The Champ Car driver said being in shape is essential to his success.
The scene is Burke Lakefront Airport. The event is the Grand Prix of Cleveland. And all the hard work Bruno Junqueira put in during the off-season is about to pay off.
As he gets ready to race on the 2.106-mile temporary street circuit off Lake Erie, an event he calls the Champ Car series' toughest, Junqueira has time to reflect on the 6:30 a.m. wake-up calls; the 50-mile bike rides near his Miami home; the Pilates sessions; the running, the weight training.
"It's very hot," Junqueira said. "The temperature is around 100. There's high-speed corners. The lateral G-forces are incredible. It's the toughest track of the year. The steering wheel gets heavy because the track has a lot of grip. It makes your muscles work harder and the temperature makes it harder."
The fifth-year driver for Newman-Haas Racing, the runner-up in the series points three straight years, shed about eight pounds from his 5-foot-7, 148-pound frame in the race last July. The seven-time race winner is convinced his car is tougher to race than a NASCAR vehicle.
"Our car is maybe not as hot [as NASCAR] but it is 50 times harder to drive," he said. "It's very intense. I think during a NASCAR race you lose water. [In our series] you burn a lot of fat. Our heart rate is high."
Junqueira, a 28-year-old Brazilian, estimates he burns a half-pound of fat during those summer races.
"I think you need to be in really good shape," he said. "The car is hard to drive. At Long Beach, we shifted 3,500 times. It's harder than people imagine."
And Junqueira is a firm believer that diet goes a long way in giving him a competitive edge on the track.
"I think it's important for everybody to eat healthy," said Junqueira, whose No. 2 car is sponsored by PacifiCare. "Eat the right food and at the right time. Especially in racing, we spend a long time without eating. You have to have good balance to keep a good strength level throughout the race.
"It's really important to eat good carbs like pasta, rice and potatoes as a source of energy. I eat lean protein, which helps my muscles recover. And good fats as well -- olive oil and almonds, especially when you work out."
NASCAR Nextel Cup driver Kyle Petty is not one to disagree with Junqueira when comparing the difficulty in driving in the two series.
"I don't think fitness has got, in this sport, like it has in open wheel," Petty said. "In Formula One and other open wheel series, it's an important part of what they do. I don't think we've seen that here in NASCAR."
Nonetheless, the 45-year-old Petty is an avid runner, especially after he broke his thighbone in 1991. After the fracture, he started out bike riding and gradually advanced to running. In fact, he and fellow NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip recently did a marathon in Las Vegas to raise money for Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp, a summer home for chronically ill children.
"I think I run because you get to do it by yourself," he said. "I enjoy that part. When you are at the track you are just around so many people, and there are so many things going on, but running is something you do by yourself."
Petty believes NASCAR's old guard, including his father, Richard Petty, didn't worry about staying in shape. They got by on guts, guile and talent. Now, with drivers such as Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch and preseason title favorite Jimmie Johnson upping the competitive ante, some of NASCAR's older drivers had to rethink their philosophy.