Race car driver, how do you manage jet lag?

As a professional racing driver, you travel thousands of kilometres behind the wheel, but also by air. To have their biological clock correspond to the place where they are racing, the athletes of the WTCR Oscaro have to prepare days in advance. All of this, so the circadian rythm regulates itself.

Get into the rythm

The 24 hour period on which the biological cycle of nearly all living beings rests on. That is the circadian rythm. Influenced by light, temperature, tidal movement, wind, day and night, it regulates the physical, chemical, physiological and psychological activity of the body. It influences digestion, awakening, sleep, the regulation of cells and body temperature.

If for a person having a “normal” lifestyle, these aspects have to be respected in order to have a healthy life, for professional racecar drivers, they have to double down in attention.

Emiliano Ventura is an elite physical trainer. He manages the long trips of his driver down to the millimetre: “You have to be careful about light, caffeine use, melatonine, and the time of sleep. Then we start planning the trip according to the time zone of destination and number of stop-overs.” explains the physio.

The famous blue light

The principal external factor to interfere with the circadian rythm is generally exposure to blue light, coming from electronic devices. A reality that affects our daily lives. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to not look at a screen, whether it is television, a pc or a phone. Tiago Monteiro’s physical trainer goes on: “The blue light affects our level of sleep, our recovery and the capacity of the body to relax. When it subsides, we start to produce hormones. Once the body gets into the phase of rapid eye movement sleep (REM), this produces growth hormones, which promotes regeneration and recovery.”

According to him the basic light of all devices sends bad information to our brain, and therefore obliges it to stay awake. “It isn’t by chance if the primary color of the most famous social network in the world is blue. For the drivers, the use of a phone or a computer is completely prohibited before going to sleep.” warns Ventura.

Still, it is difficult to imagine certain drivers in “offline mode”, such as Tom Coronel. The Boutsen Ginion Racing driver is a true social network addict. We rarely see him without his smartphone. “It can be hard to pluck a phone out of a driver’s hand (laughs). To acheive this, we explain to them that it’s for their own good. There has to be a balance.” underlines Emiliano.

Workouts, workouts and more workouts

Maintaining a regular training program, is key for an athlete. For this, you have to adapt yourself to the different time zones, in order to not break up the rythm to which the body is used to. Since the long hours spent aboard airplanes to get to the track are harmful, excercice help the muscles to adjust and lower the stiffness of the body after the flight.

The workout has to be done at key moments. Some go work out the moment they wake up, some just before boarding the plane. Then, some do it in the middle of the day, and some even do it aboard a flight to avoid being inactive for too long at a time.” tells the trainer.

Good and bad students

In what concerns adaptation, some drivers are more disciplined than others. Despite his young age, John Filippi, Team Oscaro by Campos driver, is one of the best prepared drivers to face jet lag. At 23, he knows to optimize his chances for the races on the other side of the globe. He tells his routine: “One week before leaving, i’ll go to bed at 6pm. Then, i get up at 4am and go jogging.” He adds: “Three days before the race, i try to get on a mid-afternoon flight. The goal is to sleep during the trip. That way, i land in the morning, and try to get back on a normal meal schedule. When i am at the destination, i do my best to spend energy so i can fall asleep at 8pm.

The older drivers, are more used to suffer from jet lag. However, to learn lessons, they have known a lot of mishaps. Tiago Monteiro is the perfect example. The Boutsen Ginion Racing driver, finally back to competing, recalls a few episodes where jet lag was the protagonist.

“In 2010, i was in a team with a limited budget. To save money i had to share my room with other drivers. Once, in Japan, i shared a room with Yvan Muller. Because of the time difference, we woke up at midnight. Impossible to sleep. We stayed up until 5 in the morning (laughs)”. Monteiro goes on, recalling his first race in Macau: “I couldn’t sleep. To pass time, i took the motorcycle of a friend and went round the circuit all night”.

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