24 Hours of Le Mans – An altogether breathtaking circuit!
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24 Hours of Le Mans – An altogether breathtaking circuit!

Considering the concentration required, the tension felt, the G force experienced and the sheer physical effort involved, there are several reasons why racing drivers can suffer breathing difficulties. Vincent Capillaire, driver of the SO24-DIROB by Graff #39 Oreca 07-Gibson and Porsche GT Team’s Frederic Makowiecki (#91 Porsche 911 RSR-19) share their viewpoints.

When a driver completes a lap of the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit in around three and a half minutes, it is estimated that they spend a total 40–45 seconds holding their breath. These phases of apnea vary according to the traffic encountered and from one sector of the circuit to another. The forces felt in the Porsche Curves, Indianapolis Corner or when braking heavily hamper the driver’s breathing. “When seeking to improve our performance, we aim to focus as sharply as possible, like a competitive marksman holding their breath before shooting – we do it instinctively to withstand the lateral forces,” explains Vincent Capillaire, driver of the #39 Oreca 07-Gibson fielded by SO24-DIROB by Graff. “It also depends on whether we’re fighting off another car or are out there alone,” adds Frederic Makowiecki, one of the trio in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR-19 for Porsche GT Team.

As oxygen levels fall, the drivers’ heart rate accelerates. “Indirectly, that can affect our sharpness. We tense up and don’t recover quite as easily,” Capillaire continues. If they are to stay the course, the drivers must therefore learn how to loosen up again. And there, breathing techniques are a great help. “Such techniques help us drivers to refocus and make it easier to keep going from one stint to the next,” adds the Porsche driver.

Tiredness and stress are compounding factors. In contrast, “a well-performing, easy-to-drive car helps ease the tension,” insists Makowiecki. Good physical preparation is another must.

These athletes are used to controlling their respiration in extreme conditions but in their day-to-day life, what kind of thing takes their breath away? “Seeing my son and worrying about him,” admits Makowiecki. “My wife when she gets dressed up,” laughs Capillaire.