February 2011 - Fitness and Racing

It’s great to be full swing into the season. It’s always funny how you go from relaxed and having a wealth of down time (three weeks!) to being right in the swing of it, but I love it and here we are. I’m heading this afternoon to Palm Beach for the second round of delivery and the east coast launch party of the 911 GT2 RS. I’m pretty excited about the event with all the anticipation of driving the car and meeting a lot of friends in the dealer network and customers who are there to pick up their cars.

I returned home Friday night from Barber Motorsports Park where we were working at the Porsche Sport Driving School on a unique PR story. The basis of the piece was to compare the difference between latest video game simulations and real track driving and to even have a little shootout against one of the top ranking media members of the sim world!

I met up with Matthew Kato, the editor of Game Informer, and we went head to head first on the simulator and then on the race track. Throughout the day Matt quizzed me about my experiences with gaming when it comes to driving and racing, and my background and career between our driving sessions. The short story: I don’t have a huge passion for racing games nor do I play regularly. I do love playing in a social environment and going head to head with friends though. I also think that the latest games have such great detail that it’s an awesome way to get a head start learning new race tracks. I tell up and coming racers that a bit of moderation is needed when it comes to video game playing. I feel that hours and hours playing would be better spent in the gym and on the phone working with sponsors and raced teams.

I was able to give Matt one of his first experiences on a race track in a 911 of any type. I took him from a C2 through a Turbo and finally into a GT3. I think that’s what’s so cool at PSDS; not only do you have a great driving school and an awesome track at your disposal but you have all the newest models of Porsches. It was great for him to get to sample all different types of 911s, his first day ever in a Porsche, and learn how to take a Porsche to its limits. It was a bit of a day out test driving new cars, on steroids! He did a great job and excelled a ton in a short amount of time. It was great for me to get a little revenge after he kicked my tail in the video game section of our day. Hot laps in a GT3 with some high speed drifts thrown in for a laugh always does the trick.

The most recent serious business was at Sebring for the official winter tests of the ALMS on the 9th and 10th of February. It was the first time we had been on the track with the completely new Ferrari 458 and also Corvette’s updated C6R. It looks like we’re definitely in the hunt but the Corvettes are showing to be very refined and ready for the battle this year and that’s what we love, the rivalry. It’s awesome to have all the Porsche corrals and all of you supporting the Lizards and Porsche at the races. It seems like we are giving Corvette as hard a time off the track as we are on and we feel all of your support! It looks like Ferrari’s going to take a little bit of time to get some of the bugs worked out with their all new piece but that’s purely my assumption—they could surprise us all straight out of the box. BMW was not there but they have been testing a lot and for some reason decided not to show up. We’ll all know where things settle out come hour one at Sebring next month.

Backing up one last step was our annual fitness camp where we trained this year for the week between the Rolex 24 and the Sebring test. Fitness is a huge part of the focus for Porsche and for all professional drivers. It’s hard to imagine any of the sport’s pros not having some regular regime of sports preparation between on track duties, but it’s safe to say that Porsche requires a bit more than that!

The idea behind meeting up for a one week boot camp with all the Porsche factory drivers is to prepare, refine and learn new training skills, but it’s also team building and the official start to our season as a factory group. There are nine of us who are factory employed drivers, all based out of the offices in Stuttgart, and most of the time we are racing in different parts of the world from one another. The fitness camp is a great time where we are all at the same place and on the same schedule and we get to catch up with one another. It’s really become a brotherhood amongst all of us; for me nine years with a lot of the same guys like Marc Lieb and Timo Bernhard, Jörg…all these guys who’ve been there as long or longer than I. It’s always a good time and there is plenty of friendly competition, but by the end of the week your body is taxed.

I often am asked questions about fitness and how it relates to driving. You’re just sitting behind the steering wheel, why would you need to be physically fit to drive a race car? I think all of you who have taken cars on a race track or club race can laugh along with me when that question is asked. But it’s a fair question from people who haven’t been out on the race track and I think it is interesting for them to hear and also good for us to remind ourselves how the physical and mental stress of racing and driving at high speeds can be so very taxing.

Luke Edson wrote and asked about recommendations on fitness levels or specific methods that would be helpful in PCA racing.

First of all, if physical training isn’t part of your normal daily life, don’t beat yourself up. I am not one of these people who just can’t wait to run on a treadmill for an hour staring at the wall! I can promise you, though, that being fit will make a huge difference in your weekend performance and, even better, will make your racing much more enjoyable. Much like prepping your car, there are four elements to prepping yourself that I take very seriously: physical training, mental training, hydration and nutrition. Now, I am no expert, but here is my brief take on things from the physical side.

Cardio, core strength, flexibility, balance—notice how I didn’t talk about getting ripped or having huge biceps? To be able to sustain your race demands, whatever that might be, try to recreate those scenarios in the gym or outside. A very basic starting point, for instance, would be if you race three 30-minute races per weekend, try to simulate that with exercise on your off weekends with the same intensity level. For us in endurance racing, it’s about creating the stamina but also training the recovery, as we might have six or seven stints (one hour minimum) in a 24-hour period. In PCA club racing training, I would eventually try to get some good cardio in three to four times a week, shooting for 45 minutes a session. It doesn’t have to be extreme intensity either…a basic jog or a good paced bike ride where you would still be able to carry a conversation with a training partner is just fine. If you are gasping for air and breathing just out of your mouth, that’s probably a safe sign that it’s too intense (and not the ideal way to burn body fat either). Our sports docs tell us that it’s often lower intensity that people think, but for longer sustained periods of time. It’s something I could write pages and pages on, but by no means have I become an expert. It’s just what has worked for me over the years to get through 24-hour races and hot days, what works and what doesn’t.

Core strength is where we focus most of our non-cardio time. If you have a sore lower back in the car, most likely core stability and strength is going to reduce that quickly. There is some great stuff out on the internet on new school training techniques. In brief, not a lot of sit-ups in our training regimes. Things like the plank, leg lifts and work with the big funny exercise balls are where it’s at! The best part is that if the gym isn’t your thing, you need not worry. All this stuff can be done in your basement or even on the road traveling!

My closing thought is that hot days and long races are tough for everybody. If you do find yourself reduced to just holding on at the end of a race or your lap times are suffering, I think from the safety standpoint and also from the performance standpoint, you definitely have to step up your physical preparation. Don’t allow yourself to write that off to normal elements of racing. The goal is to come off the track after a race feeling good and ready to go out and do it again, rather than looking for that checkered flag!


Send your comments and questions to Patrick at askpatrick@pca.org. Although he can’t respond individually, he’ll get to as many as possible in his blog.