For years I’ve thought of myself as an adrenaline junkie, a thrill seeker, someone who really likes to push the boundaries. Whilst this attitude is extremely useful in other forms of competition, it’s very unhelpful in car racing.
At university, adrenaline would spike as soon as I sensed any kind of competition and push me to always go one better than my peers. It was an inherent need I’d developed to be the best at all costs. A need to prove that I was still capable of being as reckless and impulsive as my teenage friends despite my spinal injury. During my university years this earned me a bit of an ‘up for anything’ reputation and I wore the badge with pride although it didn’t really help me achieve anything noteworthy. I got my degree despite my full on social life but it was through wheelchair rugby that I really started to show my worth.
Wheelchair rugby is a high octane, full contact sport where your performance is fuelled by adrenaline. It’s one of the only sports that is mixed right through to Paralympic level and I loved competing against the men. Training was full on at the peak of my rugby career and absolute commitment was the only way to compete at the top level. Once you’d optimised your strength, game play, fitness and diet the only thing that gave you the edge over your opponents was adrenaline.
The Edge: often treated and talked about like a philosophical almost unobtainable ideal. Getting the Edge can be a state of mind, a physical peak, a mental fortitude. Certain sports brand campaigns talk about their products giving you the Edge, employers assess which potential employees may have the Edge in interviews and even the way people look or dress can deem them to possess this quality. In these contexts the Edge is more of a concept or an aspirational pinnacle, something that is open to interpretation and is very subjective. The Edge in racing terms is much more quantifiable.
The Edge in the car racing arena can almost be worked out with a series of mathematical equations. It is simply the point at which the car is giving you enough grip to support the speed in which you are pushing it to it’s limit on any given corner or straight on a race circuit. Driving on the Edge is optimal, driving beyond it requires car control skills to bring it back into line and driving below it means you’re not going to win the race. I am really learning to love being on the Edge. I’ve learnt the necessary skills to still be in control when I push beyond it, but most of all I’m learning that driving below the Edge is really not good enough for me anymore. My competitive nature is no longer fuelled by adrenaline, it’s fuelled by a realisation of what I’m capable of. I’m no longer hunting for speed, I’m hunting for the ultimate lap time.
A conversation with my mind coach guru Erik Kondo after my crash the other week led him to ask, ‘who do you want to be? Maverick or Iceman?’ Two years ago, I would have said Maverick. I empathised more with his character then, the need to push the boundaries, the suffering and emotional loss, the big comeback, it fitted me like a glove. But my answer to Erik last week was Iceman. I want to be an absolute master of my craft, to hit those same targets every single time, to be at the very top of my game and the one that everyone wants to beat. Emotions and adrenaline are left in the paddock, I need to be an Ice Queen.
When I first started out in motorsport, people would ask me what did I love about racing cars? My answer was usually along the lines of ‘it’s an adrenaline buzz you just can’t get from anything else.’ I’m two years wiser now and my answer to that question has changed quite significantly. Ask me that question today and I’ll tell you that the reason I love racing cars is because having the ability to master a machine on the edge of control is so very rewarding. Any racing driver will tell you that this achievement is so addictive that once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be absolutely hooked.