As we get ready for the start of the 2016 road racing season this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, driver's also have to get themselves ready, and the opener isn't just another race.
After coming out of the off season, they get stuck into, what is for many of them, the longest and most difficult race of the season.
We talked to Mark Wilkins, driver of the Flex-Box #54 Core autosport Prototype Challenge car this weekend, about how he prepares himself for the first, and biggest challenge of the year.
RaceCanada - Do you need to change your daily routine in the days leading up to a 24 hour race?
Mark Wilkins - With the Rolex 24 being the first race of the season, it’s certainly a mental shift to not only prepare for a new season but to prepare for the toughest one right out of the gate.
In the off season, it’s all about how to keep both physically strong and mentally focused. It’s really the work done in the months and weeks ahead that sets the stage for the day’s leading up to the race.
On the mental side, I run laps of Daytona on iRacing. In fact, Colin Braun and I have been sharing lap times and pushing each other to find more pace. It’s a great tool and helps keep the mind sharp while away from the track.
Physically, I’m always cautious not too push myself too hard when training while ensuring I get lots of rest for the big event. I suppose the biggest change in daily routine is the rest component and perhaps even hydration.
RaceCanada - Does you fitness training/routine change in any way leading into a 24 hour race?
Mark Wilkins - My fitness and training routine certainly changes the week of the 24. I don’t like to push my body too hard and I set the training goals aside. At this point, my concern is only to be healthy and well rested. My biggest fear is to injure myself at the gym trying to achieve a new goal when the whole point of the training is to be physically fit come race day. Once the race is finished, it’s back to a more rigorous program.
RaceCanada - Once the race gets into the night, will you try to sleep?
Mark Wilkins - Every year I always get worked up about how long the race weekend actually is. The race itself is 24 hours but it doesn’t actually start until mid afternoon on Saturday and we are typically at the track by 8am. We always have a full mornings worth of meetings, preparation and autographs prior to green flag. With the adrenaline flowing and nerves ramped up, it’s easy to tire yourself out before the race even starts.
Depending on the driver rotation set out by the team, I always like to try and get a few hours of sleep in the motorhome before my next stint. The reality is, it’s noisy and it’s lousy uncomfortable rest. The mind is on the race and the adrenaline is doing all it can to interrupt any meaningful sleep.
RaceCanada - Will the team look at double stinting drivers to ensure that each driver can get a certain amount of sleep or will the strategy be based only on fuel and tires, with sleep schedules having to be worked around that?
Mark Wilkins - Sleep schedules are certainly not the priority. Team strategy is built around fuel, tires, drive times and the like. Typically a drive schedule will be built prior to the race so you’ll have a good idea what to expect. Double or even triple stinting is certainly a possibility as it reduces the number of driver changes while keeping a focused and up to speed driver behind the wheel. In terms of sleep schedules it also gives off drivers more recovery time. If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid the graveyard shift. Personally, I love driving at night. I find I can really get into a good zone and the stints just fly by.
RaceCanada - Is nutrition and hydration different during the night hours vs the day hours?
Mark Wilkins - I would say that hydration is similar day and night. I find i’m always drinking lots of water. As far as nutrition goes, I find it difficult to eat much at night when my body just wants to rest. I force myself to eat and try to simplify the meals. I’ll have soup and salad, and snack on bananas and peanut butter sandwiches. I’ll eat a little bit, every hour or two throughout the night. I’m back to regular meals Sunday morning.
RaceCanada - Daytona can get cold during the nights in January, how do you deal with that while in the car, and how do you deal with that when you're not in the car?
Mark Wilkins - Daytona can get cold, damp, rainy and downright miserable! Since my first Rolex 24 back in 2004, I think i’ve seen every different type of weather. Many have been dry, some have been warm but most have been cold and damp. In an open top car, the cold nights make for easy and comfortable stints.. I love the cool conditions while behind the wheel! Outside of the car is another story and I always feel sorry for the crew guys. I do my best to dress warm or stay in the warm motorhome. There is nothing worse than expelling energy trying to keep warm on the timing stand while waiting to get in the race car.
RaceCanada - You've driven both GT cars and Prototypes at Daytona, does your approach to the race change at all depending on the type of car you are racing?
Mark Wilkins - No not really. My approach is always the same. Stay out of trouble! My focus is on running clean, solid and quick laps while being patient when it’s required and fast when the time is right. No matter what the car, this is always my focus.
RaceCanada - How long will it take you to recover from a 24 hour race?
Mark Wilkins - I’d like to say it takes a day or two to recover but honestly, i’m not sure I’m 100% for about a week. It takes time to get caught up on sleep and back on a normal routine.
RaceCanada - Do you have any special post-race routines to help recover from a 24 hour race?
Mark Wilkins - My main priority after a 24 race, is to catch up on rest, ensure I’m hydrated and then ramp back into my training. Typically, i’ll be a bit sore from all the driver changes and general fatigue throughout the race. I’ll get a massage to help aide in the recovery and that’s about it.
Follow Mark and CORE autosport at this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona:
Twitter - @MWilkins