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Driving for the distance


Calan Williams works hard both on and off the track.
Calan Williams is aiming to race on the Formula One circuit one day.

At just 17, Calan Williams is a force to be reckoned with on the Formula 3 circuit. But to achieve his goal of reaching Formula 1, writes Lisa Shearon, he has to be at his best, both on and off the track.

It’s why Calan has turned to ECU strength and conditioning expert Professor Tony Blazevich and nutritionist and dietician Dr Therese O’Sullivan, who have been helping the future racing star prepare to compete at the highest level.

“In car racing, it’s not a case of running faster or lifting heavier; it’s a complex motor-control activity." - Professor Tony Blazevich.

While in many sports the physical condition of the athlete takes precedence, in motor racing psychological factors are highly significant, so Blazevich and O’Sullivan have taken a holistic approach.

“Obviously in most sports there’s a psychological element, but we’re generally trying to optimise the physical: go faster, go harder,” Blazevich explains.

“In car racing, it’s not a case of running faster or lifting heavier; it’s a complex motor-control activity.

“Every car is different and every race is different, so the question isn’t ‘how do we train a race car driver’, but instead, ‘how do we understand, from the driver’s perspective, what the task of driving his specific car in his specific class means’.

“What is unique to his class of motor racing right now, and what does that mean for developing him as a driver?”

Demanding formula

Balancing the demands of Formula 3 is of particular interest to Dr O’Sullivan, who is working with ECU Master of Nutrition and Dietetics student Tristan Schwartzkopff to optimise Calan’s nutrition and hydration.

“Motor sports are mentally challenging,” Dr O’Sullivan explains. “With motor and cognitive skills being used at the same time, Calan’s heart rate goes up extremely high.

“He’s got to stay calm and he’s got to stay focused – not just on what he’s doing, but on what his car is doing and what’s happening on the track. He’s got to move rapidly and precisely and have that brain-muscle connection happening.

“Nutrition and hydration are really important for that.”

Calan has been set a diet that takes his high energy requirements into account, and he is working on ensuring optimal hydration.

“Even as little as one per cent of your bodyweight lost during an event equates to a decrease in work capacity, which will decrease his performance,” Dr O'Sullivan says.

Being a teenager, Calan is still a long way from achieving his peak physical strength, which Blazevich says puts him at a disadvantage on the race track, so this is another area of focus. Strength conditioning helps him avoid fatigue and maintain accuracy.

“In Calan’s class of racing there is a significant physical requirement, particularly in stabilising the head and turning the steering wheel,” Blazevich says.

“The shoulders, arms and neck are a prime area for development, and in young people that is an area of weakness.

“The more force we produce, the more we need to activate our fast-twitch muscle fibres to help us, and these fibres aren’t ideal when we need to be accurate," he says.

“The stronger we can get Calan in certain areas of his body – his legs, for pushing the brake and the clutch, and his arms, for moving the steering wheel – the less he’ll need the fasttwitch muscle fibres, and the more accurately he can use the clutch, brakes or steering wheel. His physical development should improve his racing ability to drive fast with high accuracy.”

For Calan, the process has been beneficial physically and psychologically.

“Both Therese and Tony have been really good at explaining why and how things work, and how we can make the most of these things,” Calan says.

“The physical gym work has been really important, and I definitely feel like I’m stronger and have more energy.

“I’ve also been a lot more conscious about what I eat. Therese has given me some great nutritious ideas for breakfast and lunch, which are working well, and she’s even recommended a cooking course.

“It’s making a big difference to my performance.”

You can follow Calan’s successes at www.calanwilliamsracing.com

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