IndyCar: Drivers training hard to beat Houston heat this weekend

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In order to combat the draining heat and humidity that’s expected to impact this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader in Houston, drivers have been seeking out those types of environs for training.

For Ed Carpenter Racing’s road/street course pilot, Mike Conway, that’s as easy as walking out the front door.

The quiet but swift Brit lives in suburban Phoenix during the summer, and as you’d expect in a place known as the “Valley of the Sun,” things get a tad warm.

Perfect for Conway, who has been getting work in on his bike in 100+ degree temperatures.

“Living in Scottsdale is the best for the heat,” he said in a team release. “Now, it’s not as humid as Houston but it is like riding in a hair dryer.”

Conway has been prepping for the Houston doubleheader for some time by getting his body used to holding water while training in Arizona. Dehydration is the last thing he needs to contend with this weekend on the bumpy NRG Park street circuit.

“If you start getting hot in the cars, it’s very hard to cool down even though you take water in the car,” Conway added. “If you get a bit too hot, putting your visor up isn’t enough. Just the heat off the car in front of you makes a difference. Being caught in traffic can make your race about 20 percent harder.”

“The minute you start getting dehydrated you start losing concentration and 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. You want to get out of the race car knowing that you’ve given it everything.”

A.J. Foyt Racing driver Takuma Sato has also been working hard on his fitness. He recently spent some time in his homeland of Japan as it experienced its rainy season, which combines warm temps with high humidity.

Sato’s long been used to preparing for hot races, as he used to race in places like Bahrain and Malaysia back in his Formula One days.

“In Formula 1, it was a super-hot but dry condition at Bahrain…Or the ultra-high heat with humidity at Sepang in Malaysia,” he said in a team release.

“I used to go to beautiful Langkawi Island before the Malaysian GP for a week – just for the temperature acclimation training. There, you start sweating just standing still but then I’d climb a mountain through the forest…That was hard but it was great training.”

You can see which IndyCar drivers beat the Houston heat this weekend in the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston – Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for online/mobile devices.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.