Long-distance road trips aren’t so different from endurance car races
By Jennifer Waters, MarketWatch
CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — If you’re planning a long-distance driving trip this summer, take some advice from Patrick Long, Le Mans race-car driver and official Porsche factory driver: Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, maintain proper posture and stability, and stay focused.
“Being well-rested is as important for performance on the race track as it is for safety on the road,” said the endurance racing champion who has three American Le Mans GT2 championships under his belt, as well as other GT2/GT wins that include 20 other ALMs and 10 other major sports-car wins. He’s also won three major Daytona Prototype racing-car events.
Patrick Long Motorsport
Though the speed is far greater on a racetrack — Long pushes 205 mph when racing, compared with 65-70 mph on the highways — he said the basics of driving are the same. That’s true whether it’s a 24-hour Le Mans circuit or a three-day road trip from Naples, Fla., to Los Angeles that he and his girlfriend took in April to get to the Long Beach Grand Prix.
“You have to be responsible behind the wheel and completely focused on the task,” said Long, who has driven in seven 24-hour Le Mans, seven 12-hour Sebring, eight Petit Le Mans, seven Rolex 24s at Daytona and four 24-hour Spa races.
On their roadtrip, the two got early-morning starts, changed places about every three hours, grazed on fruits and vegetables, kept well-hydrated and got plenty of sleep through 20-minute power naps and early bedtimes.
“It’s amazing that at the end of a 14-hour drive where you’re switching driving every three hours you can still feel great,” he said. “You need to take breaks — both in the race car and on the road.”
During endurance races, he usually drives three hours on, three hours off. On breaks, he catches 45- to 60-minute naps, eats well-balanced foods and even exercises.
Here are his tips for long-distance driving that you can use this summer:
Long wears four layers of fire-protection clothing when he’s racing and that creates an enormous amount of heat and sweat. “I have to continually hydrate to stay ahead,” he said. He pushes a button that dispenses water and electrolytes into his mouth when he’s racing, but keeps bottled water and natural-fruit energy drinks nearby when he’s driving long distances.
“Keeping the electrolytes and water flowing through our systems is imperative for staying ahead of the sweating in a race,” he said.
Here’s another reason to stay hydrated: It could save you from leg cramps, which are almost always connected to dehydration and are hard to get rid of. “It takes so long to recover from any little bit of dehydration,” he said.
How do you know when you’re well-hydrated? You can monitor it by the color of your urine, which should be a champagne shade, he said. Some vitamins like B complex, however, will affect color.
Keep your spine straight during long-distance driving and keep your lower back secure in the seat.
On the racetrack, at triple-digit speeds, the centrifugal force is pulling the driver’s body in many directions. As a result, Long is nearly immovable in a race car with two straps across his hips, two between his legs and two over his shoulders. He’s belted in as snug as he can pull the five-point pinch.
Patrick Long Motorsport
Patrick Long races in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Fla., January, 2011.
“All of that is to fit you in as tight as you can possibly be pinned while still being able to breathe,” he said. “I’m in a stationary position for the whole time.”
Keep your body at a 75- to 80-degree angle in the seat, using the back of the seat as your cushion, not a pillow or rolled-up sweater. Don’t lean way back or to your right or left.
“I oftentimes try to make sure that I’m right up against the back of the seat,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll find yourself slouching a lot.”
Keep your hands in the 10-2 position you learned in driving school at an arm’s length distance with a slight bend in your arms.
Long keeps the heel of his right foot flush with the bottom of the accelerator pedal and the seat far enough away from the wheel so that his knees are not touching the wheel. “It’s important to have some support under your hamstrings from the seat to prevent low-back pain,” he said.
“We learn in intense sports psychology that the mind can only process one thought at a time,” he said. Though he communicates with his racing team through speakers in his helmet and the car, he said he keeps his concentration on the road.
“When you’re talking or looking down for whatever might be happening in the race car, you’re giving up a little bit of time and concentration,” he said. “At 200 mph, you only need a fraction of a second in lost concentration for something to happen.”
The same is true on long-distance road trips. “You’ve got to keep the distractions away, whether it’s your GPS or adjusting your air conditioning,” he said. “You have to drive with awareness.”
Jennifer Waters is a MarketWatch reporter, based in Chicago.