Applying sports science to enhance motor sport performance
Improving the understanding of sports science can enhance the preparation and competitive behaviour of young race and rally drivers across the world.
Sport, Physical Education and Health Science
What was the problem?
Motor sport (race and rally driving) is experienced as both physically and psychologically demanding by drivers and their teams (Turner & Richards, 2015), but research had not been done to understand these experiences and find optimal ways to support participants. A wide range of factors contribute to the challenges faced by motor sport drivers and teams, such as:
- the impact of physically working against gravitational and physical forces in confined spaces;
- climatic conditions;
- compulsory safety clothing;
- proximity to hot engines;
- the psychological pressure to succeed;
- the significance of winning (and, in turn, fear of failure);
- presence and evaluation of other competitors, spectators and media; and
- increased information load and distraction.
Robert Reid, 2001 World Rally Championship co-driver, saw a need within the motor sport world to support and develop talented young drivers. Robert approached Tony and Hugh to conduct research into how sports science could support new drivers.
What did we do?
The research developed over a ten year period and evolved from a geographical focus on British rally driving to international race and rally driving.
In partnership with Robert at Elite Sport Performance, Tony and Hugh started work in 2005 with the Motor Sports Association (the UK’s national governing body) to develop the British Rally Elite and Academy schemes. These programmes focused on developing drivers’ and co-drivers’ physiological fitness, nutrition, and psychology alongside career development support.
In 2008, Tony and Hugh began working with the Pirelli Star Driver programme, an international rally academy sponsored by Pirelli and in conjunction with the World Rally Championship. The researchers measured the physiological and cognitive demands placed on the drivers during a competitive event and how they responded. 'Turner & Richards, 2015' was the first published study in the field to monitor responses during top-level international rally competition. Read the article featuring this work in Infinite Magazine.
Between 2011-2015, the researchers worked on a global young race and rally development programme for the FIA Institute (part of the international governing body of motor sport). This programme involved sessions on drivers’ skills, road safety skills, team conduct, and media training as well as an extensive, evidence-based, sports science programme.
Watch the short video
Hear some of the drivers, academics, and students explaining how the programmes worked.
- Video: Video Asset: Coaching motorsport stars of the future - 28 Aug 2020
- Video Asset: Coaching motorsport stars of the future
What happened next?
In the immediate term, the drivers who participated in these workshops acknowledged the positive benefits of the training in giving them a greater understanding of the importance of sports science and fitness. A report in the FIA’s AUTO journal also highlighted the longer-term career benefits of participants, including: emerging Formula 1 test drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Jordan King; World Rally Championship round winner Andreas Mikkelsen; 2016 Indy 500 winner Alex Rossi; and, World Rallycross Championship runner-up Timmy Hansen.
On completing the FIA Institute programme, drivers became ambassadors for their world regions (a career-long requirement) promoting safety and other key FIA initiatives intended to help motor sport develop and thrive across the globe.
The researchers have been asked to run and assist other workshops including the World Rally Championship Academy (2011-2012), the MSA Team UK workshop (2015) and consultancy for the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (2013-2014).
The applied driver knowledge exchange work has also provided opportunities for many MSc Performance Psychology and MSc Strength & Conditioning students to gain valuable applied experience working with elite performers. Indeed some of these graduates have gone on to work with performers in high performance sport, and also in high pressure clinical, business and military contexts, where they apply their developed knowledge and skills.
Funding was awarded to Stephanie Adams to undertake a PhD, ‘Concussion in Motor Sports’, completed in 2019, which researched and developed guidelines for motor sport medics and competitors.
This body of research continues to have impact, and Tony is working as a consultant with Elite Sport Performance to advise on a new all-women driving series, W-Series. He helped with the W-Series selection event in 2019 and a driver workshop in early 2020 before supporting the switch to e-sports in 2020 following the pandemic.
The drivers will be pushed hard both physically and mentally, as would be expected in the high performance motor sport environment. There will be a lot of ‘hands-on’ work with the drivers learning about the physical and mental demands of motor sport through experience, followed by development of individual take-home strategies that they can start implementing straight away.
We were up at 7am on the first day for an amazing fitness session including a 5.5km run and floor exercises. After this session, we all started to realise we still need to work harder on our training to become elite racing drivers.