Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - The un­tapped po­ten­tial of DNA

A new com­pany be­lieves it has found the cru­cial in­gre­di­ent for im­prov­ing driver per­for­mance

Mil­lions are spent de­sign­ing and de­vel­op­ing rac­ing cars for any num­ber of cat­e­gories around the world. Yet when that ma­chin­ery takes to the track, one cog in the wheel is largely ig­nored — the driver. That’s the claim of a new com­pany called No Stone Un­turned aim­ing to put a new onus on hu­man per­for­mance in mo­tor­sport.

Launched this sum­mer, the Bri­tish com­pany is of­fer­ing what it is call­ing “a com­plete driver-ath­lete per­for­mance pro­gramme that al­lows the in­di­vid­ual to com­pete to 100% of their abil­ity”.

Un­der­stand­ing the ge­net­ics of the driver — which in­volves DNA test­ing — and ap­ply­ing in­di­vid­u­ally tai­lored pro­grammes are at the core of its of­fer­ing, which NSU be­lieves rep­re­sents a first for mo­tor­sport.

Glen Thur­good, one of the three founders of

NSU and joint per­for­mance di­rec­tor, is a for­mer de­cath­lete with a coach­ing back­ground across a range of sports, in­clud­ing foot­ball and rugby. He be­lieves that mo­tor rac­ing lags be­hind other dis­ci­plines when it comes to ex­tract­ing the most from the hu­man agent.

“One thing that has con­stantly as­tounded me as I’ve be­come in­volved in mo­tor­sport is that vast sums of money are be­ing spent to get drivers to the top, but those drivers are not look­ing in­wardly to see what they could do bet­ter them­selves as hu­man be­ings,” he says. “There are pro­grammes out there in mo­tor­sport that have a smat­ter­ing of ideas on hu­man per­for­mance, but what we don’t see is the group of peo­ple – the team, if you like – be­hind the in­di­vid­ual.” Thur­good points out that race teams em­ploy spe­cial­ists to de­sign and work on spe­cific ar­eas of a rac­ing car. So why, he asks, should a sin­gle trainer have the ex­per­tise to do the same with the hu­man body and mind?

“A driver will usu­ally work with a trainer and the team might have a physio and per­haps a nu­tri­tion­ist, but those are only parts of what we call the per­for­mance model,” he ex­plains.

“One or two peo­ple can’t have the nec­es­sary ex­per­tise in fine-tun­ing the hu­man body, in the same way as one en­gi­neer doesn’t de­sign and de­velop the whole car.”

Any­one can do a DNA test of course, but Thur­good sug­gests that few have the know-how to ef­fec­tively make use of the in­for­ma­tion it yields.

“You can or­der a DNA test on­line, do a food in­tol­er­ance test, or go to a physio and get a re­port, but what do you do with them next?” he says. “You need qual­i­fied spe­cial­ists with a high de­gree of ex­pe­ri­ence to in­ter­pret that data.

“That’s what we are: a team of qual­i­fied and ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who can in­ter­pret the data to come up with the co­he­sive plan the driver needs to im­prove as an ath­lete.”

Thur­good makes a com­par­i­son be­tween mo­tor rac­ing and some of the Olympic sports in which Team GB has been highly suc­cess­ful this decade.

“Look at sports like cy­cling, skele­ton and sail­ing,” he ex­plains. “There is a tech­ni­cal el­e­ment to our suc­cesses be­cause gov­ern­ment-funded pro­grammes have given us the best bike and skele­ton bob de­signs, but we have also had amaz­ing set-ups to get the ath­lete as good as they can be. That’s why we have won so many medals in those sports.

“In mo­tor­sport we clearly have the first part, the tech­ni­cal side, but not the se­cond, so we want to drag it into the mod­ern era of coach­ing. I’ve been blown away by the way the hu­man per­for­mance side is largely ig­nored in the face of the mil­lions spent do­ing the tech­ni­cal bit.”

NSU be­lieves that there can never be a one-size-fits-all per­for­mance model for drivers, nor that a train­ing pro­gramme for a driver com­pet­ing in one branch of the sport can be the same as that for an­other un­der­tak­ing a dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pline.

“Marathon run­ners don’t train in the same way as sprint­ers,” says Thur­good. “In the same way, a driver do­ing 20-minute sprint races needs to train dif­fer­ently to some­one do­ing en­durance rac­ing and three-hour stints at the Le Mans 24 Hours. It’s our job to un­der­stand the jour­ney that the driver is on.”

NSU’S model is a five-pointed one in­volv­ing per­for­mance train­ing, driver fu­elling (what they eat and drink), mo­tor func­tion (which in­volves biome­chan­i­cal test­ing), ath­lete mind­set and life­style man­age­ment. It is all data-driven, just like the tech­ni­cal side of mo­tor­sport, hence the in­cor­po­ra­tion of DNA test­ing.

Andy Key, the com­pany’s se­cond per­for­mance di­rec­tor whose back­ground is in rugby coach­ing, has a sim­ple anal­ogy to ex­plain the ben­e­fits of ge­netic test­ing in the coach­ing process.

“When you come to a cross­roads, DNA test­ing al­lows us to pick the best way to turn,” he says. “That al­lows us to tune the per­for­mance model to the in­di­vid­ual.”

The test­ing un­der­taken by DNAFIT, which has a track record of suc­cess across a num­ber of sports, al­lows NSU to un­der­stand how a driver re­sponds to dif­fer­ent types of train­ing stim­uli, what they should (and shouldn’t) be eat­ing, and their propen­sity to in­jury.

“Everyone is dif­fer­ent and there is no point in fight­ing an up­hill bat­tle do­ing the wrong kind of train­ing,” ex­plains Thur­good, who was a fit­ness coach at League Two Northamp­ton Town when they fa­mously beat Liver­pool in the Car­ling Cup in 2010. “DNA test­ing al­lows us to be ef­fi­cient with the ath­letes we work with and do what is right for the in­di­vid­ual. It gives a di­rec­tion to the pro­gramme and pre­vents you wast­ing time. That’s the one thing you can never buy. It also al­lows you to pick the low-hang­ing fruit, to make quick gains.”

Thur­good of­fers an ex­am­ple of the ben­e­fits of DNA test­ing by con­trast­ing his own ge­netic make-up with that of NSU man­ag­ing di­rec­tor James Guess, a mo­tor­sport en­tre­pre­neur who met his com­pany co-founders through his ef­forts to get fit for his own am­a­teur rac­ing ex­ploits, los­ing three and a half stone as a re­sult of work­ing with Thur­good and Key.

“Our DNA pro­files tell us that I am only a medium re­cov­erer, whereas James is a fast re­cov­erer,” says Thur­good. “He can do in­ten­sive train­ing ses­sions on con­sec­u­tive days and his body will be okay to give 100% the next day. I need longer to re­cover, so if we are train­ing to­gether the day be­fore a test, I’d be get­ting into the car in a worse con­di­tion than him.”

DNA test­ing has al­ready paid div­i­dends among the small ros­ter of drivers with which NSU is so far work­ing, in­clud­ing cadet karter Archie Clark, the nine-year-old grand­son of rally leg­end Roger. Archie was found to be gluten in­tol­er­ant and

“There is no point in do­ing the wrong kind of train­ing”

has changed his diet ac­cord­ingly. The re­sults of Ginetta Ju­nior driver James Tay­lor, one of the mar­que’s schol­ar­ship win­ners, have also been on an up­ward curve through­out his maiden year of car rac­ing. Com­ing into the sea­son, the 15-year-old had a nig­gling back prob­lem that was a hang-over from his kart­ing days. The NSU pro­gramme in­cludes pos­tural anal­y­sis, which al­lowed Tay­lor and his Richard­son Rac­ing team to sort the prob­lem.

Men­tor­ing the drivers is also part of NSU’S ap­proach. Thur­good ex­plains that ear­lier in the sea­son he ad­vised Tay­lor about his sleep­ing pat­terns in the run-up to events.

“I was at a race and asked James what he did the night be­fore, and he told me he watched a film on his lap­top,” re­calls Thur­good. “I asked if his ho­tel room had a television, and if so he should watch that in­stead be­cause the light emit­ted from a lap­top, an ipad or a phone will stim­u­late the brain and dis­turb your sleep.

“It’s not just train­ing and nu­tri­tion; there are so many lit­tle stones that need turn­ing if you want to suc­ceed and be the best you pos­si­bly can.”

The NSU pro­gramme in­cludes a phone app with the train­ing regime laid down for the in­di­vid­ual driver. Tap on the spe­cific ex­er­cise and there’s an ex­plana­tory video.

“It’s the same with the diet plan,” adds Thur­good. “All the in­gre­di­ents and cooking in­struc­tions are there. You can even or­der every­thing on­line with the app.”

The app in­cor­po­rates a daily ques­tion­naire, cov­er­ing every­thing from the train­ing regime to the num­ber of laps the driver has done in a car or kart that day. Each driver on the NSU pro­gramme has a weekly phone call with one of the per­for­mance coaches and a monthly face-to-face meeting where their fit­ness and mo­tor func­tion are as­sessed.

Any sport can ben­e­fit from the pro­gramme that NSU is of­fer­ing, reck­ons Thur­good – “we could work in tid­dly­winks if there’s a per­for­mance gain to be made” – and mo­tor­sport is cry­ing out for that help, ac­cord­ing to NSU.

Thur­good wants to make cut­ting-edge coach­ing “accessible to any­one who wants it in mo­tor rac­ing”.

“We’re try­ing to change the out­look of a sport on hu­man per­for­mance to bring it in line with the engi­neer­ing side,” he says. “Our pro­gramme is about ef­fi­ciency, which is rac­ing in a nut­shell.”

DNA helps NSU to de­velop tai­lored train­ing rou­tines

Thur­good ap­plies ex­per­tise from other sports

Thur­good and Key look through the DNAFIT data

James Tay­lor (66) has im­proved with NSU sup­port

Tay­lor runs through his lat­est re­sults

NSU be­lieves all ath­letes can be im­proved

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