For average human beings, “performance under pressure” means sprinting to get to work on time, or dodging when mom asks if you’re ever going to get married. But it’s a whole other level for professional drivers who, under extreme conditions, somehow execute near-impossible tasks that would reduce most of us to puddles of sweat.

Castrol® EDGE® is exploring that dynamic with their Titanium Trial video series, which captures, virtually, the intense challenges professional drivers regularly face in the real world, like driving in a real blackout, or competing in a head-to-head challenge.

We checked out a live sneak preview of the most recent in the series, Titanium Trial: Clone Rival with super car racer Christoffer Nygaard in NYC. It put our day jobs into perspective.

Courtesy of Castrol

The set up

Castrol® partnered with VR experts at REWIND to create a state-of-the art simulator designed to mimic exactly what it feels like to drive a Koenigsegg -- a $4 million super car -- around a lap at Ascari, a 5.5km track in Rondo, Spain, that recreates famous racing corners from around the world. Castrol® then hired Nygaard, a professional Koenigsegg test driver, to beat his best time around the course. But, this wasn’t your average personal challenge: Nygaard’s perfect lap was created in a high-tech VR simulation, and then he was tasked with beating his “clone” out on the real track. Like that wasn’t enough, he could see via a HUD -- or heads up display -- just how superior his clone was at all times. That’s a constant stream of sick burns sent straight from the future. 

Watching the proceedings were neuroscientist Dr. Jack Lewis -- an expert on how athletes perform under pressure -- and Vince Wilfork, one of pro football’s most immovable forces, and possibly the only man alive who could win a dance competition while simultaneously cooking ribs. Our takeaways:  

Muscle memory is key

Castrol® and REWIND designed the simulator to mimic how the car would respond to everything from hitting bumps on the tarmac to flooring the engine. Why? Developing muscle memory is essential for drivers at Nygaard’s level, who can handle the basics of driving around a particular course subconsciously, while focusing on more strategic decisions behind the wheel (the fun stuff). Also, you can’t exactly take a $4 million Koenigsegg out on the track for hours to get a sense of how it feels around the turns, because even routine maintenance on a car like that can cost upwards of $20,000. (And you thought your mechanic was cheating you.)

They literally have crazy amounts of adrenaline pumping through their bloodstream

The only difference between driving the simulator and hitting the actual track, Nygaard said, was that he didn’t get the same adrenaline rush that he gets when he’s behind the wheel of an actual car. And that adrenaline rush actually helps give pro athletes a serious edge. Pro athletes often develop enlarged adrenal glands that secrete abnormally high levels of adrenaline under pressure, and react at lightning speed. It’s so much adrenaline that if us mortals experienced it, we would likely feel panicked, and our performance would decline. In professional, competitive sports though, this definitely gives the athlete a leg-up.

Courtesy of Castrol

You perform even better when you face your toughest competition

Just imagine if the knot you get in your stomach when your high school frenemy gets a promotion actually propelled you to greatness. According to Dr. Lewis, that’s sort of what happens with professional athletes when they face tough competition. Knowing that they are about to face the best provides even more of an adrenaline boost, and helps them compete even better. And that super-high level of adrenaline allows them the ability to not only put their muscles on a hair trigger so they have fast reaction times, but a narrow focus into their competition’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s something Nygaard does when he faces other drivers out on the track, but it proved even more difficult to do re his own clone, because as he said: “A racing driver always thinks he’s the best” -- so identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, then trying to out maneuver them, was particularly challenging.

The best athletes banish self-criticism on game day

Watching his clone while he raced was like Nygaard effectively amplifying his anxieties. Constantly second-guessing yourself isn’t useful in day-to-day life, and it’s definitely a bane when it comes to competition -- however, the best athletes are their own harshest critics, and often will spend the days before a game re-watching plays and noting all the things they messed up, before silencing their inner saboteur on game (or race) day and focusing all their mental energy on the task at hand. It would sort of be like you acting out exactly how that first date should go in your head while you’re getting ready, but then knowing that you’ve got to shut down all those negative thoughts and exude confidence once your date gets in the car-- that way you can think quick on your feet.

Your brain actually does have a “decision-making” limit

You know how around 5pm you want to face plant into your desk and take a nap? According to Dr. Lewis, that’s because your brain actually does have a limit on decision-making and you just reached the cap. This is why pro-athletes stick to a rigid routine, and run routine decisions like what to eat for breakfast on autopilot. We don’t know what he ate for breakfast, but when Nygaard had a split-second to decide how fast or hard he should hit the break during the Titanium Trial? He didn’t hesitate.

So, which Nygaard won?

Finding out that a simulated clone could do your job better than you can could wreak havoc on your psyche. Luckily, the real Nygaard and his Koenigsegg, powered by Castrol® EDGE® beat out his simulation by a few fractions of a second. Better luck next time, technology.

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