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GP Week : Issue 24
a professor who had a distinguished career at NASA, and together developed an early GPS system. He sold the device to the Ford motor company, with Ford taking Spackman as part of the deal to look into their experimental vehicles. It became obvious early on that Ford’s road car testers were a varied bunch. “Their test drivers all performed certain manoeuvres very differently,”he explains, “and so I called the Vice President of Ford motor company and I said, ‘Look, you’ve asked me to look at the cars from a mathematical point of view, but it seems to me that your test drivers have 24 such a huge variation I can’t believe they’re all doing the optimal job.’And so out of that we set up a blind study, so we would adjust the car and they would have to tell us what had been changed. As it turned out the test drivers all scored very poorly despite being very confident, but we measured Sir Jackie Stewart [a long time Ford ally] and he was truly exceptional. So immediately there was the question of what makes Jackie so special.” And so it was that a fascination with the triple world champion’s brain sent Spackman back to his studies, and a phd in neuroscience. Today, he trains some of the world’s top sportsmen and women with the express intention of drawing them up from the top 20 to world number one ranking through his specialised training technique, based on neuroscience research and a detailed understanding of how individual modules in the brain function. What Dr Spackman has uncovered in his work with some of the world’s best Formula 1 drivers is truly absorbing. A mixture of nature and nurture, Spackman has singled out the circuits in the brain which have been created inside a racer’s head to create an unconscious supercomputer, able to process all that a driver experiences, and react almost instantaneously. “We all have different genes,”he explains, “ but if Michael Schumacher had never practiced and had spent his days just driving to and from the supermarket, then the average journeyman racer would beat him, no doubt about it. There is a huge learning component, but on top of that there is a genetic component that some people’s brains are wired more advantageously. Their ability to detect motion, their visual sense to detect visual flows, those things may naturally predispose them to having a higher ultimate capacity, so it’s a combination of the two. Some people train their butts off