This week we are exploring how people from other sports have come to cycling. There’s been the story of a rugby player but what about V8 Supercar drivers? Their opportunities to drive at race speed is limited but many of them ride bikes regularly to ensure they maintain their fitness.
Jane Aubrey wrote about the crossover of driving and cycling in RIDE #67, published in February 2015.
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From bike to V8 Supercar
Racing bikes, or racing cars. Elements of freedom, high performance, aerodynamics and endurance, all out on the road. The connections, at first, are not obvious but closer inspection reveals otherwise. Cycling and motorsport. Motorsport and cycling. There are plenty of common threads. Many who drive also ride… and vice-versa.
– By Jane Aubrey
V8 Supercar driver Rick Kelly is racing along Melbourne’s Beach Road but he’s not behind the wheel of his Nissan and the only engine he is relying on is his own. “For me, the thing that motorsport delivers is the competition – more so than the love of cars or anything else,” Kelly tells me about his job. He’s a two-time title holder of the jewel in the crown of V8 Supercars, the Bathurst 1000, as well as being the winner of the 2006 season-long driver’s championship. “It satisfies the hunger of competition and cycling is certainly very much something that provides that as well – on the weekend when you want to jump on the racer and head up and down Beach Road. “It’s about chasing people and trying to beat them and having a good old battle.”
His cycling is much like his battles on four wheels, albeit at a divergent pace.
Anthony Klarica, sports psychologist and managing director of Melbourne-based Elite Performance, believes that athletes from the motorsport world became truly invested in cycling in the late 1990s. “I started taking bunches out for rides, a few of them were already riding anyway,” he says.
Klarica has worked across AFL and tennis, but also cycling and the highly successful Holden Racing Team that dominated the Australian V8 scene with six driver’s championships between 1996 and 2002. Current HRT drivers Garth Tander and James Courtney are both active cyclists and it’s a common hobby up and down pit lane, so much so that Klarica says that the thrill of two-wheeled racing is now “ingrained” in the V8 culture.
“For a number of teams cycling can be a bit of an equaliser,” he suggests. “It’s non-weight bearing. It’s something that everyone can do. For example, a lot of the pit crews will also ride with the drivers now. You get a lot of other people from the team, who don’t usually get to spend a lot of time with the drivers outside the race weekend, they actually ride together.”
It has been known to be the source of a few headaches for V8 Supercar teams, especially around Tour de France time, which tends to clash with the Townsville round of the championship. Drivers have had to be reminded that staying awake until the early hours is not ideal given the fatiguing nature of their sport.
For a number of V8 drivers, cycling for fitness training even led to triathlon in the cases of Paul Dumbrell, Will Davison, Cameron McConville, David Reynolds and Tim Slade. McConville, who raced the Kona Ironman last year in a time just under 11 hours, is a new recruit on the CharterMason masters team for 2015.
It’s a reciprocal attraction, with cyclists known to get behind the wheel of a V8 Supercar. For Bathurst’s Mark Renshaw the action is in his backyard. Matt Goss is a big fan, and Cadel Evans as an ambassador for Holden enjoyed a private test session with Tander and HRT at Calder Park Raceway on the outskirts of Melbourne last year. (He’s also been treated to hot laps at other race tracks around the world, including Sydney’s Eastern Creek and the Zolder circuit in Belgium.)
Most of us will get behind the wheel and drive a motor vehicle over the course of our lives, just as many will ride a bike, but when it comes to the elite level, it’s mental and physical fitness and strength that determines how far we will go. The attraction between cycling and motorsport goes far beyond the need for speed and the fine line between audaciousness and being overly prudent.
Motorsport legend Ayrton Senna was one of the earliest proponents of a punishing exercise regime and controlled diet. In the mid-1980s, a failed attempt at the gruelling Le Mans 24 Hour Race saw Peter Brock give up cigarettes, take up veganism (although he still consumed eggs) and give greater consideration to exercise.
Driving a V8 Supercar is a physical, physiological and emotional ordeal. While in race mode, a driver’s heart rate sits at around 170bpm. Events such as the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide and Bathurst result in the longest stints behind the wheel, at around two hours in duration. Add to that heat stress with temperatures inside the car pushing 65 degrees and a driver’s core temperature rising to 39 degrees, and performance is compromised by the resulting fatigue. While driving a Formula One vehicle is more demanding, racing a V8 Supercar results in G forces on the head and neck up to 20kg (double in F1) with a similar amount of weight in the rotation of the steering wheel.
Hitting the brakes is the equivalent of a single leg press somewhere between 80 and 100kg. At 6.213km long, the Bathurst circuit contains 23 corners and within the two-man teams that contest the iconic event each October the lead driver is likely to brake close to 1,000 times and rotate the steering wheel just under 2,500 times. Ford Performance Racing’s David Reynolds shattered the V8 lap record at last year’s Bathurst race, setting a new mark of 2:06.3714 during practice. Lap times during the race itself on the Sunday are a good second above that.
Adding to the challenge is that in 2015, with strengthening the long-term viability of the sport in addition to cost-cutting currently a focus, just three compulsory test days are permitted within the schedule and two of those are in the pre-season in February.
Up until recently, there were eight testing days per year. Put simply, driving a V8 Supercar is not something you can train for and that’s where cycling comes in.
“The only way you’re going to get a four-hour training session is on a bike,” says Klarica. “You can’t go for a four-hour run; you can’t go for a four-hour swim; you can’t go for a four-hour weight session and get up the next day and be normal. When you’re fit you can do a four-hour bike ride and train again tomorrow. There’s a big overlap with the endurance element of their sport.”
Other methods of training for V8 Supercar drivers include gym sessions, with core strength vital for long stints in the car, as well as swimming. Some drivers are known to even play squash, which is very effective for developing hand-eye coordination.
Michael Caruso, Kelly’s Nissan team-mate, was introduced to cycling as a means of building his fitness through former Garry Rogers Motorsport team-mate, Lee Holdsworth, three years ago while racing Holdens. “The majority of the drivers in the field do a lot of cycling so I just thought I’d get into it and loved it ever since,” the 31-year-old explains. Caruso, who splits his time between Sydney where he grew up, and Melbourne, is now an ambassador for Bikebug and rides a Colnago C60 anywhere between 150 and 250km each week. He tackles Arthurs Seat a few times each month depending on his racing schedule, which covers 15 events across Australia and New Zealand.
“For me cycling is the best form of not just only fitness and endurance, but it’s a nice way to spend your time when you’re training because you’re able to relax,” said Caruso. “When you want to make it difficult, you can.
“You can go and find some hills when you want to step it up a little. When you’re driving, I normally sit in the car with a heart rate between 150 and 160 on average. I can replicate that while I’m riding and obviously the peaks you can work on as well. When we’re in our race cars we’re driving anywhere from an hour to two hours – riding fits with that perfectly without hurting your joints or doing any damage training-wise.”
“The majority of our riding is done in Melbourne along Beach Road or down to Mornington,” said Caruso about his usual routes. “It’s pretty cruisey. You can let your mind run free and not have to think about too much.”
Growing up in Mildura, the open roads surrounding the regional city became an obvious training ground for Kelly at the start of his motorsport career; 2015 will be his 15th year competing in V8 Supercars and he now co-owns the four-car Nissan team with older brother, Todd. A second-hand bike bought from a store in nearby Red Cliffs was his first choice when it came to two-wheeled pedal-power, and he joined a local cycling club. Kelly, 33, still rides around Mildura when he heads back home for a few weeks every Christmas.
“I’ll do about a 60-65km ride around Mildura and it will take me past all the places I grew up and through all the vineyards,” he explains. “It’s a lot more challenging for a couple of reasons – the temperature is so high but because there’s no traffic lights, you can have the entire ride without stopping at all. That makes a big difference when you compare riding on Beach Road where you’re stopping every two minutes. I hate it. If you leave early it’s not too bad but if it’s 9.00am or 10.00 you’re constantly stopping.”
Kelly, for whom Giant Bicycles Australia is among an impressive list of personal sponsors, spends time both on and off-road and has participated in the Mark Webber Challenge and the Tour de Cure. “I generally do one mountain bike ride a week which has sort of replaced a mid-week ride on the racer and I do one longer ride on the weekend,” he says. “When I say ‘longer’, I’m never in the race car for more than two hours at once so I do about a 64km loop that goes from my front door to Luna Park in Melbourne and then back and it’s about two hours.”
At the WorldTour level, pro cyclists have the benefit of two-way communication back to their directeur sportif. V8 Supercar drivers have much the same relationship with their engineer and perhaps their chief mechanic. To a certain extent, you are in control of your destiny but then there are the variables determined by what’s going on around you.
“When you’re racing on a bike you’re surrounded by people and you’re not sure what they’re going to do,” says Caruso. “That’s exactly the same for us in racing cars.”
Another constant across the two sports, says Klarica, is an interest in componentry. It’s about precision, high-quality equipment, data. Racing is a part of life. “Aerodynamics, gearing, set-up, positioning, wheels – the bits and bobs. I find that they all love the technical aspects,” he says.
While many enjoy the social aspects of cycling, Kelly is a little different. It hasn’t always been the case for him but time on the road or dirt is now a solitary exercise. When he’s at the wheel of his race car, his inputs are constantly measured back in the team garage. “Being able to just worry about your own thing out on the bike is quite good,” he admits. “I like the trip computer, but not Strava. It’s a bit of a release as well and an opportunity to get away from some of that strict measurement.
“I think a lot of the guys like cycling from a social point of view,” Kelly continues. “Every time I ride, I ride by myself. I’m quite strict with that and I’m quite strict about not following everyone as well so I can get a true measurement of my own fitness rather than the bloke that’s towing me up and down the road. It literally is the competition side of it – trying to catch people and pass them and stay in front – that drives me, and the reason I like it. You get back to your house after the ride and you look at your average and try to improve on it.”
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More from the ‘Why Ride’ series of interviews:
• Mat Rogers (rugby)
• David Corcoran (opera singer)
• Sir Angus Houston (former defence force chief)
• Ian Davies (MND awareness)
• James Stout (former bike racer)