Motorsport: Academy builds skills beyond driving

By Eric Thompson

"Since the academy's inception," said Bob McMurray, one of the trustees, "every motor racer who has gone on to enjoy success either here or overseas has come through the academy. Photo / Steven McNicholl
"Since the academy's inception," said Bob McMurray, one of the trustees, "every motor racer who has gone on to enjoy success either here or overseas has come through the academy. Photo / Steven McNicholl

For most of the past nine years, the Elite Motorsport Academy has been the country's best kept secret.

The week-long intensive camp, held in Dunedin, is for the best and brightest young rally and kart drivers (nine each intake) and it starts next week.

MotorSport New Zealand entrusted the MotorSport New Zealand Scholarship Trust with setting up an Elite Motorsport Academy in 2002 to provide an annual one-week intensive programme.

During their time in Dunedin, the nine drivers receive physical and educational training to help them develop as people and provide them with the skills to cope with life as racing drivers.

In addition, the trust provides a tailored follow-up package for the graduates to ensure they build on what they've learned.

Four weeks before the camp, and again on arrival, the students have physical fitness assessments to ensure they will be able to manage the week's training. Workshops cover mental skills, decision-making, managing heat stress and correct hydration, nutrition, public speaking and media skills, creating the ideal team environment, performance planning and sponsorship proposal preparation.

Daily physical training routines test and sometimes stretch the drivers' mental and physical limits.

On the last afternoon of the week parents, sponsors and friends are invited to attend the graduation ceremony.

They are also taken on a tour of the academy programmes to gain an insight into what has been done during the week.

Graduates starting to make their mark internationally include Brendon Hartley, Shane van Gisbergen, Emma Gilmour, Mitch Evans, Richie Stanaway, Nick Cassidy, Daniel Gaunt, Jono Lester and the country's first world rally champion, Hayden Paddon.

"Since the academy's inception," said Bob McMurray, one of the trustees, "every motor racer who has gone on to enjoy success either here or overseas has come through the academy.

"It was the first of its kind in the motorsport world and has been refined over the years.

"Such is the model now the FIA and other motorsport authorities around the world have taken it up.

"We are very proud of the academy and hope to produce even more potential world champions in the years to come." Graduates have access to a two-year, individually targeted programme to continue in their skill development. Included in this is a two-day refresher camp after year one.

The nine selected for the 2012 intake are made up of drivers from Formula First, Suzuki Swifts, Formula Ford, V8 Utes and karting.

There is very little, if any, driver training. It's not the academy's function to make the nine go faster, rather to focus on preparing the body and mind for high performance, high speed sporting careers, and whatever career they might want to take on afterwards.

"The last thing we want to teach them is how to drive. They already know how to do that by now, otherwise they wouldn't be on the course," said McMurray.

"We're trying to teach them life skills as well, as some of them will not go to race cars as a living.

"They might go on to be successful business people and those guys have said what they learned at the academy held them in good stead for the years to come."

- NZ Herald

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