Exclusive blog: Craig Lowndes shares his secrets

From sacrifice, dedication and focus, physical and mental fitness to a healthy diet, the road to motorsport glory is full of twists and turns.

Just what does it take to be successful? We asked three-time Supercars champion and Formula 1® 2018 Rolex Australian Grand Prix ambassador Craig Lowndes.

Lowndes, 43, clinched three championships between 1996 and 1999 and is a six-time winner of the famous Bathurst 1000.

But how did the current Triple Eight Race Engineering driver set up and develop a successful career?

What did it take to get there and stay there? How important was fitness and diet, and how did he manage his highs, lows and everything in between?

Be dedicated, focused and make sacrifices…
I was lucky enough when I was beginning that my father, Frank, was heavily involved in the motorsport industry. I grew up around it. But, when I say dedication, it's working late nights. Whether you're go-kart, Formula Ford, Supercars – whatever category you're involved in – spend whatever time you need to get it right before you head to an event. Preparation is key. For me, it was the late nights at certain times when we're running behind or we needed a part and it didn't turn up on time. My father really encouraged me to make sure the preparation prior to events was good, that the car was ready to go. When we turned up to an event we didn't have to spend half a day finishing off whatever we did. That was the preparation side. The sacrifices were the same thing. Weekends you're not out partying with friends or going out or anything else. You're focused on the racing side of it. The sacrifice is there. Travelling, being away from family at times – there's a sacrifice that needs to be undertaken. It’s being focused on whatever you need to do to improve yourself.

You need to have that sacrifice to be successful…
I don't think there's any time growing up that I felt like I was missing out or wish I could have been somewhere else because I always wanted go-karts. It was more of a hobby and for enjoyment. And, because I enjoyed it, I didn't see it as a sacrifice. It was as long as I enjoyed it, and that hasn't changed.

Bulk up and strengthen your body…
There's no better fitness than driving a race car. It's very hard to simulate driving a race car because of the g-forces, the load, the heat, the senses that you go through when you're in a car. But, what you can do in the very early days is bulk up and strengthen your body to get used to and ready for driving a car. Early days, again, go-karts, Formula Ford, you want to be as light as you can. So, your cardio vascular fitness, it needs to be up there – running, bike riding, all that side of it. I was lucky growing up I was an active child. I played cricket in summer and Aussie rules football in winter. I was always active. The early stages of motor racing for me were pretty easy on the fitness side of it. But going into the Supercars, you had to strengthen your upper body, your core because you're sitting in your seat for longer. The weight of the steering wheel, the brake pedal, preload on the gearshifter – everything you're operating in the car – was twice as hard. You need to strengthen your body in the early stages. Now in my late stage, it's more of just maintaining that strength, but at the same time being cardiovascular fit.

I still mountain bike ride, run and swim. You're still trying to balance off that cardio as well as the strength work. You don't need to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger to drive these cars but you need to be strong enough to maintain the level that we drive the cars at for two hours. A lot of our focus on training is longevity or long durance, not short sprint. Your short-twitch muscles probably don't activate enough but, our endurance and longevity muscles, absolutely. I think if you look at any race driver, even the current ones now, they'll do a triathlon instead of a 100-metre sprint because our bodies are built for long-distance endurance.

Diet is massive and one of the biggest changes in 20 years…
When I first started, teams weren't really interested in the fitness or the dietary or nutrition. Over the years, now, I think every major race team in Australia has a gym within the workshop, which focuses not only on the driver but the crew as well. When I first started, there was no focus. Then, it was a focus on drivers and then, they shifted that focus to drivers and team. There's been a massive change. The nutrition, we have a chef that works within the race team, Mario. He travels with us. He knows our dietary requirements, if there are any.

I've never been a big fast food eater or a deep fried eater. For me, I've been quite lucky that I've enjoyed healthy food all my life. What you do get smart at is learning to balance the foods that you do take in to balance what you need during the week. Whether you're on a carb load, you have pasta and everything else or, you want fish, chicken or steak. You want that, and your body is very good at telling you where you're really lacking. I've really been a big believer in your body. I've got a very balanced diet, but it's for me. I've been quite lucky that through motor racing and the early days, I learned a lot about it. It's allowed me to become nutrition aware my whole life.

Physical fitness helps mental strength…
Being fit is twofold. Being fit helps me be mentally fit. The fitter I am, the mentally stronger I am because you know you put the hard work in, you know that you're fitter than anyone else out there, you know that when you get in the car that you're going to be better than anyone else. It goes hand in hand. In the early days I worked with some sport psyches, just to understand. Race weekends are quite difficult. You go from a good practice session to a poor qualifying to then you go lift yourself up to have a better race. There's a roller coaster effect throughout a race weekend for drivers. If it's all perfect, it would be boring. But, it's also understanding the highs and lows, and when you're high to not take it too far. You get out of control. When you're low, it's to recognise that but then, put in triggers or activations that you know can lift you back up to where you need to be.

It's a balancing act of the highs and lows. I've been quite fortunate enough that I'm quite a positive person anyway. Even when I am low or if we qualified poorly, I quickly turn things around and bounce back or put a positive spin on it. You go into that next session, whatever it may be, a race, qualifying, or anything else, with a lot of confidence that you can adjust what's happened.

Trust your team…
When you start off you're willing to just give everything you have. You have a little bit of that no-fear factor. As you get older, you realise that things can go wrong, you can have crashes and there are consequences. You're more fearless as a younger person but then you're not as wise as you are later in life. There is a balancing act. But, I know every time I get in a race car, I've got full confidence that the team has bolted every nut and bolt together to put that wheel on right. I can go out and do 300km/h corners with basically no fear. Once you start having that fear factor of doubting whether that vibration is going to spit you into the wall, if you have a tyre explosion, which I did last year, and you believe it's going to happen again, you start having those doubts. Then I think it's almost time to think about what you're going to do outside of a race car. 

Switch off when the time comes…
It's become second nature. It's something that I've had to learn about because you get out of the car, you're frustrated, maybe you're pissed off, upset, whatever happens, whether it's your fault, someone's taken you out, whatever. Then, you've got a band of fans at the back of the garage going, 'Can I have a signature? Can I have a signature?' You're wanting to pull your hair out because the car, you've just destroyed a race car, or you've lost a race because of a mistake you've made. But ultimately, if they're still out supporting you, you should be out supporting them. They pay good money to come in and they're there to be able to come and have a conversation, get something signed and basically be direct. I had to learn that skill of switching off that frustration and then just being me.

Stay competitive…
The two things that kept me involved in the sport is the enjoyment of being involved, which I still thoroughly am, but the main thing is being competitive and making sure that you're still competitive for you, for the team, the sponsors, the fans and everyone involved.

When the time comes to step down the plan is that I couldn't go cold turkey so I'm going to go from a main driver in a Supercar, probably to a co-driver for a number of years. Then, at some point, step right out of the driving role. But in the meantime, when that stepping stage happens, I'd love to think that I could be hopefully involved in a team, helping that next generation driver come up. Do the same as what Peter Brock did with me, help them recognise and understand the complete picture of what Supercars are all about.

It's not the driving side of it, and you look at a lot of the young drivers now, they're super talented. I don't think I can teach them anything about the driving sense but, it's the attitude and the off-track stuff and behind the scenes, and corporates, and dealing with fans, and dealing with moods if they get cranky and how to change all that into a positive and to deal with that. Hopefully I can be part of a team, have an active role in that side of it but also do some media stuff. It's great to see that Neil Crompton, Mark Skaife and Greg Murphy and those guys have transitioned into that world. Hopefully, at some point, maybe I can do the same.

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