How to engineer a world record

The secret recipe for a successful GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ attempt.

Photograph by Oscity, Shutterstock
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Romain Dumas broke the outright Pikes Peak hill climb record with his drive up this section of road, in a time of 7:57.148 minutes.
Photograph by Oscity, Shutterstock

The very word “record” implies that whatever is being attempted is out of the ordinary, not within reach of mere mortals – but prefix that with “World” and the enormity of the endeavor becomes surreal.

The right record

The first challenge, of many, is to decide on the challenge itself. Do you go for enormity, just as the Toyota Center in Russia did by fitting 41 people into a Rav4? Do you go for time, as German freediver Tom Sietas did when holding his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds? Or do you push for distance, as Tomislav Lubenjak from Croatia did when he pushed a car 106.938 km in under 24 hours?

The right time and place

When you know what, the next challenge is how. From this point on, your world shifts its axis so that every thought and waking moment focuses on achieving the goal. Venue, training, equipment, support crew, regulations, sponsorship, and so much more have to be accounted for. The majority of this can be controlled, but there are times when the uncontrollable helps you achieve greatness.

Sometimes good planning is given an opportunistic helping hand, as was the case with American Mike Parsons’ 2008 world record for the biggest wave surfed. Set by riding a 77 ft wave at Cortes Bank, located 100 miles off the southern California coast, Mike’s record was given an unexpected boost from a storm passing over the area. The storm generated giant swells with buoys recording 80 to 100 ft waves.

Although waves such as this one at Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania, are spectacular, they could also form the backdrop for a world record.

See the unseen

Part of engineering a world record, therefore, involves your ability to either overcome unforeseen challenges or at least make the most of unpredictability when it arises. And this is where mental and physical preparation plays a key role in creating success.

Olympic athletes, as well as motorsport competitors, have long used visualization as part of their mental preparation. Al Oerter, a four-time Olympic discus champion, and the tennis star Billie Jean King were among those using visualization in the 1960s.

Over time the practice of mentally simulating competition has become increasingly sophisticated, spilling over from the actual event to imagining the content of news conferences or, in the case of motorsport, using a race-car simulator to replicate race conditions.

Not that any two athletes’ preparation is ever the same. In the lead up to the record-setting attempt for the Fastest ascent of Doi Chang mountain road by car, the two title contenders chose distinctly different training regimes. Natasha Chang, the eventual title-holder, chose meditation. While KC Montero (KC) focused more on physical and mental training with time in the gym.

The right diet

The brain is an important organ you feed with thought as much as food, but you can’t ignore the rest of your body. In order for you to extract the best from your mind and body, you must rely on a balanced diet that will unlock strength while also giving you the stamina to go the distance.

Olympic athlete, Usain Bolt, required 81.58 kJ of energy when he lowered the 100-meter world record to 9.58 seconds at the Berlin Olympics in 2009. Amazingly only 7.79 percent of this was used to achieve motion; the remaining 92.21 percent (75.22 kJ) was used to overcome aerodynamic drag.

Usain Bolt pushes his mind and body to the limit to win the 800m at the 2016 Rio Olympics, thanks in part to a strict diet program.

This is not unlike the boost Caltex’s Techron Fuel and Havoline oil gave to Natasha’s Honda when attempting to set a world record at Doi Chang.

The right ingredients

Preparation is, however, more than just honing your mind and body, it extends to equipment. In athletics, runners spend hours with biokineticists before any record attempt, evaluating running shoes and even clothing weight to make sure they have the best equipment for the job.

Natasha’s team of technicians makes sure her Honda is ready for the world record attempt at Doi Chang.

In the record attempt at ascending Doi Chang, drivers Natasha and KC relied heavily on the support of their highly skilled technical crew to provide them with the tools and ingredients to tackle the challenge.

This team was to Natasha and KC what dieticians, physiotherapists, and biokineticists are to track athletes. Possibly even more so. If the car doesn’t go the distance or performs badly, not even a super-human effort by the driver could help clinch a record.

Practice makes perfect

The final element in a record attempt, and possibly the most important, is practice. Only by practicing the actual event can you evaluate your preparedness, discover any weakness, and hone in on your strengths.

KC Montero practices for his attempt at becoming the Guinness World Record™ title-holder for the fastest ascent of the Doi Chang Mountain Road by car.

By practicing the event, previously unseen problems can be identified: a shoe that doesn’t offer enough support, a javelin that doesn’t fly true, or a car that suffers from oversteer while negotiating a specific turn.

Team Volkswagen, with their Electric I.D.R driven by Romain Dumas, started their own hill-climb practice at the famed Pikes Peak on May 30, 2018. They eventually set an outright record time of 7:57.148 minutes on June 24, having made hundreds of changes to the car while Dumas honed his skills.

Once the day of the record attempt arrives you will have to be at your very best. A small error of judgment or a slightly delayed reflex can abruptly bring a tearful end to months of preparation.

While no record attempt can expect to be successful without a well-engineered plan that encompasses all these ingredients, there is another element that is always present and beyond the grasp of a technical support crew, contestants, practice, or mental and physical preparedness – Lady Luck. And sometimes she is the final building block in a successfully engineered world record.

Visit Caltex Record Rides to discover more about Natasha and KC's world record-setting attempts.

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