Hydration – A Racer’s Marginal Advantage

Picture of Subaru Rally Car at Rally America event

I’m a total optimization junkie. I think (hope?) that’s a good quality in a racer. Which is why this quote about hydration jumped out to me this morning and why I have to share it with you:

I’m not getting younger so I’m increasingly looking to get an edge through marginal gains like this! Click To Tweet

This straight from an interview with legendary rally driver David Higgins (three time British Rally Champion, winner of 15 of the last 16 Rally America rounds for Team Subaru USA) over at Precision Hydration.

Snow at Silverstone Circuit in central England

I’ve been down the same road. Three years ago, I was sliding my rental car into a snowy Silverstone circuit in England. I was signed up for a two-day fitness clinic hosted by Mark Webber, then-Red Bull Formula 1 driver. The session was organized by the Porsche Human Performance Center led by Andy Blow who I learned about via his book Motorsport Fitness Manual.

The event was mostly attended by up and coming racers in junior car and motorcycle categories like GP2, GP3, Porsche Cup and Moto2. These kids had natural talent, funding and lots of seat time, but they had little in terms of strategy. Few had experience with physical training or nutrition and the topic of hydration might have only meant “energy drink”.

But when Mark Webber spoke about all the tactics they tried at Red Bull to gain just an additional 3 meters in the run down to the first corner, we all learned top-level racing isn’t about the last 1%. Their last 1% was found ages ago. They were hunting for the last 0.1%: any obtainable marginal advantage.

Author Brian Ghidinelli working on the bike while being measured by a Polar heart rate system

The lesson I took home and began applying to my own racing was from the results of my sweat test. Andy used a special machine to capture sweat from my wrist and measured the amount of salt lost per unit of sweat. It turns out I’m a very salty sweater. To replace the electrolytes I lose over an endurance race would require drinking three large Gatorades with 96 ounces of fluid and 168g of sugar – plus spending $10!

Like Higgins, I immediately became a fan of the H2Pro tablets and I carry them in my helmet bag so I always have them at the track. The salt increases my body’s water and electrolyte absorption rate so I can drink less, pee less and still maintain that ideal pale yellow urine color. You can make a less optimized version of this in your kitchen by adding a pinch or two of salt into your water bottle. The tablets have been key for me to be competitive, like during a 5-hour stint at night in the rain on our way to a class win at the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

As Higgins said, none of us are getting any younger. And even if youth is on our side, a stack of 0.1% improvements adds up to the 1% that puts you way out in front.

One easy racing tip to be better prepared than your competitors. So good, even Mark Webber does it! Click To Tweet

You can read the full David Higgins interview at PrecisionHydration.com. They have an online sweat test that can approximate the results of the machine test I used in the UK.

If you want to geek out further, check out my YouTube Motorsport Fitness channel.

Going slow: is it the Driver or the Car?

Here’s something new on the RaceHero blog: a guest post for drivers that you’re going to love… because we all love to go faster! Working with Ross Bentley, author of the Speed Secrets books, e-books and webinars, we’re sharing an issue from his Speed Secrets Weekly newsletter. It’s a weekly email with juicy content for anyone who wants to perform at their best. This time we’re discussing how to tell when it’s the car (or motorcycle, kart, snowmobile, boat…) and when it’s the driver with one specific technique. Enjoy!

Photo by Austin Bradshaw of Flying Bye Photography
Photo by 15-year old photog Austin Bradshaw of Flying Bye Photography

Driver Control Bandwidth

We know the numbers. They are right there on the dash, glaring at us. Also, we know what our best time has been in the past.

Looking at the infamous “Sheet,” we see the leader’s time.

At this point, it starts to boil inside us: frustration, disbelief, and sometimes anger. “How can we be that far off the pace?” It seems like an impossible jump to the leader’s time. And, to make it more of a pisser, we aren’t even near our own best time.

Instantly, justification attribution kicks in and we start racer bingo. The leader is (insert favorite):

  1. cheating
  2. spending more money
  3. using better tires
  4. using a better motor
  5. got a tow
  6. had better track conditions
  7. has the newer car
  8. did we suggest cheating?

At the minimum, anxiety is setting in, if not full blown panic.

Racer Excuse Generator: The winner is a) cheating, b) spending more money, c) using better tires... Click To Tweet
Before the next session, we have to tweak something on the car such as tire pressure, shocks, anything that will make us go faster and try to catch the leader. Alas, we run the next session and we don’t go faster, but we actually go slower! AAARG!!

We have all been there. But what really happened?

Even though we all are quick to make changes to the car, thinking something is wrong with it, or the ambient conditions require a change, there is a high likelihood the car is not the reason for slower times. At this point, we must admit that the biggest variable in racing is driving, and chances are someone else is doing a better job at driving than we are. So what can be done to improve our driving?

Driver control bandwidth is a concept that we rarely think about, if ever. This relates to the specific tasks we perform in the seat and where they occur on the track. In the case mentioned above, it’s likely that our car control points have migrated or have a wider operating range of repeatability. So, we actually end up going slower, not because of setup, but rather less bandwidth for driver control. Just like your internet connection, more bandwidth is more capacity.

We end up going slower, not because of setup, but because of less driver control Click To Tweet

From an engineering standpoint, we can manipulate thrust angles, roll centers, frequency responses, or many other engineering factors by tweaking on the car; however, improving the car in a particular situation requires that it be consistently operated in that situation.

For example: If we have corner brake application points (or any driver task) that vary with each lap, then the handling for that corner becomes a statistical problem rather than a precision engineering challenge, as can be seen in these real-life examples below.

These graphs are the distance traveled per lap from the start/finish line in feet to where the brake pedal was first depressed.

The distance from the start/finish line on each lap where the amateur driver pressed the brake pedal approaching turn 1

The distance from the start/finish line on each lap where the experienced driver pressed the brake pedal approaching turn 1

The top graph is from a young inexperienced driver struggling to grasp the concept of reference points and is basically driving by the seat of his pants. The graph on the bottom is one of the best professional drivers I’ve ever worked with who is usually on the pole and often wins. It is easy to see that one is very consistent with driver control tasks and the other is…. well, all over the place and consistently at the back of the pack. Granted, the data is not from the same track, but the trend is obvious. Hint: Which one of these drivers has more consistent apex speeds?

It is easy to embrace and employ this concept to improve your own driving. The goal is to create and use a driving aid that shows us the repeatability of a task or its migration. It really is just that simple, so don’t try to make it hard.

How To Measure for Improvement

A good way to do this is with an objective metric that is readily available to most all racers, which is data. Relax, we’re not talking about those confusing squiggly lines, just a row of numbers listing the feet traveled to the brake (application and/or release) point, lap after lap for a given corner.

Use a driving aid that shows the repeatability of a task on track to improve the driver Click To Tweet

This doesn’t require an exotic data system or a complex engineering process. Any of the most basic systems from AiM, CDS, MoTec, Pi or any other brand that will allow you to create a “math channel” will do the job. No special sensors are required, although a brake pressure sensor makes it more clear, but it’s not absolutely required.

It is also nice if the data acquisition software has an export function to take the brake point listing and put it in an Excel spreadsheet (as shown above), but again, that is just eye candy and icing on the cake.

To create this driver aid, start by looking at your data. Identify a distance to the corner in question and pick a point that is a bit short of any anticipated braking point. Remember this distance. You can call it “corner entry.” Next, look through several laps to find a good average distance where the peak brake pressure or peak deceleration G occurs, and remember that number.

Use the math function in your software and create two constants, one for the corner entry distance and the other for the corner mid-distance, using the numbers from above.

Next, create a math channel that uses nested “IF” statements to see if the distance traveled (lap distance) falls between the two constants you created. If so, then check to see if the brake pressure or deceleration G has exceeded a specific value. I like to use 40 psi as my specific threshold value. Once that specific value has been exceeded, we can use this lap distance as the brake application point (as shown in the graphs above) and then make the value of the math channel return to zero for the remainder of the lap.

All that is left to do is to display the maximum value of the math channel in a table style display on your data software. Now you have distance traveled to the brake point for that corner during every lap of the run.

Creating a math channel such as this and using it to improve your driving consistency can result in a major improvement to your lap times.

Struggling on track & unsure whether to change the driver or the car? Start with this graph. Click To Tweet

Written by John Block from Auto-Ware for Speed Secrets Weekly. Follow John on Twitter at @autowareinc.