Doctor drives team to top performance

FORTY minutes behind the wheel of a rally car is as exhausting as a no-holds-barred game of squash, so drivers and their navigators must maintain high levels of fitness to ensure success.

Prodrive, which masterminds the Subaru World Rally Team in both the World and Asia-Pacific championships, employs a full-time doctor to oversee the health - both mental and physical - of the drivers and the support crews.

Dr David Williams travels with the team for 240 days each year and concentrates on three main areas - fitness, nutrition and mental preparation.

He tailors specific programmes to individual drivers and their navigators, but applies the same principles as he would with a long-distance runner.

His patients eat lots of carbohydrates - noodles, rice, potatoes, grains and cereals.

When not competing in an event or checking the course, the Prodrive team spends six to eight hours a week in the gymnasium building up endurance.

And the drivers are not spared when on location for an event, for Dr Williams takes along a pair of mountain bikes.

While the physical needs are taken care of by paying attention to nutrition and fitness, the mental preparation is just as essential.

Dr Williams has the team members concentrate on mental imagery - driving through a stage corner by corner from start to finish, imagining they are driving faster than anyone else.

He runs these sessions every night during a race so that the driver and co-driver know what it will really feel like the next day.

A typical 'day on the job' begins for Dr Williams when he wakes the drivers.

'This is important from a psychological point of view. They must trust me to wake them on time.' The team members then loosen up with some stretches, have breakfast and take some fluids for the day ahead.

Dr Williams then travels to the cars with the team members, making sure their bags are taken care of for the next rest stop.

'It is essential to build up a high level of trust with them, so much so that a co-driver will often leave his notes for the next day with me.' As the cars roar off, Dr Williams travels the service routes linking up with the drivers during the day. He makes sure they eat and drink properly.

Fluid intake is particularly important in the hotter regions like Asia.

Dr Williams said it was possible for a competitor to lose up to 15 litres of fluid during a particularly demanding day's racing.

He prepares special high carbohydrate drinks for each driver - pineapple flavour for Possum Bourne and apple for Richard Burns.

His day does not end at the finish of the last stage each day - he accompanies the team members back to the hotel, discusses any problems they have and then ensures they all have a good massage.

The Subaru World Rally Team, from the top driver down to the lowliest mechanic, pays attention to Dr Williams.

He is one of the key players behind the scenes and is playing a vital role in a sport which is becoming more and more professional with every season.