Bob McMurray: Coaching the best out of drivers
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Is there a more international sport than motor racing? I guess it could be football but, in terms of the nationalities of those involved in motorsport, it is difficult to think of any other pursuit encompassing individuals from all parts of the world.
And many of those individuals are driven to exceed like no other sport I can think of, be they mechanics, drivers, strategists or truck drivers, all ultra-competitive in their own way. You are either in the sport for a season or for life, so the saying goes.
For me, like many others, it has been a lifetime sentence — a sentence gladly borne.
As the sport has developed, so has the span of professionals involved.
The term “driver coach” or “trainer” is a phenomenon to have developed from a pandering, bag-carrying, luxury to a “must have” in Formula 1 and has filtered down to even the youngest driver — where it is probably most needed.
In the Castrol Toyota Racing Series we have young drivers from all over the world and many, due to their young age and inexperience, have personal coaches.
One such coach is Rod MacLeod. Having left school in the UK at at the age of 15, all he wanted to do was race cars.
To do that, he had to earn money and learn the trade; so by 18 he had already worked for Formula 3 teams — and it didn’t take long before he worked at the Tyrrell Formula 1 team.
His intended destination had always been the McLaren Formula 1 team, so after a couple of years at Tyrrell he got the job he desired, working on the cars of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Since he was earning reasonable money, he embarked on his own racing career, beginning in Karts.
That led to racing Formula Ford, Formula 2000 and Formula 3 testing.
An offer from Jose and Julian Abed, current owners of the Mexico City Formula 1 event, to race Formula 3 in Mexico saw him move to Mexico City. “It all sounded very exciting and exotic and everything worked out really well — I got paid to drive!”
Mexico City became home and he embarked on a career racing in Formula 3 in South America and Daytona Prototype racing in the US as well as being a Michelin test driver and fulfilling a similar role with an Indy Lights team, the junior formula to full IndyCar racing.
All this experience with testing and having to relay specific data to engineers and translate the characteristics of an assortment of racing cars to other drivers led, almost by default, into the role of driver-coach, still based in Mexico City but with long periods in Miami and Indianapolis.
MacLeod was now speaking fluent Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French, and the driver coaching role expanded into a small company called Speed Group (speed-group.us/) with IndyCar star driver James Hinchcliffe as one of the founders.
MacLeod was one of the first to use sports psychologists with drivers after seeing how top golfers and tennis players benefited from their counselling.
Rod MacLeod. Photo / Bruce Jenkins
“I think the egos of racing drivers stopped them admitting that they needed somebody like that to help them — but a lot of race driving is psychological, a mental discipline, a lot of pressure from your peers, from sponsors and the need to perform in all areas. They need to be able to manage those demands and that is where the psychology part comes in” MacLeod says.
“I get involved in specific fitness training, mainly aerobic, nutrition and all the areas that are set around the actual driving as well as a simple driving/coaching role and sometimes a sort of guardian, almost a nanny on occasion!”
This is his third season in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series.
“I don’t think there is such a quality of driver, of championship, of such demanding intensity, both mentally and physically, over such a short period time anywhere in the world.
“My drivers are spent at the end of it. It is a true drivers’ championship, a true training ground for future careers.”
Over those three seasons MacLeod has worked with three of the four teams now in the series and is coaching absolute newcomer to single-seater racing Kory Enders this 2017 season.
Enders, from Houston, Texas, had never driven a racing car before the first round this year.
“I am not only here to help him develop as a racing driver but also as a person— and the one will follow the other,” says MacLeod.
In previous years in the Toyota Racing Series he has worked with Alfonso Celis jnr, now a test driver in Formula 1 with the Force India F1 team, and with two drivers from the US, now in sports car racing.
He is also associated with F1 drivers Felipe Nasr (last season with Sauber) and Sergio Perez (ex Sauber, McLaren and now Force India) and attends most of the Formula 1 events, especially with Perez.
MacLeod’s stable stands at about 14 drivers in all forms of racing. Incredibly fit, he cycles, boxes and does gym work as he maintains he cannot ask a driver to do something that he would not do.
His parting line “I want to come back here every year, to the TRS, to the country, to the people. One of the best series and places on Earth.”
The Castrol Toyota Racing Series is a diverse community and the strength and depth of all the visitors to this country will help our own young motor sport professionals.
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