NO STONE UNTURNED
A NEW MOTORSPORT COMPANY BELIEVES THAT DNA PROFILING CAN HELP TO UNLOCK A RACING DRIVER’S INNATE POTENTIAL. GARY WATKINS WENT ALONG TO WITNESS THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE
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