Physiotherapy in Motorsports: Our experience of 24 hours at Le Mans '21
24 hours at Le Mans, the ultimate endurance race and a pinnacle event in any driver’s career. We were honoured to be asked to accompany team and loved every fast paced second. Here is our experience as a physiotherapist…
1) Preparation is key! As a physiotherapist in professional sports your role is to prepare the drivers physically and mentally for the race months to years in advance. A tailored strength and conditioning program is essential, to ensure the drivers are at the peak of their physical fitness for race day. Their neck needs to withstand extreme forces which are equal to 3-5 times the force of gravity; this equates to approximately 35kg weight through the neck.
2) A good personal and professional rapport with the team is vital. You spend all of your time together so it is important that they feel comfortable in your presence and that you can quickly observe and manage the drivers emotional and physical requirements. Do they need a calming presence during the race? Do they respond well to motivational talk? Do they need silence? In 24 hours of Le Mans the ability to understand the drivers needs is even more crucial as it often changes throughout the race.
3) Your role is to help and monitor all of the drivers wellness needs. 24 heures at Le Mans is the ultimate endurance challenge which truly tests their bio-psycho wellbeing. The car cockpit temperature can reach up to 32 degrees, the drivers can sweat up to 2.5 litres in the first stint (time taken to empty the fuel tank- our stints were 42 minutes approx). Your role is to ensure the drivers take on on enough electrolytes and nutrients for their size and weight to avoid dehydration, cramping and mind fatigue. Advice from Racinais et al’s consensus statement is to consume 6ml of water per kg of body mass during the race period every 2-3 hours, as well as 2-3 hours prior to training or competition in the heat. The drivers are often fatigued and nauseous post stint so need to be reminded to eat and drink the correct amounts.
4) Excellent organisation and timing skills are essential. Before the race a driver’s schedule is planned based on fuel tank consumption, tyre changes, weather predictions, time of day and many other variables. However, this schedule can change early in the race due to illness or weather changes for example. Our schedule completely changed within an hour due to heavy rainfall which required us to change drivers to one more experienced in the weather conditions much earlier than planned. The physiotherapists role throughout the race is instrumental to the success of the team. You must ensure the driver is at the car warmed up and mentally prepared at the correct times, to be present post stint to provide treatment and ensure the drivers eat, drink and sleep when the schedule allows. As discussed, the schedule often changes very quickly therefore using your initiative and being proactive/autonomous is key.
5) Always be at the ready! Motorsports is such a fast paced, unpredictable environment so accidents can happen and over 24 hours the chance of this unfortunately increases. Our car was involved in a collision and the driver hurt his back during the impact, as he was able to get the car back to the pit-lane, we were the first medical professional to see the driver. It was our role to clear safety assessment questions to ensure that he was safe to get out of the car so we could assess and treat him further. Luckily for the team, we were able to get the driver back out on the track after some treatment and across the finish line!
6) Enjoy! 24 hours at Le Mans is a truly iconic event and the atmosphere and spirit is electrifying. It is a long and very hectic race, and as the only team Physiotherapist, there was no time for sleep over 36 hours, so you have to really be committed to the team. We can honestly say we loved every second and have left full of pride and respect for the incredible Eurasia team.
The Verbier Touch look forward to the next of many elite sporting events and hope you enjoyed sharing our Le Mans 2021 journey.