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AYRTON SENNA was, to my mind, the most cerebral race driver of all time. And in a hot, crowded pressroom at the Japanese Grand Prix, October 1989, he proved this once more.
Senna was on pole, and a journalist asked what might have seemed a lame question: “How do you prepare yourself for such a lap?”
For 15 seconds—an incredibly long pause in this context—Ayrton considered the question. Only then did he respond (and fortunately I had my recorder going).
“It’s always a task for me,” he began. “But it is fundamental to concentrate as deep as I can and therefore isolate all outside interference—the fans, the people around me.
“Being able to go in that direction, I somehow can get in a level where I am ahead of the next corner. Ahead of its braking, of changing down, of applying the power. So it lets me predict what is ahead, what I’m going to face and to correct it before it actually occurs.”
This idea of previsualization, of being “ahead of the next corner,” is shared by others who practice high-stress repetitive activities, people as seemingly disparate as race drivers and ballet dancers. An expanded version of these thoughts appeared in April 2003 R&T; see www.roadandtrack.com/auto-news/tech/concentration.
For insight into the dance aspects, I turned to Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market magazine and, in an earlier life, a Julliard-trained dancer and founder of Ballet Oregon.
“With dance,” Keith said, “you have all the movements in motor memory. This is the first level—not the artistic level—but the mechanical level. Your body just knows…. like downshifting or threshold braking.
“Your brain comes in to ‘dance the hinges,’ to make a fluid transition from one phrase to the next. With the combinations in muscle memory, you can concentrate on the artistic interpretation, the finesse, the melding to the music.
“Dancers do something called ‘marking.’ They’ll be walking across the stage—or even in one place—doing the steps in tiny, tiny, tiny motions. Up, down, over here, look there.
“It’s kind of prewalking the course,” Keith said, “but done at 1-percent energy, so it’s really your brain that’s going through the motions.”
Marking: In fact, it’s said Ayrton Senna would sit on a couch and run through the whole race in his mind—the start, lapping the circuit, pit stops—the entire race. He’d go do something else, and then come back and do it again.
A personal test: Relax yourself in a tranquil setting. Dredge from memory a familiar passage; a prayer, the lyrics of a song, maybe something you learned in high school and never lost. Recite the passage to yourself—it needn’t be aloud—with as deep a concentration as you can muster.
After a few lines, see if you hear the next line off in a corner of your mind. This preview, this “next corner,” will continue along ahead of your recitation, thus giving you all the more confidence in your primary focus.
The difference between Aryton Senna and the likes of you and me was that he did this while in the cacophony of a race car. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012