Monday, May 2, 2011

Chapter 14: Physical & mental prep

A very important part of a driver's obligations is his physical and mental prep. 

The psychological prep, as far as I was aware of, was completely absent in the team.  Unless the guys took care of it privately, I have not heard of any coaching or assistance of any type being made available to the drivers in 2005.  I guess the reason for this was budget, mainly, and perhaps also a lack of belief in it's importance from the management's point of view. 

Drivers need a strong psyche and this can be influenced by the surroundings.  If you want to perform and by that I mean going to the limit on a regular basis, you need to feel that you have a whole team which is backing you, no matter what.  You need to know that everything is done in the interest of supplying you with what is needed to accomplish the results.  Teams are potential havens for jealousy, mistrust, misunderstandings, conflicts of interest etc.  There are many people working around you and your car.  An insignificant problem can easily upset a whole equilibrium. 

I am referring for example to stupid little things like having your technicians argue over something during service, and then later you finding out before a stage start that one of your wheels is loose, because the guy forgot to torque wrench it.  Paranoia settles in quickly... Next thing you know you will be thinking more about checking your wheels before a stage rather than your driving in the first corners, which determines your confidence for the rest of the stage.

There is a routine that needs to settle in as you start competing.  Everything has to be sorted so the driver has only one thing to think about: driving.
A factory driver, when integrated in a proper team, will have a core of trustful and compatible people surrounding him.  These persons will be, for example, the dedicated car engineer, the co-driver, the car technicians, the gravel crew/weather crew/tire advisor, the co-ordinator, the doctor, the trainer, the press officer.  In short these persons have his full trust and form a psychological bench that he can rest on.  Stability is key for a driver.  Teams who shuffle personnel around from year to year are not doing any good for the driver's mental.

On an other note, one must not forget the fact that we are human and we do in fact get scared on stages.  Back in Finland 2005, when I started to push more than before, I was wondering if it was normal to be afraid.  Was I supposed to be afraid?  So I asked Marcus Grönholm if it was normal that I almost "pissed my pants" on the stages.  He said yes, it was normal.  So I concluded that, if somebody tells me he is not scared either he is going slow, he is crazy or a liar.

The fact was that, the level of driving in the championship was so intense, the only way to know that you were on the limit was if you repeatedly scared yourself on stages.  Gardemeister's co-driver told me the same.  We were often discussing how difficult it was and how afraid we were because of the risk amount we had to take.  It made me wonder how someone can keep up the risk taking to end up 6th or 5th?  How long are you able to keep it up if results don't follow to motivate you?  How long until you give up and ease off, without even knowing?  It takes a very strong mental state to be able to push your limits and keep pushing especially if there are no results following.    

Physical training, in the team during the 2005 season, was somewhat taken care of.  To resume, it went like this:  Some weeks before Monte Carlo we were all invited to stay at the team headquarters for some days.  There was a trainer who took charge of us, between the time that we spent in the workshop, or doing work with engineers or the co-ordinator.  We did some cardio training and learnt about diet, effects of heat and dehydration, etc.  The guy was a wealth of knowledge and very pleasant to work with.  Unfortunately he was not present on all events.  All in all I think he showed up for half of the events, due to budget reasons, it seemed.  We were instructed by the boss to train by ourselves and I remember he regularly asked us if we had been running on mornings.  He wanted us to go jogging before recce starts and each start of legs.  That's it.

Concerrning this subject the most memorable moment I can recall came in Cyprus, after the long marathon-like stage that we ran on the first day.  That stage was almost 50km long and we did it twice.  I believe it took us close to 40 minutes to run through it and trust me when I say this, it was a hell of an effort.  The heat was the main problem, obviously.  The low average speed and therefore little air coming in through the roof vent meant that our Nomex suits and long underwear were keeping us very, very hot.  The fact that the stage was twisting and turning again and again and again was a nightmare, adding to this the never stopping bumps, stones deep ruts, dust...  I was getting Kresta's splits, as we were fighting for a top 6 place at that moment.  I heard that I was down, by close to 30 seconds if I recall properly, before the last 15 km's.

I don't know who to credit for this one, I think it was taken on Cyprus shakedown cause the car still looks quite good...
I was starting to get seriously tired.  By tired I mean "passing-out" tired.  I reacted to the split and pushed harder, concentrating on taking deep breaths, focusing on every single corner as if it was the last one.  We finished the stage by catching the time lost and gaining some bunch of seconds on top of it.  The fact that he was apparently pushing hard in the first 3 quarters of that stage meant that he had worn his tires badly, while I had not.  When he was running out of thread in the end part it really cost him a lot of time. 

I arrived at the stage end completely finished.  As soon as I cleared the stop control I climbed out of the car and laid down on the ground, pouring some water over my head.  I have never felt so cooked in my life.  The heat, the driving, the hard push in the last km's has been the toughest effort I have ever made.

I would say that Finland is tough psychologically but Cyprus or Turkey and Acropolis were by far the toughest rallies all aspects concerned.  I was wondering if I was fit enough, so one day I asked Carlos Sainz if it was normal to be dead tired after a rally like that.  He replied that he was also completely cooked and it usually took him a week to recover.  It was similar for me.  Anyway, I think I lacked some physical prep.  Then again you can never do too much physical prep.


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