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Fit for Speed

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Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz, and Earl Bamber relax as they cycle from one training session to the next

Strength, endurance, pushing beyond limits—every year the Porsche GT factory drivers and Junior GT drivers spend a week at the Porsche Fitness Camp, where they train nearly nonstop for success. Every one of them gives everything he’s got in order to prepare for top-level performance in the upcoming season.

“Get going, Richie, my grandma’s faster than that,” urges trainer Othmar Moser with a wink at factory driver Richard Lietz. Bathed in neon light on the floor of the fitness studio, Lietz is doing sit-ups in tandem with Frédéric Makowiecki. Neither hears the loud hum of the air-conditioning system; they are completely focused on their training. On the second day of the Porsche Fitness Camp in Qatar, competition is already on the agenda. The drivers are competing in pairs. The goal is to finish 200 repetitions of each of four different exercises faster than the opponents. Those who tire out send their teammate into the fray.

“Finished!” yells Porsche Junior driver Connor de Phillippi and raises his arms in the air. He and his Junior driver teammate Sven Müller have just won this time by a few seconds. The young 22- and 23-year-olds sponsored by Porsche are working out together here with the old hands, in the catacombs of the Aspire Dome in Doha, the world’s largest sports complex, where as many as thirteen different sporting events can be held at the same time. The German national soccer team and top soccer clubs like FC Bayern München and Red Bull Salzburg also work on their fitness — to meld a group of individual athletes into a team—at this gigantic sports complex, erected in the desert sands about a decade ago.

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Matteo Cairoli strengthens his neck muscles, which have to withstand high levels of centrifugal force during races

“Great job, guys!” exclaims Moser. The drivers give each other high fives after every session. “It’s great that everyone can come here once a year to work out together. Back when I was a Porsche Junior driver three years ago, it was incredibly helpful to me in becoming a part of the team,” says 24-year-old factory driver Michael Christensen from Denmark. “Plus the fact that it’s a lot more fun to torture yourself if you’re doing it in a group,” he adds, and takes a seat on the leg press.

The trainers start by testing maximum strength. The data they gather, which are carefully entered into each driver’s training program, serve as guidelines for the subsequent strength-building exercises. “Afterwards we do repetitions at around 80 percent of the maximum value determined,” explains Professor Frank Mayer. The head of sports medicine at the University of Potsdam in Germany, Mayer was commissioned by Porsche Motorsport thirteen years ago to develop the fitness camp program. “Our factory drivers travel a lot, they spend a lot of time sitting on planes, and they constantly have to deal with the stress of adjusting to different time zones,” he says. “Our fitness program ensures that they are ready to compete at all times throughout the entire season. Moreover, a lack of fitness should never be the limiting factor in posting fast lap times.”

For this reason both factory and Junior GT race-car drivers are monitored the entire year by Professor Mayer and his team—and not just on racing weekends. “We do a fitness and health check in Potsdam in November,” Mayer says. “In the weeks leading up to the training camp, the drivers then have to build up a broad range of basic endurance on their own. That means five to eight units a week. Before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we do another checkup and adjust the training programs accordingly.”

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Sit-ups (Frédéric Makowiecki, left) and strength exercises (Sven Müller, middle) enhance individual fitness, while ball games promote solidarity

The morning session is now over, and it’s time for lunch. “With around six hours of training, the drivers consume about 5,000 calories a day,” says Mayer. “And they have to get these calories from healthy, high-grade foods.” Following a midday break, the schedule now calls for running intervals outside. Thanks to constant irrigation, the fields are lush and green.

For 18-year-old Italian driver Matteo Cairoli, both the surroundings and this type of exercise are completely new. He is a first-time scholarship winner this season for the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, and is the youngest member at the camp. “I’ve got to stop, I feel sick,” he groans. This isn’t a sign of not being in shape, but rather a well-known problem encountered by newcomers. “Muscles need blood in order to do their job, but the digestive tract needs it, too. This is a conflict you’ve got to get used to, which can cause a little nausea on occasion. But it won’t be giving him any more trouble in the next few days,” says Professor Mayer with a smile.

Minor hitches with the Aspire security personnel are also quickly overcome. “The playing field you reserved is not available right now because it’s currently being used by the goalies of the Qatar national soccer team,” says the guard. Because goalie practice generally requires only one goal, however, a mutually agreeable solution is promptly found, enabling the ball and the racing specialists to share the field. Afterwards the Porsche troop turns its attention to the stretching program scheduled for every evening. “Jörg, where can you feel the pull?” asks trainer Moser as he holds the Porsche factory driver’s leg in both hands and presses it towards the driver’s center. “Everywhere,” groans Bergmeister, eliciting a laugh from the entire group.

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Team spirit in team gear (from left to right): Matteo Cairoli (I), Patrick Pilet (F), Connor de Phillippi (USA), Sven Müller (D), Earl Bamber (NZ), Nick Tandy (GB), Richard Lietz (A), Michael Christensen (DK), Wolf Henzler (D), Jörg Bergmeister (D), Frédéric Makowiecki (F)

The only driver who had another commitment is American Patrick Long, who will be sharing the cockpit of a 911 RSR in the World Endurance Championship this season with Porsche independent driver and actor Patrick Dempsey. Long sends Wolf Henzler a WhatsApp from Australia, where he is entering a Porsche 911 in the 12 Hours of Bathurst. “Hey guys, wishing you a great time at the fitness camp from Bathurst!” Attached is a photo of his 911 racing car at the Mount Panorama Circuit.

For the last three of the fitness camp’s eight days, Porsche Motorsport director Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser joins the group and trains enthusiastically alongside them. “Besides giving everyone some seriously sore muscles, the camp strengthens group ties among the drivers. We simply get to know each other better, also under conditions when we’re pushing our limits,” says Walliser at the end. “And there are two things I know I definitely don’t have to worry about: our drivers’ level of fitness and their team spirit.”

By Oliver Hilger
Photos by Michael Kunkel

Fitter to the Finish

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Professor Frank Mayer developed the fitness camp program

Tips for sports-oriented driving from the Porsche team physician

The first thing that’s important when driving is how you sit. You should have a stable and upright position, and be well placed to absorb the forces that arise. Sports seats with side supports are helpful here.

To stabilize your torso, you should regularly train the oblique and rectus abdominal muscles, the gluteals, and the muscles in your back. For very sports-oriented drivers whose cervical vertebrae have to handle high loads, it’s also a good idea to work on the pectoral girdle and the neck muscles—by using a resistance band, for example. If you’re susceptible to back pain, you should occasionally change your position a little when driving. An adaptive or a Plus sports seat, which are available for nearly all Porsche models, offers a range of possible settings.

Especially for long drives, it’s helpful to have a good basic level of endurance. I’d consider three sessions of thirty minutes a week to be excellent training. Good endurance also helps you concentrate. And you recover much more quickly from the strain of a long stretch of driving. It’s also important to drink enough when doing sports-oriented driving. That lets you perform better and resist fatigue.

If you do get tired at the wheel, though, the only thing that helps is to take a ten- or fifteen-minute break. You should exercise, and have something to eat and drink. A little fructose, in the form of fruit, is ideal. Our race-car drivers swear by it.