INSIGHT: How IndyCar drivers aim to beat the Iowa Heat


Forecasts for the Hy-Vee IndyCar race weekend call for temperatures near 100 degrees at worst and mid-80s at best as 26 drivers prepare to roast among the cornfields of Iowa.

If the extreme heat and high humidity weren’t enough to cope with, the trip to the small oval at Iowa Speedway is IndyCar’s only doubleheader of the year. With maximum downforce applied to the cars on the short 0.894 mile oval, drivers will have over 4,500 pounds of aerodynamic load to manage through their steering wheels as the four corners of the oval zoom past each turn below 20 seconds.


Thanks to the lack of power steering, the Iowa is renowned for the extreme physical toll it takes on the IndyCar field under normal conditions; with the sun setting on the track and the cockpit temperature spike due to the aeroscreen safety device, the race of 250 laps on Saturday and 300 to follow on Sunday will be nothing short of grueling.

Colton Herta, the first driver to win an IndyCar race using a cooling system that circulates cold water through tiny pipes sewn into a custom t-shirt worn under his fire suit, expects to see shirts cool used regularly this weekend to try to beat the heat – related exhaustion.

Herta’s cool suit (note the pipe hanging from his hip) served him well in St. Petersburg, but the heat challenge in Iowa seems to be on another level. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Pictures

“It’s going to be brutal no matter what, cool jersey or not,” driver Andretti Autosport told RACER. “It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be interesting to see how the cars handle the heat. There can be a 10-15 degree difference between Race 1 and Race 2, and that’s also going to make a big difference to the balance of the car, so we might see some guys backing off for that.

“I don’t think I’ll use the cool shirt for [Friday’s 90-minute] practice; I can handle the heat for an hour or whatever doing 10-lap races or whatever we do, but for the race it’s going to be for sure.

Beyond mandating the use of the cooling vents – nostrils – at the leading edge of the noses on Dallara DW12 specs and the side scoops that supply air to each rider’s helmet, teams have the flexibility to install the “upper duct” as it is called by the series which mounts on the front of the aeroscreen and channels air to the driver.

IndyCar also allows the installation and use of team-developed cool shirting systems that add approximately seven to eight pounds to the car. Additional weight is not subject to equalization, which means teams choosing to run without the system are not required to add 7-8 pounds of ballast. This is where some teams will look to race without the rider cooling systems to gain a lighter running advantage than those who mount the devices on their cars.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly isn’t sure his team will use his new system; there are concerns about how the weight might affect the handling of their cars.

“We don’t want to sacrifice any performance, obviously, so we’re still on the fence because no doubt I don’t want to give any performance,” Daly said. “But it’s going to be horrible in the car. So we plan to have the cool shirt available, but if we go there and all of a sudden the balance is off, we’re going to rip that sucker out of there.

The larger question to consider is whether the performance gains brought about by leaving the cool shirt system out of the car outweigh the risks teams face if a driver begins to overheat, lose strength, stamina and focus. Simply put, if running without the system provides an improvement of 0.1s per lap due to the car’s lower weight, but the driver begins to lose that time or more due to heat exhaustion at the During the last stages of the 250 or 300- rodeur, what is the smartest call to make?

“It seems silly, okay, to worry about adding that little bit of wasted time per lap, but what if in the last 50 laps you’re dead and you end up losing time. time every lap just because you can’t do it?” “, Herta said. “But, I also feel like it’s a good time to give a shout out to PitFit and all the training we’ve done because as far as I’m concerned, every time I jumped in the car, I was prepared and mentally and physically were there. And even with all that, it’s still going to be a problem.

“Everyone talks about how physical Iowa is. Then you have two runs and then you have 95 degrees with 80% humidity or whatever. It’s a bit crazy. If it was the first race of the year, I think the guys would be completely out of place. But luckily, we’ve been in hot races before, and we have accumulated calluses on our hands and accumulated stamina. But it’s still going to be brutal, that’s for sure.

For Daly, who has struggled to keep his core temperature from overheating in Iowa-like conditions since the aeroscreen was introduced, there is still hope that the situation will be tolerable once programs double. will have started.

“In reality, every rider is different, so some riders are perfectly comfortable with everything and hotter than the sun because everyone’s body works differently,” he said. “You see guys like Will Power, even [Josef] Newgarden uses the cool shirt; fit people go there because we cook and it’s so physically difficult to drive these cars.

“And then the guys like [Alexander] Rossi, and half of the real great elite athletes, they don’t sweat. They were born different. I’m just as curious as I think anyone else is to see who’s going to run the cool shirts and who won’t. And then we’ll have to see how everyone ends up.