Interview

ASHLEY ASKS…… Brian Pillar

Advancements in the racing community normally center around the technology of the racecar, but Wayne Taylor Racing has also been pushing the bar in other sections. In combination with some partners, they developed the “Driver Science Program,” which relays back to them different physical attributes about their drivers – from heart rate to hydration – so they can use the data towards future decisions.

Recently, POPULAR SPEED caught up with WTR’s Technical Director Brian Pillar (pictured center) and team driver Ranger Van Der Zande (pictured right) at the Canadian International Auto Show to speak about the program, and more.

POPULAR SPEED: How did you come up with the Driver Science Program?

BRIAN PILLAR: So, we actually did a meet-and-greet with our sponsor Konica Minolta at an event and they’d invited us a bunch of people from the medical community. So, they asked us a bunch of questions about the racecar, and once done with that, they started asking questions about the driver and what the driver goes through, and we didn’t have any answers. So we kind of left that event thinking we wanted to learn something about the drivers.

The first kind of step, as an engineer, is we need some data. So we started to partner with a company from Australia to put some technology in the car, and got our drivers to wear a heart rate sensor and a body temperature sensor to get some information. We then partnered with scientist and researcher from Ohio Northern University (Dr. Ed Potkanowicz) to show him the data and figure out what to do with it.

From those two things, he worked with us and had what is called a strain index; the heart rate and body temperature would define the level of stress the driver is under from zero to 10. We find as the driver got to about six or above, they’re in a high stress environment. So that was kind of the first step. We got some information, and then started to learn about the drivers so we could make some decisions.

Then it kind of grew again – the program keeps growing. A company called CoreSyte’s President (Scott Ackerman) happened to be a big race fan and he was at a race and he started telling us about this technology where they’ll wear a patch on their arm, and it’ll monitor how much sweat they use, and what concentrate of electrolytes are in the sweat. With him, we started to learn what losses they had and what we needed to replace.

This company already had a partnership with Gatorade that was making a special product. It’s actually a formula, a Gatorade, that matches pretty close to what your sweat profile is. So Gatorade will have nine different choices, and generally everybody will fall somewhere on that list of nine. So you learn what you’re losing, and match the right product so we know what we’re putting in the drivers is exactly what they’re losing.

So we went on from there. We also started to have the drivers swallow one of these (micro-transmitter) pills, which monitors the internal body temperature of the driver, so just a little more accurate information just to make sure we really understand what the driver is going through in the car.

PS: With everything that you’re learning from the program elements, what have been some of the benefits you’ve seen?

BRIAN: So we’re in a unique place where our drivers will do a huge athletic endeavor and do three hours in the racecar at elevated heart rates, and then they get out – but they’re not done. They have to recover, and then get back in the car. Like, in a 24 hour race, a driver may drive three hours and then be out for four, and then be back in and work hard for four. So we start to learn when they get out of the car, how can we best bring them back up? They’re pretty exhausted, and they need to have the important stuff put back in them – electrolytes, carbohydrates. We start to learn how to build them back up.

Then while they’re in the car, we’re also learning how hard they can push and the stress they’re under, the decisions to make, and should we pull a driver out who is working too hard, or not working hard enough. If we know, then we can tell him to push harder.

PS: There are different parts to the program that you’ve talked about – hydration, to stress level. What do you feel has been the most important?

BRIAN: We’d already done stuff with heart rate before, so we had a small familiarity with driver heart rate and how to manage that in the car. I think the sweat thing was totally unique and we’re the only motorsports program doing that right now – so getting that right fluid into the driver. That was pretty unique to know they’re getting the right stuff.

We also started to learn with the body temperature, the effect of having air conditioning in the car. So just a little drop in body temperature suddenly brings stress level down and we can start to quantity. If you reduce the cockpit temperature by five degrees, it brings stress down by X. If you reduce it by this much more, it brings stress that much more down. We also learned in working with our partners that if you use manage sweat on their face with blowing ducts, they’re stress level goes down because they feel the sweat leaving their face and they have the feeling of their body being less strained.

PS: Looking at the data, what is your response to those who say drivers aren’t athletes?

BRIAN: So we actually call them driver athletes now. The heart rate and the stress level they’re going under. Even if you just look at through history, drivers are in good physical shape, having to do training on bicycles or running. They’re doing lots of high intensity muscle training – neck, forearms. Even looking at now how hard you have to push on the brake pedal, it’s requiring so much energy from the driver and he needs to do it for so long that they’re 100% becoming athletes. I mean, you do a lot of training…..

RENGER VAN DER ZANDE: Yeah, I like training. It’s a real blessing for me because if you don’t like training and have to do it, then it’s not going to get you anywhere and bring you mentally down. But for me, if I don’t train, then I don’t feel mentally well. It’s a bit of more an addiction now, than anything else to be honest. But it helps me a lot in the car. If I’m in the car for three hours, I know that I can still be fit and focused, and know the drivers around me are starting to make mistakes. That’s a really good feeling, and confidence.

But you can only do that if you’re fit enough. For example, this morning I was awake at 5 o’ clock and started to train a little. I have a little tube that I put on the door of my hotel and that’s my little gym that I can bring everywhere. The neck – you have to train the neck because of all the g-forces and the steering that you’re doing. A lot of cycling to have the endure fitness, I would say. That’s all the things that I do. It’s part of my job as a racecar driver to do that. But at the same time, I like to do it, so it’s a benefit.

BRIAN: Just in data, the sample set that we refer to is from Mosport (Canadian Motorsports Park). Jordan (Taylor) was in the car for an hour and was trying to win the race, and he’s pushing really hard. His heart rate was a 180 beats per minute for an hour. Like, I dare a lot of other athletes to go on a trainer and put an hour in at that level.

But also, the failure mode for these guys as athletes is huge. If you fail as an athlete, you could crash this car and get seriously injured, or injure someone else. Again, the stress level goes way up, versus say someone in a running race and your energy source gives out, what do you do? You walk. But that’s not an option for these guys. 80, 90, 100 percent is all they can do in the car.

PS: With what you’ve done with the program, where do you see it possibly expanding even further?

BRIAN: So for us, right now, we have this tech session post-race and download the information and make judgments. But for us, we want to make it live – so live information for the engineers in the timing stand to help the driver to make good decisions, whether hydration or how hard they’re pushing, or to pull the driver out of the car. That’s the next step for us.

Ultimately, in the motorsports community, one of the researches were working with wants to take the tech to a point where it can be information that everybody can have in the car, for at very least the emergency crews. If they arrive on the scene, here’s a bunch of important information about this driver that’s available to them right away. It can maybe get to the point of has the driver suffered a concussion, or the heart rate is elevated, or this driver is incredibility dehydrated and passed out. It could be very important information that the response team can have to make good decisions.

PS: Now getting to the actual motorsports end, what are your thoughts going into the rest of the season after Daytona?

RENGER: Daytona was a nice weekend personally for me for all kinds of reasons. It was the first time with these guys, first time with Cadillac, first tim-

BRIAN: On the pole! Let’s just cut to the case now; that was awesome. (laughs)

RENGER: The pole was super nice for me. I think it was nice for me, but also for getting incorporated with this team. You’re coming to a new team, and they look at you like, “Well, we got this guy in here now. Is he going to do a good job?” That’s fair enough, because I would think the same. It’s a confidence boost for all of us that the first time the job starts – the first day of work – you’re putting it on the pole.

Now the rest of the season, it’s very long, but I’m confident in where we are and where we’re at. We’re going to normal tracks; Daytona is not a normal track because of the banking and different configurations. I’m confident for when I get into the car again that we have a good chance to go for the biggest trophies. I mean, to be honest, as well, championships are nice, but winning races is even nicer.

PS: Now at Daytona, I know there were some tire issues. Have you guys worked at getting that fixed moving forward, or that something not to worry about because of what you said about Daytona?

RENGER: We don’t really have an answer for it. There were 27 blow-ups.

BRIAN: There was more than that. There was more like 30 across all the cars.

RENGER: I think it’s something that Continental needs to figure out. We looked at our data, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So it’s now up to Continental to say if they want to make a statement about it. It’s not about us.

BRIAN: We showed them the data, and made sure we didn’t make any decisions that we could possibly change in the future to not have this problem. At the end of the day, we didn’t do anything wrong.

PS: Now, what track are you most looking forward to getting to?

BRIAN: Well I’m Canadian, so I’m excited to go to Mosport. That is where the first Sportscar race that I ever watched was. It’s like home track. I’m excited to go back to Sebring. The Daytona 24 hours and the Sebring 12 hours are both huge events that I’ve always dreamed of winning. Our success last year at Sebring was honestly a big surprise. It was a nice combination of race strategy and driver performance, so I’m excited to go back there.

PS: Growing up in a small town (Alliston, Ontario) in Canada, what does it mean to you to get to this level?

BRIAN: It wasn’t necessary a childhood dream or anything – I never thought of stuff like that. But it’s really neat to be at the premiere end of it, and work my way up in my career to get to this point. I like the way that I’ve done it is a lot of partnerships – like the driver science program. I’m never going to be a physiological expert, so I need to bring people into my team. Just in general, that’s how we’ve done it all along in my engineer career. I have fun because it’s not just me, but I’m working with people who are experts at their own thing. It’s pretty special.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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