In conversation with Fiona James – founder of Walero
Picture yourself sat on the grid on a hot summer’s day. You’re strapped in, ready to go and visualising the start. The problem is you’re feeling hot and bothered and this keeps distracting you and you haven’t even started the race yet. Surely you shouldn’t feel this hot already…
I was sat strapped into my race seat wondering exactly that almost three years ago. So rather than wonder, I went looking for some solutions to reduce the considerable heat stress suffered by drivers. And Walero was born.
I’m Fiona James, the founder of Walero Ltd. I have a background in the highest levels of Equestrianism, having fielded several horses at International level, right up to the Olympics representing GB and I’ve worked with top equestrians in various equestrian disciplines at team GB level. Whilst I was a bit of a late-comer to the four-wheeled version of horse power, I always had a love of speed (I think my driving lessons used to consist mainly of the instructor telling me to slow down or asking me what the speed limit is). I finally started racing cars in 2007 in a Radical after entering Formula Woman gave me the bug and my competitive spirit meant that just driving round on track days was never going to be enough for me! I then moved quickly into GT4 and then GT3 a few years ago where I have achieved wins and podiums in international and endurance races.
The company is named after my Olympic horse who represented Team GB and won a bronze medal in the 2003 European Championships, securing a place for GB at 2004 Athens Olympics (also competing there), as well as being long-listed for the Beijing Olympics. He then went on to represent Team GB again in the three separate Young Rider European Championships, finally retiring in 2013 after an illustrious career. So the company as his namesake has a lot to live up to!
What I found when I researched the problem of heat stroke and heat stress in drivers was that despite the fact that race drivers are expected to perform at the highest levels, often at extreme speeds in extreme temperatures and whilst wearing some extreme protective wear, the research in this area is actually still in its infancy. There is also very little to be found relating specifically to race drivers, despite heat stress being a well-recognised problem for race drivers (not to mention mechanics and marshals who spend a lot of time sweltering in overalls and helmets!). What research there is in this area and also in other areas where people are required to wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) shows that heat stress and heat stroke can occur at relatively low temperatures but are especially prevalent when the PPE and/or the environment prevent the body’s normal way of regulating its own temperature – race drivers have to contend with all of these factors and more. Research also shows that heat stress and heat stroke can impair reaction times, cause lapses of concentration, as well as the more recognised problems such as nausea, dizziness etc., that we all know about. This is a well-recognised problem, as air conditioning systems are compulsory in some series worldwide, however the solutions are still quite limited and can be bulky and uncomfortable.
I wanted to look at ways to not only address the heat stress, but also the fit and comfort of the base layers that we are expected to perform in, with flame retardant garments often being scratchy and uncomfortable to wear, and sometimes not washing well.
Walero On The Podium
The FIA states in its regulations, “When central body temperature reaches or exceeds 37°C, the driver may experience muscle fatigue, lapses of concentration and even loss of consciousness. In cases of intense heat, the wearing of a cooling garment could help to keep the central body temp below 39°C.” There is now an option for the driver which doesn’t have to cost the earth or involve installing lots of ducting or bolting things down in your car. It is simply part of your normal race kit, the Walero base layers.
Fiona’s keen eye for detail and passion for performance mean that ‘good’ is not good enough and has driven the Walero brand to challenge consumer expectations. Here at Walero, we aim to set a new benchmark for the category. We are driven to keep improving and innovating according to the needs of our customers. That means we really want to hear what you have to say and we WILL listen!