SO YOU THINK DRIVING AN INDY CAR IS EASY? PART 3
Dario Franchitti: So You Think Driving An Indy Car Is Easy? Try Breathing – Part 3
August 15, 2012
Taking the next step in the IndyCar physical challenge involves trying to breathe in the corners, as Franchitti explains.
“Remember, you can’t breathe above a certain number of G forces, so you get into the corner and brace yourself like a fighter pilot does when he’s making a hard turn,” he said before describing an oxygen-deprived lap in detail.
“At Mid-Ohio, you’re at Turn 1, hold your breath, get through the corner, breathe, breathe, breathe on the straight, brace yourself for Turn 2, hold your breath through the corner, accelerate out of the corner and breathe, breathe, breathe, then you brake, brace yourself, hold your breath in [Turn] 3, at Turn 4 you’re holding your breath again over the hill, down the hill to Turn 5 you take one breath then hold it, turn, breathe again over the crest, hold your breath, turn into 9, still holding that breath over the hill, breathe, breathe, breathe on the way to Turn 11, brace yourself, hold your breath, turn…get through [Turn] 12, breathe, turn, hold through Turn 13 and then you do it all over again. It’s kind of mental, really…”
Franchitti cited the general state of exhaustion among the drivers after the no-holds-barred qualifying session at Mid-Ohio as the perfect visual depiction of the environment they work in.
“Did you see the lot of us after qualifying?” he said with a laugh. “We were gutted. Just staring into space or whatever. No one had anything left to give. Everyone was empty. I’m not complaining–I loved every minute of it, but it takes everything you have just to produce those kinds of lap times. I bet we looked like zombies afterwards…”
Combine the single-leg braking efforts each lap, combine it with the truck-minus-power-steering arm exercises while holding your breath, and the portrait of what it takes to perform as an elite Indy car driver starts to take shape.
The final element requires prodigious neck strength.
With the Dallara DW12 peaking at 4.5 lateral Gs while cornering, a driver’s head—with ear plugs, a balaclava and helmet—becomes a 64-pound pendulum. Despite ample padding on both sides of the protective helmet surround piece in the cockpit, turning left though Turn 1—and the rest of Mid-Ohio’s corners—involves a major fight to keep one’s head in a vertical position.
Turn left, and the 64-pound pendulum wants to flop over to the right, and vice versa. But with a critical need to keep eyes fixed on the road ahead and to process all of the data and sensations coming through the chassis, drivers like Franchitti develop neck muscles that a wrestler would envy.
“I tailor my training to the muscles that I use most; I’m sure it’s the same way for any athlete,” Franchitti explained. “I do a lot of core training—it obviously ties everything together with what we do with our arms and legs in a race. And your head and neck is subjected to so much force, there’s some specialized training we do to strengthen those muscles.
“The last thing you can afford to have happen is to wear your neck out halfway through a race. If you can’t hold your head up, and it’s happened to all of us at one time or another, it’s game over. You start going backwards right away.”
You can attribute the insane physical requirements placed on an Indy car driver to many things, but Franchitti sees downforce as the opponent that he constantly trains to overcome.
“The difficulty here is because of the crazy downforce these things produce,” he said. “A car with zero downforce wouldn’t be anything like this tough to drive. But the more downforce you produce, the crazier speeds you can carry, the bigger the fitness problem…it’s all part of the fun.”