Colton Herta had two significant firsts this season in the NTT IndyCar Series that somewhat are intertwined – a career-high in victories (three) and career-low in hydration system failures.
The Andretti Autosport driver made it through all 16 races without having a problem with staying hydrated, which often is an overlooked issue for drivers.
“It’s the same thing with everybody,” Herta told NBC Sports during the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where he ended the 2021 season Sunday on a two-race winning streak. “They have these systems, and all of them break at some point, and you end up with having a race where you don’t have water.
“For me, it’d happened at least once a year in my career, sometimes even more. Obviously, my career is fairly short, so I can’t imagine what other guys have been through.”
After a 2019 failure at Portland that “really beat me up” (finishing fourth after starting on pole position as a rookie), Herta put a greater focus on conditioning and hydration. He switched to a new “cool shirt” that made headlines after his first April 25 victory in the oppressive humidity of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
He also ran the FluidLogic hydration system that delivers precise bursts of fluid through a nozzle integrated with his helmet microphone. Herta is reminded by a steering wheel light to hit the steering wheel button (a Michigan State study earlier this year concluded that drivers’ reaction times suffered and errors increased because of inconsistent hydration by those relying on a traditional water bottle and hose setup).
“Throughout this whole year, I haven’t had any failure from the FluidLogic system,” Herta said. “It’s worked great. The pump is outstanding, and that’s the biggest thing is usually you use windshield wiper pumps to pump the fluid in, but they never quite work well enough. The other reason is just how easy it is. You don’t need an extra tube. It’s kind of hooked in with the radio. So it makes it really simple.”
Though Long Beach is the shortest race on the schedule (and wasn’t as hot as St. Pete), Herta estimated he still lost 3-4 pounds over 85 laps.
“You’re still working really hard, so it is just as important,” Herta said.
Herta’s Andretti teammates also used the system this year, and it’s spread to other series (NASCAR Cup Series drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick and Anthony Alfredo have implemented FluidLogic while others are testing it while awaiting the new NextGen cockpit layout in 2022).
Jimmie Johnson also has been using FluidLogic in IndyCar after trying it several years ago in stock cars. The system, which now weighs about 2 pounds, drew resistance because it was heavier (which is viewed as hindering performance).
“I’m involved in it both in the business and using the product in helping develop it,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “We had some things to work through adapting it to IndyCar, but it’s been in the car, and it’s a great system. The engineering/crew chief requests for weight and where they can put it is a pretty tough challenge, to have it so small and light and survive
“I actually started using the Fluid Logic system at least five years ago in the Cup car. we’ve really tried to help get it off the ground and get it going. We’ve had some issues, and (former Cup crew chief) Chad (Knaus) didn’t have the patience to try to help develop it, so we kind of moved on, and now we’re back to it. So helping them develop it and make it more readily available for all the drivers is something we’re aggressively working on now.”
Johnson said the more cramped confines of an IndyCar cockpit create some hydration challenges as he’s faced calf cramping “especially on the braking leg because you push the pedal so hard.
“It’s more than just volume,” Johnson said about staying hydrated. “It’s the ratio of what you put in and with electrolytes. These cars, although it’s a shorter race, the intensity is so much higher, and I’ve had to change my solution that I’m drinking to prevent cramping more here than the Cup car. The Cup car was easy just about volume and having a large enough bag to put in the car. But with our issues in space, I have to run a much smaller bladder, and that’s changed it for me.”
Herta said his team has been receptive to the system because it’s simple to implement.
“Yeah, it’s not something you typically worry about, but it’s one of those things you just know is going to work perfectly,” Herta said. “The water pressure is always good and is always consistent.”