Originally Published in Issue #174 of Speed Secrets Weekly.
We have been observing drivers’ Biometric data and discovering some enlightening trends. Biometrics refers to technologies that measure and analyze human body characteristics. In this case, monitoring a driver’s heart rate integrated into the data acquisition system using BioTelemetry gives us a clearer picture into the driver’s involuntary biometric responses. Monitoring the heart rate not only tells us the cardiovascular effort exerted while driving, but the body’s involuntary response to different situations.
To be clear – driving a racing car is an athletic endeavour. Monitoring a driver’s heart rate and body temperature shows that most forms of racing can be the cardiovascular equivalent to running competitively. One should not underestimate the fitness required to compete competitively. There has been a lot of research to show that fatigue, mental stress, and heat stress have a negative impact on performance. Humans are very good at compensating, so we are unaware of the effects of things such as fatigue until they are at extremes. It’s similar to alcohol; only once we have excessive amounts in our bodies are we aware of its effects (and then some of us still are not too sure).
Monitoring the driver’s heart rate can do more than show physical effort; it can also show stress, fatigue, and a driver operating outside their normal parameters, indicating there may be an external influence affecting performance.
A small amount of stress can be beneficial. When we are under limited stress, we become very aware of our situation, our senses are heightened and we can be very focused. Some may refer to this state as ‘being in the zone’. Too much stress can be detrimental – this is when we become reactive. When we are in a reactive mode, we make split-second subconscious decisions, with the outcome being only a marginal probability that the optimal decision is made.
In the following graph, we have a speed and heart rate trace. The spike in heart rate occurred when the driver came under pressure and shortly afterwards made a mistake, letting two cars pass. Still stressed, he let another car pass. The quick change in heart rate indicates the driver operating in a high stress state, which contributed to the driver making a mistake. What you won’t see is the driver calmed down and passed two cars the following lap.
What causes stress is very driver-dependent. Often you will see stress levels go up for most drivers in a high-speed scary corner, but other situations will affect many drivers in a completely different way. Some examples of different situations we have observed: qualifying, race weekends, rain and traffic in practice. One driver had issues on restarts, so would be very stressed under the safety car which is something we never expected to find.
So once you identify what is causing the stress, what can you do about it? For most situations, you can try very simple methods to lower your stress levels. For example, we observed a driver who missed a gear change from 2nd to 3rd. As a result their stress levels rose whenever they needed to change from 2nd to 3rd again. So when you are stressed or worried about missing the gear you may be tensing up your shoulders and neck, tightening your grip on the gear lever and holding your breath – all of which make your stress trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you are aware of this situation you can consciously relax your shoulders, open palm the gearshift and take a deep breath before doing the change and you will find you will have much better results.
Stress triggers can also be caused by a section of a circuit where you’re experiencing difficulty or lack confidence. This could be from the car handling setup issue or possibly a difficult brake marker or missing the ideal line. The following track map has the biometric data highlighting the problem area.
For a section of a circuit that is causing difficulties and increasing driver stress, often it can be resolved with simple solutions such as: better visual reference points, an exact braking marker or watching video to see the proper lines through the corner.
Increased stress can also be a reflection of an unbalanced or poor-handling car, which may help clarify driver feedback. Remember that a driver needs confidence in how the car will react; when they lack this confidence we often see increased stress. So addressing the car balance and making the car faster can also help reduce driver stress.
There are many different situations and circumstances that can increase driver stress and many different possible solutions for either lowering stress or better ways to handle those situations. The important first step in making a driver faster by limiting the effects of stress is to identify what is causing the increased stress.
A race car is a complex system with the largest variable being the driver. Biometrics can help be another important piece in solving the puzzle giving us insight into optimizing the driver.
"For years we have monitored every part of the vehicle possible – every part except for the most critical component – the driver."
Matt Romanowski - Driver Training and Data Acquisition www.trailbrake.net
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