Drivers get on track at academy
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MOTOR SPORT BOOTCAMP HELPS KIWIS EXCEL OVERSEAS
The all-conquering Highlanders left their Dunedin base for the Super 15 rugby final in Wellington leaving the coast clear for the MotorSport New Zealand Elite Academy graduates to get on with the serious business of training in the 2015 champions’ incredibly well-equipped gym.
The Elite Academy, held every year in Dunedin, uses the facilities and personnel of the Otago Academy of Sport based in the same small building, attached to the Forsyth Barr stadium, used by the Highlanders and Razorbacks rugby teams.
The sight of these young racing drivers, rally drivers and co-drivers, guys and girls, training in the same space as the ‘heavies’ who would normally carry a 1, 2 or 3 on their back brings a smile to the face.
Let’s just say that Elite Academy winner 2015, rally driver Michael Young, would not have quite the physical build or stature to scrum with these giants. Conversely Brendon Edmonds or Josh Hohneck would have difficulty fitting into the seat of a rally car or Formula Ford race car.
I guess your physique determines your sports to some extent so for many sports stars their own career was shaped from birth.
It is often said that New Zealand “punches above its weight” in sports terms.
It’s an expression I hate and one that, I think, is pretty much meaningless.
But in the motorsport world New Zealand competitors and technicians or mechanics certainly have a meaningful presence.
With very few exceptions, pretty much every New Zealand driver and many rally co-drivers to have excelled since 2004 has been through the academy.
The struggles of Scott Dixon in making his mark overseas and the dearth of Kiwi drivers trying to do the same around that time prompted the formation of the academy to “provide a one-week intensive in-camp programme of physical and educational training to recognised race or rally competitors who have already demonstrated the ability to excel in their chosen motor sport discipline”.
The idea is not to teach the graduates how to drive but how to survive — how to have the proper diet, exercise programme, mental skills, marketing and media skills and a bunch of other disciplines intended to help them achieve their goals.
Scott Dixon's struggles to get overseas traction was one of the key prompts for the formation of the academy.Picture/AP.
One of the more taxing sessions involves driving a comprehensive race-car simulator in full race gear, helmet, flameproof underwear and suit in a heat chamber cranked up to around 40C with added extreme humidity, for 30 minutes, with an ‘internal’ temperature probe inserted gently and carefully in the ‘nether regions’ to monitor core body temperature.
It is a carefully monitored stress test but apparently lots of fun!
Names like Hartley, Stanaway, Evans, Van Gisbergen, Bamber and Paddon roll of the tongue when talking about Kiwi motorsport achievement these days but they had to start somewhere and they all came through the academy.
Academy graduate Brendan Hartley. Picture/Supplied.
Between 2004-14 the academy had 99 graduates, with 75 still involved in the sport.Of that number, 15 are performing internationally as professional drivers.
The recently completed 2015 academy had eight graduates — six males and two females, including two rally co-drivers, one rally driver, three ‘tintop’ drivers and two single-seater drivers.
The academy is something of which New Zealand motorsport can be proud and the model for the week’s activities has been “appropriated” by the FIA — the world motorsport body — for its FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy.
Judging by the young sports stars on show at the 2015 academy, the conveyor belt of motor racing talent promises that Kiwis will continue to be at the forefront of the sport.
■Disclaimer: I am one of four trustees of the Motorsport New Zealand Trust. Collectively we are responsible for the Elite Motorsport Academy.