Success at the track is founded on hours spent training beforehand. But how fit is a multiple junior champion and what condition does he need to be in to cut it as a professional racing driver?
A cold, damp late-Autumn morning in Northamptonshire. Silverstone resounds to the throaty burble of a DTM Mercedes. It’s November and the McLaren Autosport Award finalists are being put through their paces – but karting champion Jack Barlow is not one of the fortunate contenders. Not yet. He is at another part of the home of the British Grand Prix, near Stowe Corner – and he’s on a treadmill. Andy Blow of Porsche Human Performance takes a blood sample from Jack’s thumb as he pounds away. Barlow had been invited to the Porsche Experience Centre courtesy of his partnership with adidas. The sportswear giant recently re-entered the motorsport market with its striking XLT race shoes and already enjoyed a relationship with the legendary Stuttgart marque. Its mouthwatering range of cars aside, the Porsche Experience Centre also boasts a conference suite, boardroom, cinema, restaurant, its own test track and, of course, the Human Performance lab.
“The perfect partner to a driving session is an assessment at The Porsche Human Performance Centre the brochure asserts confidently, and that is precisely why Jack is now in the compact room stocked with state-of-the-art technology from Technogym and Optical Express. PHP offers drivers – from Porsche road car owners to top F1 drivers – a range of assessments including blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol testing and a lifestyle review. Earlier, Jack has tested his hand/eye coordination and reaction speeds on the Batak machine. Before that, Andy, one of PHP’s directors, had analysed Jack’s body composition by examining its mineral content, muscle mass, body fat and water content. With Jack still on the running treadmill, Andy conducts a blood test every three minutes to measure his lactate threshold, giving him an idea of different training zones he can work on in the future with the young karter.
Around the walls, there are autographed framed photos from some of the Centre’s other well-known customers; Mark Webber, Ken Block and Moto2 star Bradley Smith. Former Team GB triathlete Andy urges Jack on for one more minute: “Drive it up, this is good running.” He counts down,”30 seconds to go… 15 seconds, 10 seconds, nearly there.” As Barlow towels himself down, Andy says matter of factly,”there’s room for improvement” before giving some advice on Jack’s current training regime. He has run for 21 minutes, Grand Prix drivers are expected to do 30. Next the pair move over to another part of the small room, but Andy darts off to set up a metronome. The gym suddenly sounds like the set of Countdown, minus the music. Every two seconds an audible beat sounds out a rhythm.
Andy demonstrates the next exercise, chin-ups, and Jack appears to pale. “I’ll stop you after five minutes” he says, adding “We have everything between 0 and 25 on this test”The long, lean-limbed Barlow struggles at the first attempt. Rather than find a negative, Andy sees this as an area to work on for the future and gives Jack another exercise to try, inverted rows. “They’re a good pre-exercise to doing chin-ups” he explains plainly. Jack performs ten reps and Andy sets him a chin-ups target: “Get up to five and that will be good” A series of counter-movement jumps and static jumps yield Blow’s approval.”Good, excellent!” he enthuses.
Once again, the Bose stereo beats out a metronomic pulse as he and Jack lie on the floor in preparation for that most simple and timeless test of strength and endurance – the press-up. Barlow’s chest must touch Blow’s fist to register each one.”How many?”Jack enquires. “Just about 307 Andy says with a hint of Sergeant Major,”Because I’m feeling generous!’ Reaching the required number is clearly a matter of some satisfaction for Jack: “I couldn’t even do one in January!” The ‘plank’ is “very important for core strength, especially if you’re a bit taller” advises Blow as he lies on the floor, propping himself up on his forearms. Buoyed by his press-up success, Jack quickly takes up his position on the crash mat.
“Hold it still, I don’t want to see any movement,” Blow says sternly. As the stopwatch counts down the three minutes, what initially looked easy begins to reveal that it isn’t as the teenager shifts uncomfortably and pants under the strain. At two minutes, he rolls to the floor with a groan. “It was a hard session. When you’re 16 years old your immune system is not as strong as it could be, so we don’t want to batter you into the ground. Jack is quite a bit taller than average for his age. Optimally (for a racing driver) you need to be built like a jockey, but that said Mark Webber is tall and very successful. As you mature, managing your strength-to-body weight is very important!’
Like any top-performing athlete, taking care of your nutrition is just as important as hitting the gym. “Focus on a very, very good diet. Sleep a lot. No matter how hard you work and what you eat, it is all determined by genetics.”Consequently, the Porsche Human Performance director recommends a move away from the traditional ‘three square meals a day’ philosophy. “Eat five times a day. 80 per cent of your food wants to be natural. Avoid anything that has come out of a factory, like bread or pasta!’ Summing up in the spacious and airy atrium, Andy observes that Jack needs to strengthen his back and work on his upper body strength.
“You’ve got to be good all round and you’ve got to be strong all over.Isometrics (strength training exercises) are good for karters. There is room for improvement. Make sure you make all the right nutritional choices when you’re in control!’ Aware of the limited healthy catering options at virtually all kart tracks, Andy suggests taking your own food to each event. In terms of Jack’s physical conditioning, he sets a series of goals to be reviewed in six months. “We expect a top driver to do 10 to 15 pull-ups at a rate of one every two seconds. 50 press-ups, at the same rate, and a ‘plank’ for three minutes without a great deal of trouble, You should aim for a grip strength of between 60 and 65 kilograms. In terms of running, you should top-out at around 17 or 18 kilometres per hour. However, none of that we’d expect in a driver of 16, or less. Although a single-seater driver in one of the junior formulae should be close to these parameters.
Tom Blonnquist, Dino Zamparelli and James Calado are well above the average and they’re top drivers too. Some drivers exceed these limits – there are five or six in Formula One.”Who they are, he doesn’t say. “A lot of drivers focus on what they’re good at. I’m much more impressed with those who are good in all areas, rather than exceptional in one!’ Andy shoots a look at Measuring Fitness.indd 5 Andy Blow demonstrating the inverted row exercise Jack,”We’ll be keeping an eye on you!’ He then brilliantly encapsulates Jack’s training regime in one neat sentence. “So far you’ve been training to train. Your body’s adapting. You’re learning.”A pause punctuates the air as Jack takes on board his comments. Blow doesn’t need to say it because the understanding is already there – now the real work begins.