Heat, humidity, hydration to play huge role at Houston GP

Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan started hydrating Monday — constantly drinking water and taking salt pills — because he knew what was in store for him this weekend.

Heat and humidity are expected to be the primary issues facing IndyCar drivers when they race twice this weekend in the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Temperatures are expected to approach 90 degrees, with humidity hovering around 80 percent.

The biggest heat-related concern for most drivers is muscle cramps.

"It's the one thing that can ruin a race for you when the weather is really hot," Kanaan told USA TODAY Sports. "I used to have a tendency to cramp a lot because I sweat so much and get dehydrated, mostly in my arms and abs. But now I have a way of rehydrating before the race, and that helps to prevent cramping."

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The situation is so unbearable at Houston that Verizon IndyCar Series officials have allowed modifications to the cars that will help with airflow through the cockpit, especially near the drivers' feet.

According to an Associated Press report, drivers requested the a provision for additional cooling of the cockpit and footbox in anticipation of warm temperatures this weekend. Dallara, the manufacturer of IndyCar chassis, built two trimming templates to allow teams to cut holes in the chassis. The templates were available Thursday.

As Kanaan completed the track walk Thursday afternoon, his Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew was using the templates to create the holes in his car.

"The holes are right where the pedals are," Kanaan explained. "Obviously it's a bumpy track, so every time you hit a bump, you create more heat. That area of the bulkhead gets very hot, and it burns the bottom of your feet if it's too hot."

The races on the 10-turn, 1.634-mile street course around Reliant Park — home of the NFL's Houston Texans — both are scheduled for 3 p.m. ET — at the height of the heat — on Saturday and Sunday. Like fellow teammate Scott Dixon, Kanaan stays on a strict fitness regimen that includes triathlons.

Lately, though, he's gotten more scientific about racing in brutally hot conditions, measuring fluid and salt intake and monitoring his body's reaction before and after races.

"In the last year or year and a half, I haven't cramped during a race," Kanaan said. "That's good for me. Once your arm cramps during a race because you're dehydrated, you're done. You can't turn the car."

Kanaan isn't the only driver prepping for heat and humidity in Houston. Graham Rahal tweeted this upon arrival Thursday: "Big weekend ahead, 2 big races, lots of heat, it's going to be a brutal one!" Meanwhile, Sebastien Saavedra said he takes a different tack than Kanaan in his preparation: drinking less fluids instead of more.

"I'm drinking less water so my body gets used to being less hydrated, even though in the car I'll be hydrating lots," Saavedra said. "But this way it makes my body more efficient with the water it then consumes. High heat and humidity increases the heart rate, so by training to what that rate might be this weekend, it will prevent my brain from being compromised, which is the first thing to go in these conditions."

The doubleheader ends a three-week break in the IndyCar schedule and starts a hectic run of six races in 22 days. After this weekend's doubleheader, the series returns to ovals at Pocono Raceway (July 6) and Iowa Speedway (July 12) before another street-course doubleheader in Toronto (July 19-20). USA Today

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