Such are the technological advances in motorsport, every single piece of data could translate into valuable tenths of a second on the track. With so much investment put into fine-tuning the cars and managing a driver’s overall fitness, there’s one component that’s given relatively little attention: driver fatigue.
On Australian roads, driver fatigue is one of the top-three leading causes of death and serious injury on the roads. These accidents are completely preventable, and the fatality rate is typically higher because the driver isn’t able to react quickly enough when they head off the road or into oncoming traffic.
In the environment of motor racing – where the speeds are faster and lightning-quick decisions are an absolute must – the stakes are perhaps higher, despite the continued advancements in improving the overall safety of motorsport.
Like everyday motorists, racing drivers cannot accurately self-diagnose their levels of fatigue to better manage their physical and psychological well-being, placing a major risk to themselves and others.
There is, however, a technological solution that is having major breakthroughs for everyday drivers – and elite racing drivers.
Optalert’s eagle PORTABLE system tracks eye movements, measuring the speed of the blink as well as how far the eyelid opens when a user blinks. The system – essentially a pair of glasses that performs the tracking and an app to capture the data – is completely portable and easy to use.
Optalert is already enjoying a significant profile among Australian drivers, but it recently went one step further and partnered with Australian racing driver Dylan Young (pictured) to assess what benefits the technology could bring to him as a professional racing driver.
“Dylan approached Optalert because he felt our technology would provide an interesting second dimension to his racing,” explains Rhonda Locke, Optalert’s General Manager of Marketing.
“It was the technology itself and the potential impact on motorsport where he could see benefits. Once we spoke we realised our brands aligned. He is a fierce competitor, extremely professional and he’s serious about safety. The fact our product could and did help him was a great bonus.”
Competing in the Middle Eastern and Indian-based 2016-17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, Young was looking for unique solutions that could help give him a competitive edge.
“For most of the European and Asian drivers, the flight time and jet lag is much less for them,” Young explained. “Traveling from Australia, I really feel it with the long-haul flights to the likes of the Middle East, which are upwards of 14 hours in the air at one time.
“I noticed in the past (before partnering with Optalert) I’d feel really sluggish arriving and on the opening days at the track, as my body clock was all over the place.
“There’s nothing worse than jumping into a car feeling tired. In Bahrain in 2015 we had a practice session late in the morning and then an 8-9 hour break before our qualifying session. I remember slamming coffees to try and get myself in the zone before jumping in the car as I was just exhausted. It’s ridiculous how unprepared I was.”
Long-distance travel can play havoc with your body clock, but the easy-to-use system allowed Young to get acclimated to the change in time zone more effectively.
“I wear the Optalert glasses when I get to the hotel and know exactly when my body simply needs to have a rest. I’d use it to tell me when I need a quick nap (without oversleeping) so I could then get into the time zone as quickly as possible by setting myself up for a proper sleep on the opening night.
“Nothing cures fatigue except for sleep. Being able to monitor my fatigue and jump in the car as fresh as a daisy was such a boost. It shaves lap time, which is what we are striving for as racing drivers.”
The practical applications of the Optalert system in motorsport are significant.
“Jet lag is a factor which specifically impacts motorsport,” Locke adds. “Dylan was able to monitor his alertness/drowsiness in real time using objective and scientific data.
“His whole attitude to sleep changed as a result of using our technology and he felt physically better this series than he ever has before. We are so excited about the future potential with the sport for shorter form racing and also endurance events – to-date teams have concentrated on data from the vehicle alone, but now we can gather objective data from the driver themselves.”
As the sole professional driver worldwide using Optalert’s system, Young found an immediate benefit and believes that the system would be welcomed by his fellow racing drivers.
“Optalert’s systems simply have to catch on at the elite level,” he adds.
“F1 drivers are jetting off all over the world non-stop and expected to jump in the car and perform despite the fatigue they will face with jet lag. So much attention is put on diets and training routines without enough emphasis on the fact that if you’re tired, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained. You’re going to be off your game and not as quick as you ultimately could be.”
There is also the major safety benefit that the technology can provide, particularly in longer-format series’ such as the FIA World Endurance Championship where drivers can be behind the wheel for several hours at a stretch.
“Moving forward, this could be huge in endurance races for teams to accurately manage a driver’s stint and avoid any dangerous crashes,” Young explains.
“There’s an obvious fit for manufacturers in categories like the FIA World Endurance Championship to align their brand with the technology and work with Optalert to push this out to all road users.
“There’s no point a driver continuing to lap in a 12 or 24-hour race who has had barely any sleep, is at a risk of burning out and making a mistake and putting the car in the wall. So a team now will be able to gauge a driver’s level of risk before they get in the car, and in the long run hopefully while they are also driving as well in order to structure their stints safely and for the benefit of the performance of the team.”
Being well rested is key – irrespective of whether you’re an elite racing driver looking to make a few tenths on the track, or an everyday driver looking to not fall asleep behind the wheel.
“I’m really keen to push the use of it for drivers on our roads,” Young continues. “I want to act as an ambassador for people to start taking drowsy driving seriously.
“I’m a racing driver, I love driving, but I’m also human and I get tired on long drives. I think too many people think they’re superman and for me I’ve trialed it simply on a long drive and having a preventative measure to let me know when I need to let someone else take the wheel is so reassuring.
“You can really trust the system and so this is huge for not just racing but the everyday road user to reduce the road toll. I’m really keen to spread this message and make people truly aware about the dangers but importantly that there is now a preventative product that can save lives.
“I’m really excited at the advancement in the technology and am looking forward to continuing my partnership with Optalert in the international racing scene.”
To learn more about Optalert, please visit their website at www.optalert.com