Inside Track

Whilst working as a presenter at the Technology Centre for the extremely prestigious F1 team - McLaren -  our Monsterfeet Media manager (Alexandra Legouix) gained a huge insight into what it really takes to be a World class F1 driver. This inspired her to write a TV show called 'Inside Track'. Here is her story.

After reading a thread about F1 drivers on a BBC F1 forum one day, I was shocked to see that there were a number of extremely misinformed people responding claiming that F1 drivers were in fact NOT athletes, nor were they doing something that was seen as a 'tough career'. 

This inspired me to write a treatment for a TV documentary. The concept behind 'Inside Track'  was to explore what it actually does take to become a world class driver: the stresses and strains; the risk involved; the mental and physical preparation needed... and so on.

Filming took place over three months at the start of 2012 at the BTCC Press Launch where Iinterviewed Andy Neate, Rob Collard and Adam Morgan about the pressure they are put under during the BTCC season which - as we all know - is full on for the entire season!   

The questions I raised were met positively by the drivers who - it seemed - felt this was a topic certainly not covered enough in the past and so were keen to get their points across.

After a successful day spent in the BTCC pit and paddocks, I then organised some time with Simon Fitchett who was the (then) Personal Mind Coach and Personal trainer of ex F1 Champ and current DTM driver, David Coulthard and F1 (now McLaren) driver Sergio Perez.

This was one of the most interesting parts of our journey. Simon explained to us - in inspiring detail - all about how he trains his drivers; the mental approaches and difficulties drivers face; how drivers get 'in the zone'; the hypnotic journey he takes drivers on; and the physical training paces he puts his drivers through. 

With our newly learnt knowledge, we then headed to Izone Driver Performance to find out some more. Based at Silverstone, this incredible centre is the UK's leading driver training facility, developed by triple World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx.

"Our state of the art facility based at Silverstone circuit includes dedicated training rooms, a zone room for mental conditioning and psychometric testing, a motorsports gym and three state of the art simulators for single seater drivers up to F1, touring car, GT and sportscar drivers and all levels of kart drivers optimised to provide skills training and purposeful practice for karters, professional, historic drivers and club racers alike at very realistic tracks.  Simulator training features eye tracking, heart rate monitoring and biometric/EEG feedback. This enables us to monitor real-time human performance data and use it as an advanced teaching tool."  And it did not disappoint.

Here we spent time working John Pratt, the founder of the iZone Performance Centre. His involvement in this sector of motorsport was primarily as Andy Priaulx’s coach for 14 years, from his early days in the Renault Spider championship, into Formula 3 and on to his success in World Touring Cars, with three World Championship titles, followed by further victories in DTM.

We also met Neil Riddiford who guided us through the ins and outs of the centre.  Neil started his motor racing career in 1988, finishing second in both the Ford Formula Dunlop ‘Star of Tomorrow’ and the Townsend Thoresen Championship. This was then followed up by Neil securing the 1989 Inaugural British Formula Renault Championship. He went on to become a race and development driver for numerous single seater race teams and manufacturers, winning the British ‘National Supersports 200’ Championship in 1998.

The Izone is used by many a top driver and among them is Tom Onslow Cole, BTCC driver. Tom told us first hand about the pressures he is under physically and mentally, plus the grueling training regime he puts himself under during both the on and off seasons.

We were really impressed by Tom's attitude to his career. So ambitious, so hard working, so driven and not only is he holding down an extremely promising, ever growing racing career, he is also studying almost full time! 

The Izone really made me think about my own life and attitudes. It reminded me of the importance of having clear defined goals. When we are vague about our plans we go round and round in circles. Neil really drummed in the importance of having a target off AND on the track. More often than not, I feel, time and energy is spend on a drivers equipment and not enough time on driver preparation - is this the sort of thing that makes the difference between a winner and a loser?

The izone also has a highly interesting Psychometrics angle that we really did not have time to delve into. My intention is to get back there and really spend a good amount of time interrogating Jay Marshall and learning more about Mind Training!

With everything I had learnt so far, I wanted to put my skills to the test and give the simulator a go. Wow! What an experience!

As if the Izone didn't have enough, it also houses Goodman Media. the importance of drivers being media savvy was something we knew already of course but the fact that the Izone has made sure it ticks all the boxes, made it all the more impressive. Set up by well known journalist and motorsports commentator Louise Goodman, this media branch offers individual or group packages that "offer practical experience and expert insight to help you learn how to make the media work for you". Not to be sniffed at!

Next, we met Mike Wilds. An old from my RMA Trackday day's, but I had definitely underestimated the wealth of knowledge and history this man had.  Mike raced in eight F1 Championships after his debut in 1974. He also did extremely well in F3, F5000 and Historics in the 70's; and has won 12 British Championships in single seaters and sports cars.  Hhe won the 2008 Britcar Drivers Championship and the 2008 Group C Enduro Trophy; he  has competed in eleven 24 Hour Races including the famous Le Mans 24 Hour Race seven times, has driven in the British Touring Car Championship, provides tuition for manufacturers such as BMW, Lexus, FIAT, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz and Porsche plus Mike still currently competes in the European Endurance 'Britcar' Championship.

In addition to his car racing career, Wilds is an active commercial helicopter pilot and instructor. He is affectionately known as 'The Honorific' Mike Wild.

To say he was an interesting man would not be doing him enough justice. He was truly awe inspiring and I was genuinely fascinated by all his tales.  What I really wanted to know about was his opinion on the changes over the years in racing and he responded by showing me awesome footage and hair raising photos from his career during what can only be described as the 'death trap' era! "Pure unadulterated fun!.... but every time you sat in a race car you knew you could be killed" and Mike lost a lot of friends over the years. "No seat belts, no roll over bars.... but yes, they are much, much safer now". Mike chatted about how safety and technology has changed the sport dramatically over the years. 

Mike will race until he dies. He will continue to push himself, perform under these extreme pressures, even after 46 years of racing because he simply wouldn't ever lose this passion. drivers lived - and still do, despite the designs these days - close to the edge because they have the passion that makes the risk worthwhile.

Someone who really pushes these risk boundaries on a daily basis is Liam Doran. Based at Lydden Hill circuit, British Rallycross Champion Liam is one of the leading athletes in World off-road motorsport.  Having signed with Monster Energy in 2011 he has gone on to achieve an Xgames Gold medal and numerous other accomplishments in various disciplines. Liam told us about the importance of 'mental attitude'.  Racing is a tough and demanding sport and it takes a strong mind to cope.

A lot can also be said for the father of World Rallycross Star Liam Doran. 51yr old Pat Doran from Devon is a former British Rallycross Champion and European Rallycross legend and last August he took on one of, if not the, biggest challenge of his motorsport career, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado U.S. 

The race is run on a 12.42 mile course with 156 turns that begins at 9,390 feet and finishes at the 14,110 foot summit of America’s Mountain; Pikes Peak! As the drivers climb toward the summit, the thin air slows reflexes and saps muscle strength. The thin air also robs engines of 30% of their power at the summit. Competitors have to be in incredible shape to finish let alone win! And finish Pat did!

Motor racing drivers are not just born champions. Skill, attitude, focus and all other aspects must all be honed, developed and finely tuned to create a top driver. Throughout my journey I found out first hand from the drivers and trainers that it's not just about the cars. Being a top driver takes a passion and dedication rarely found outside the highest levels. A harmony of  technology, mental and physical skill combined build a racing driver in a sport that is rarely safe, often stressful and always fast. In just a weekend any one can train to become a racing driver but it takes complete dedication to become a true champion.

This blog really just touches the surfaces of the experiences I had, the people I met, and the knowledge I gained on this journey.  One day when I have more time, I will write a far more in depth blog for you telling you everything.  in the meantime, please do take a look at the TV show that was created. It was simply impossible to squeeze everything in to a 24 minute show and one of the many plans for Monsterfeet Media in 2013 includes an 'Inside Track' remake with a far more in depth story and detail.

However, sit back and enjoy this one for now:

Inside Track was aired six times on SKY281 during November and December 2012.

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