Medical study finds CART drivers to have same fitness capacities as world-class athletes.
INDIANAPOLIS (December 13, 2002) - The word 'athlete' has long been held in reserve for those who can high-jump seven feet or run 10-second 100-yard dashes, but newly-published medical research has shown that drivers competing in the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford have fitness needs that rival any world-class athlete.
Strapped tightly for two hours into a cockpit where temperatures can easily reach 130 degrees is tough for anyone, but when you add the pressure of CART competition where drivers must maintain razor-sharp focus while piloting their 1,550-pound machines at speeds of over 200 mph, a Champ Car driver that is fit will always have a huge advantage over one that is not.
A recent study published in the December issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, shows that drivers must possess the same stamina and physiological responses as elite athletes in traditional team sports. The study was performed by researchers at the University of Miami (Fla.) - site of this year's Grand Prix Americas - using advanced technology to measure heart rate and oxygen consumption during high-speed driving sessions.
"Professional drivers have enhanced their health and fitness in order to gain the competitive edge," said lead author, Dr. Patrick Jacobs, Ph.D., FACSM. "We were able to match the science with the drivers on the tracks where they compete and confirm that they are well-conditioned athletes with cardiorespiratory fitness comparable to other elite athletes."
The authors of the study, Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Steve Olvey, CART's Director of Medical Affairs and an Associate Professor at the University, noted the difference in oxygen uptake and heart rate responses between courses may be related to the energy expenditure needed to control position within the car, muscular work efforts required, neural activity and g-force loads on respective courses.
"One of the questions I am asked most often has been: Are drivers athletes? The study that Dr. Jacobs and I did has now settled this question once and for all," said Dr. Olvey. "Those of us who work closely with professional racing drivers have, for a long time, known how severe the physical demands are to operate one of these cars competitively. Racing drivers will now be recognized in the sports world as real athletes, and will be accorded the respect they deserve by researchers and providers of fitness, nutritional, and medical expertise worldwide."
The study was done using seven veteran CART drivers and was conducted in current 800hp Champ Cars. Each of the participants underwent two on-track sessions and one treadmill session in a two-week period where the variances in physiological demands between track configurations, notably road courses and speedway settings, were measured.
The drivers ran one session each on the road course at Sebring International Raceway and the oval track at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the effects of changes in velocity, direction and surface were measured. As expected, the road courses placed significantly more demands on the drivers, with levels of physical effort similar to those reached in many traditional team sports. The average oxygen consumption required to drive at a competitive pace on the road course was up to 13 times that of resting energy consumption levels. This work level is comparable to that reported in persons running an eight-minute mile or cycling at 20-22 mph.