3 Dec 2009
Mark Winterbottom has heard it all before. "Yeah, a lot of people reckon we aren't athletes", he shrugs. "They think we just sit on our bum all day driving a car". Most people laugh when Winterbottom tells them he goes to the gum six times a week. Are shocked when he tells them he bench presses 90kg. Stunned when he reveals he finished the City to Surf in 58 minutes.
"I guess people just don't think of us as being fit," Winterbottom said. "It is not something that people really think about."
But make no mistake, the 29 V8 Supercar drivers who will take the streets of Homebush this weekend are among the fittest athletes in the country. "We would probably lose about 4kg during every race," Winterbottom (pictured, right, with team-mate Steven Richards) said.
"At places like Adelaide and the Gold Coast, the temperature inside the car can get to 60 degrees C. "Your feet burn and your body screams". And it is not just the heat that makes this sport one of the most demanding of all. A driver will chnge gear about 45 time a lap, with each shift of the stick the equivalent to lift a 10kg weight.
"In the longer races, you have to deal with cramo and repetitive injury," Winterbottom said. "Your back will often seize uo and your shoulder will give out. And this is an individual sport so you can't ask some other bloke to drive. You have to deal with the pain."
There are also the G-forces to contend with. With their heavy helmets, V8 driver are flung around like figher pilots as they accelerate and berk.
"The G-forces I can deal with". Winterbottom's team-mate Steven Richards said. "It is isn't what makes you fatigue. In the car the temperatures are in excess of 55 degrees C. To be able to concentrate when your core body temperature is raised three degrees above what it should be, you need to be fit. Super-fit, because at those temperatures your body is starting to shut down.
"It starts playing tricks on your mind. Coping with that street and concentrating on your performance is a huge challenge".
And then there are the brakes. "Every time we brake, our hip and leg generates 100kg of force per square inch'" Richards said. "Try to push a fully loaded wheel barrow with one leg - it's tough."
And these V8 drivers are going hi-tech in a bid to be the best. Winterbottom and Richards are among a group of V8 top guns who have enlisted the Victorian Institute of Sport to help them become the fittest of the fit.
"It's not just ourselves at the institute but other sport scientists who've been looking after V8 drivers," Dr Melissa Arkinstall said. "With their strength and conditioning programmes they've seen amazing improvements in both upper body strength and muscular endurance - as good as you'd see in the younger drivers."