you can imagine how tiring it is.
Q: Often we see, especially in oval races, cars going wheel to wheel for a number of laps. How much extra energy is used by the driver in those situations?
Servia: I think it's a lot of mental energy, that's for sure. You have to be very focused. If you don't control that, that mental energy, you start wasting a lot of physical energy because you start stressing your muscles more, you start pressing your steering wheel a lot more than what you should, then suddenly you're tired. Maybe in that oval that before we said you're not supposed to get tired, but because of this excitement you start wasting too much energy. That's when experience counts and you have to control yourself. Even if you are very focused mentally, you need to learn how to relax your body a little bit to try to be sharp at the end.
Q: Dr. Steve, you mentioned at the top of the teleconference today, you were asked a question on why would you go back and reexamine stuff that you basically knew already that without a doubt these guys definitely are athletes on the same kind of performance level as the stick-and-ball athletes. Was there something in the findings, data that you gathered this time, that maybe even more firmly underlined the fact that these guys are athletes? Is there something new you found in the data that maybe you didn't know before?
Dr. Olvey: I think the study better defined exactly what the driver's going through. I'm speaking for myself now. Even though I thought it was quite physically demanding to do this, I wasn't really sure what the differences were between the oval tracks and the road courses, for example. I wasn't really sure to what extent the oxygen consumption would be. So I think it just better defines the whole process. As we learn more and more, looking at other aspects of safety in the sport, it just makes us better able to educate younger drivers that are coming into the sport through go-karts and our lower series so they can better prepare themselves when they get up to the bigger cars.
Q: I don't know whether you run into this frustration, but regardless of these findings, the scientific methods that you have gone through to prove that these guys are definitely athletes, you're still going to get the cynics, sports writers, regardless of the data that you have gathered. As long as there's an engine supplying the propulsion for these automobiles, these guys aren't athletes. What do you do? Is it a question of having this data ready when a driver's athleticism is put under question?
Dr. Olvey: I think the fact that we did the study and got it published in such a wide-ranging journal pretty much lays to rest scientifically the question. If there are doubters out there, I think they probably have some hidden agenda or something because they're just not wanting to face the facts. It's very clearly there. It's pretty indisputable at this point.
Q: Oriol, there's a lot of training that goes on certainly with aerobics and cardiovascular training. Can you talk about diet that has to go along with that? What do you do to go along with your training in terms of diet to make sure you stay in peak condition?
Servia: I would say it's different when it's race weekend and winter. Right now when I'm training morning and afternoon, I need to I think eat a lot of carbohydrates because that's what I'm burning. That's about it, you know. Obviously, try not to eat too much fat. I don't like any dressing on the salads. It's a lot easier at home in Barcelona. On salad, we put a little bit of oil. In the States, it's harder because you have all these good dressings to put on it. It's a lot more difficult to keep my weight down.
During the season, I'm not very strict myself on my diet. I just try to eat healthy. I just try to eat with a good balance. I try to have my vitamins. On race weekend, I eat mainly carbohydrates. The rest of the week, I don't try to eat many carbohydrates, not to gain too much weight. I try to make it as balanced as possible, as I said.
Dr. Olvey: One of the things that we found several years ago, that was discovered several years ago, is body fat alters two things: one, your ability to tolerate warm and heated environments, which is often the case in the racing car, and also it affects your ability to concentrate, believe it or not. Excess body fat, people who have excess body fat, cannot maintain a level of concentration as someone who is lean.
Q: Dr. Jacobs, back to some of the training issues for drivers. It's been said over the years there's very little specific weight training that serves racing drivers well. Can you recommend any kind of training program with weights that would really help that?
Dr. Jacobs: Initially it would prove a sound approach to present a well-balanced program. That is we often hear the term "sports-specific conditioning." In truth, the only manner to be completely sports specific in conditioning is to participate in the sport. If one wanted to be completely similar to the 400-meter dash, you would run competitive 400-meter dashes every day. Training is a matter of isolating certain components that are related to success in the event and attempting to enhance the characteristics related to that component, that is whether it's strength, power, endurance, stamina.
In the case of racing, it may be appropriate then to have a total body conditioning program, utilizing all the movements, that is regardless of the movement pattern within the automobile, utilizing movements antagonistic to those motions also. Within the race car, there is very little movement, per se. So to concentrate the latter stages of training when one becomes more specific, that is the earlier stages may be generalized, emphasizing a general athleticism. As one approaches the competitive time of the year, becoming more specific. One might emphasize isometric training, that is holding static, controlled contractions, attempting to emphasize the core stability, that is the ability to stabilize a position by appropriate concentration on the midsection, hip structure, to hold the position within the automobile. This has been proven rather successful in a number of the different drivers that I've had to work with individually after the study.
Q: Is it possible to say what portion of drivers currently do the kind of aerobic and resistance training that you think is optimal?
Dr. Olvey: In our series, I can speak to that, I don't know a single driver in either Champ Cars or the Atlantic Series that do not have a trainer or a training program that they religiously adhere to. The days are long gone where you can be competitive and not be in peak physical condition. We had a group of drivers the last several years that are pretty close to their peak ability. I think that's true of Formula 1, as well. I really can't speak about the other series, but I would guess that it's very similar, at least in the upper echelon.
Q: Is it possible also to compare V/O2 max sport to sport directly based on what you have here? Is it possible to say whether your elite driver would be at the same V/O2 level as an elite basketball player?
Dr. Jacobs: Well, the data did show that the peak V/O2 was approximately 48 milliliter per KG per minute. Data on the elite basketball or football players, the data we compared it to, were published in 1992. There may be a difference within the last decade, the conditioning of those team sports athletes. But the number, that is the 48 milliliters per KG per minute, that is similar to what had been published in the past for baseball, football, basketball.
Q: I want to be clear whether you're talking about the elite level. I assume the folks you actually have tested here are not randomly chosen. I am trying to figure out whether the people you have tested can be compared on the elite
level of their sport or whether they can be compared on the general level of the sport so you can say whether the best race car drivers are as good as the best basketball or baseball player, or whether the average driver is comparable to the average.
Dr. Jacobs: Obviously all the individuals involved in this racing study were volunteers, so it is possible that someone that wasn't as comfortable would not have participated. On the other hand, there was a wide range of fitness levels exhibited by these drivers. In fact, one of the drivers did not do as well and actually had difficulty meeting the challenges in both the test and on the road course, while at the other end of the continuum, there was one driver who actually demonstrated a cardiorespiratory efficiency similar to that you would see in a long-distance runner.
Q: What I'm trying to get at is, elite to elite or general to general.
Dr. Olvey: I think to help you out, this would be more general to general. The one that Pat is referring to that didn't perform really well wasn't really competitive either. Even though it's volunteers and not truly randomly selected, it turned out that it was kind of a cross-section of the group.
Q: Since you got seven guys, that's a fairly small sample, how confident do you feel in the results? That's a difficult question to answer, but I want to see your best estimate of how reliable these data are.
Dr. Jacobs: The relatively small sample would limit the findings in terms of your previous question. That is, were these seven individuals representative of the total group? There is some speculation to this point. In fact, in the article recently published that was listed as a possible limitation of a conclusion based on the peak V/O2 data. That is, were they truly representative of the top or were they average was it truly random, are they representative of the mean?
On the other hand, these are seven individuals out of approximately I believe 28 drivers, so we have a sampling of approximately 25% of the total population in that time period. At that point it's somewhat more comfortable.
Also, the seven drivers had 12 years experience mean in the professional ranks, that both participated on a road course and oval speedway. Within these seven individuals, they participated on two different settings. So I'm very comfortable with the numbers in terms of the comparison between the two different settings, that these are the stresses they do encounter in the competitive-type arena, that is in terms of the cardiorespiratory stresses due to the driving of the automobile. Again, this was separated from competition. These tests were performed in a testing session, so there were not a large number of other automobiles. There may be some additional stresses, in fact, in competition, be they psychological or perhaps physiological because some altered driving techniques while in competition.
Dr. Olvey: One of the interesting findings during the study was that it's kind of a geometric progression in energy expenditure. As you get more and more to the ultimate competitive speeds, you can drive around the racetrack fast and not exert a lot of energy, and be relatively comfortable. But when you get into what would qualify for an event, say, or what would put you up in the first two rows, there's like a geometric increase in energy expenditure to do that.
What Pat says about if we could do this testing in an actual race, I think the numbers would even be higher. We feel fairly confident they would be higher.
Mauk: I'd like to thank you all for coming out today. Oriol, thank you. We look forward to seeing you in the #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola in the 2003 CART series. Dr. Jacobs, Dr. Olvey, thank you very much. Fascinating findings. Have a very happy holiday.