Who scheduled Houston races in the afternoon in the summer?

The Verizon IndyCar series has had some dubious ideas. The Grand Prix of Houston this weekend threatens to top all of them.

Day racing in the sweltering summer in Texas. What could possibly go wrong?

The racers return from a two-week break after Ed Carpenter's win on the oval of Texas Motor Speedway for what will be the most physically demanding weekend of the season. It could also turn into the most forgettable weekend.

The 90-lap street-course races on Saturday and Sunday will start in the mid-afternoon during the first week of the Texas summer. The temperature at race time, scheduled for 2:45 p.m. each day, is expected to be about 90 degrees with 60 percent humidity (they are lucky it is only 60%). Each day will test the mettle of everyone in a fire suit.

"Houston will be brutal," said Graham Rahal, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. "The drivers will be beat by the end of it all. It's bumpy, and it's bound to be extremely hot. A lot of guys will struggle physically. You're going to see a lot of mistakes happening."

The race was already a concern because of the 10-turn, 1.683-mile track at NRG Park. A year ago, as IndyCar racing returned to Houston, Dario Franchitti was involved in a wreck that caused career-ending injuries, and Helio Castroneves had his title chances ripped up by the track.

Those races were held in the first week of October. The Houston dates were moved up this season as IndyCar conceded autumn to football and set its final race for Aug. 30.

When television showed no desire to carry these races at night [Editor's Note: So the noose around IndyCar's neck – NBC Sports Network – fails to cooperate with the series? With friends like that, who needs enemies?], IndyCar was left with the unappealing reality of day races. These will be endurance contests unlike anything the drivers have experienced.

Mike Conway, who handles non-oval races for Carpenter's one-car team, tried to prepare by cycling in the blow-dryer heat of Scottsdale, Ariz. It was not the same, Conway said, because nothing can duplicate the swamp-like humidity of Houston in the summer.

Dehydration is the biggest concern, Conway said.

"The minute you start getting dehydrated, you start losing concentration," Conway said. "That's something you can't allow in a race.

"In the race, you have to remind yourself to drink, because the moment you get thirsty, it's too late."

The races would have been more challenging a generation ago, when drivers were casual about physical conditioning. That has changed. All drivers work out hard and are in top condition.

They nonetheless will be tested by something as routine as racing in traffic.

"Being caught in traffic can make your race about 20 percent harder," said Conway, who won the street course of Long Beach this season. "If you start getting hot in the car, it's very hard to cool down. Pulling your visor up isn't enough. Just the heat off the car in front of you makes a difference."

At least the track will be in better condition, according to race organizers. It was a bad track last year.

On the last lap of the second race, Franchitti's car went airborne after clipping the left rear tire of Takuma Soto, who had lost control on the slick concrete of Turn 5. Franchitti incurred a concussion and fractures to his spine and ankle. The injuries forced him to retire.

Castroneves brought a 49-point series lead into Houston last year. He left town trailing eventual series champion Scott Dixon by 25 points after his two worst finishes of the year: 18th and 23rd.

On the first day, Castroneves damaged his gearbox when his car bottomed out on a bump in Turn 1. He had gearbox problems the next day, too.

"I'm very pleased that they made some changes," Castroneves said. "We didn't finish last year because of an issue that was outside of our control."

It was track conditions then. It will be weather now. Dallas Morning News

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