Nutrition and V8 supercars

By Kerry Leech, SDA Fellow.


During the 2013 V8 supercar season I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to work with one of the V8 Supercar teams, being contracted by a sponsor to work with the drivers & their support staff to improve nutrition for the team.

It was a fantastic experience and allowed me to have insight into the workings of the team from the owners, through to the training and preparation, consulting with the catering, individual work with the drivers, and finishing with observations of race day preparation, including being given full access to the pits during both practice sessions and race day.  Below are my experiences, showcasing where I feel Sports Nutrition can enhance the performance of V8’s and motor racing in general.

Initial meetings were held at the Head Office where I met with the team owners and managers who discussed with me the philosophy of the team, and took me on a tour of the training facility.  The facility included a strength and cardio studio on site – they had previously employed a full time Strength and Conditioning coach but now contracted this out so each driver could use their own advisor.  The training facility also included specific reaction training in a virtual setting.

Physical training for the drivers included regular strength sessions often based around upper body and core strength, and conditioning sessions such as bike and running depending on the preferences of the drivers.  Actual time in the race car for training is limited to testing and preparations at the track. The rest of the time the cars are being prepared in the meticulous workshop or being transported to the tracks around Australia and NZ for racing sessions.  Nutrition support for this time is primarily around the areas of changing body composition, preparation and recovery for training sessions, especially strength work.

My next meeting was with the Catering Manager.  During races the team uses its own catering facility, drivers generally stay in hotels or for longer events they may have a house or apartment and will eat meals away from the track at restaurants or in a home type environment. While they are at the track they will eat meals provided by catering.  There is generally 1 driver per car, 2 for endurance events but the support team can be up to 50, all of whom need to be fed during the event.  The staff are working long hours during a race, from 5am-11pm and catering generally provided for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and some snacks.

Drivers have significant commitments during race preparation and the races, not only in the car.  They are highly available to sponsors and the media and this can affect their time management and eating routine.  One of the issues that the drivers found most difficult was meals not being available if there was a media or sponsor activity on at meal times.

The issue of the types of meals available also affected the drivers with a preference towards lighter meals with more of a carbohydrate base than what was enjoyed by some of the other staff.  They also wanted more individually packed meals and snacks closer to where they did most of their work, the pits, so that time was not wasted walking to and from the catering areas.  High energy snacks that are readily available and which do not need refrigeration are helpful to both drivers and crew.

My last meetings were held with the drivers for feedback on what they saw as important and nutrition screening. After these interviews, guidelines for changes were reported and we had the opportunity to see how it all worked at a practice day and race day.

The race that I attended was at the Gold Coast – an endurance event held over two days on a tight street circuit in quite hot conditions.

It is at a race day that you really see the stress that driving a V8 Supercar vehicle puts on the drivers.  The pits are very busy, very noisy areas and the drivers, when not driving, are often fulfilling sponsor and media activities.  Due to the amount of activity it is easy for drivers to forget to eat meals and snacks, planning and supporting the drivers is imperative.

One of the first things you notice is how hot the drivers get, they wear fire retardant clothing that covers 95% of the body with a helmet so there is little ability to transfer heat for cooling.  All drivers in the car are connected to a cooling suit which pumps cool fluids in piping over their body, unfortunately these are connected to the engine of the car and can sometimes fail. Drivers did use ice vests for pre cooling before the race and between driving stages but other strategies such as fans and ice towels could also be used to enhance cooling.  Ice baths could be difficult do due to the practicality of the pit area, but the use of “slushies” and very cold drinks could help and would be more easily accessible.

Doing hydration testing on the drivers helped to show them the importance of being pre hydrated.  USG results indicated that some drivers were not fully hydrated prior to the race. Drivers found it difficult to match fluid intake to fluid losses during the day, fluid intake during the drive is often warm therefore not enticing, not to mention the many distractions encountered while in the car.

Individual sweat testing results helped to give more individualised feedback to each of the drivers as to the types of fluids they would most need, especially in the endurance race setting.

It would be interesting to see how the use of ergogenic aids would aid performance. Caffeine is used but not in a planned manner and drivers are quite nervous about anything that may be detrimental to their reflexes.

In all, I was very lucky to have such a wonderful experience and if any Sports Dietitians get the opportunity to work with any drivers or teams, there are many areas that a Sports Dietitian can contribute their knowledge and skills towards improving the performances of V8 drivers.