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Picture a race-car driver behind the wheel, gripping the steering wheel and gazing forward in anticipation of hitting the accelerator and taking the lead on the race course. They’re focused, in control and determined.
Ford Performance wants every driver – whether a stressed-out student, a hardworking millennial or a busy mom – to feel the same way about driving and everyday life. We are studying the way race-car drivers approach the driving experience in hopes of determining ways for every car owner to have a new understanding of how they can boost their mood, reduce stress and find driving satisfaction every time they take the wheel.
We call it speed therapy. The idea started with a collaborative research project between our motorsports branch, UNIT9, GTB and King’s College London. The team wanted to investigate the effects of high-performance race-car driving on the brain.
The team’s theory was that professional race-car drivers have a unique mental capacity to use their minds to control the extreme stress and challenges found within their environments behind the wheel. They used relatively simple tools, such as mental preparation, to perform better on the track. Races, it turns out, could often be won or lost in the mind.
Ford Performance took the research a step further. Along with UNIT9, GTB, King’s College London, OATH and Mindshare, we led an experimental study that used an EEG brain scanner to look at what was happening in the minds of professional drivers.
To prepare themselves, professional drivers working with Ford Performance showed researchers how they got into the zone. They visualized the course ahead of them. They meditated and slowed their breathing. They eliminated distractions by focusing solely on the task ahead – winning the race safely and smartly.
Professional study subjects included five-time FIA World Rally Championship winner Sébastian Ogier and Andy Priaulx, a three-time winner of the FIA World Touring Car Championship. The study on a racing simulator showed their brains performed up to 40 percent better that of an everyday person while traveling at a high speed but at a higher rate of focus.
In another test, the team asked everyday drivers to prepare for the racing simulator using breathing exercises, meditation and visualization techniques that pictured the track ahead. The study found that this raised the everyday driver’s performance as much as 50 percent, to almost the same level as that of the professional drivers.
Mindfulness, or living in the moment, helps drivers in a variety of ways, Ford Performance and drivers found. Focusing on the task immediately in front of you, such as racing down a track at high speeds, provided mental training that can help drivers of all kinds succeed.
Ford Performance now is working on a prototype helmet with an EEG built in that will scan and transmit electrical signals from a driver’s brain back to his or her team. Using that in-car telemetry, we may be able to help further improve driver focus and race performance.
We are also working on a speed therapy prescription of sorts. Recently, Ford Performance took a group of average drivers struggling with stress and the juggling act of work and family to the racetrack, where they were partnered with professional stunt drivers, such as Chrystal Hooks.
With her advice and help, these drivers “burned rubber” and their stress away through a racetrack simulation. Accelerating through the straightaway, drifting across the lanes and putting their stress on hold while focusing on the road ahead helped these drivers find a way to smile behind the wheel in a powerful way.
For everyday drivers, preparing to drive in the right mental state as well as in a performance vehicle shows potential for improving a person’s physical and mental health behind the wheel. We are using speed therapy to show how a great vehicle and mindfulness add to a driver’s well-being inside and out.