Imagine driving in Downtown New Orleans on Poydras Street with some of the top athletes in the world, moving around 125 miles per hour before making a left on Loyola Avenue at City Hall.
Nearly 5Gs pull your body so hard that, without a seat belt, you’d be plastered on the right passenger window until the turn is complete. Five times the force of gravity — imagine balancing a pot of seafood gumbo on your head — makes it dicier.
Fifty pounds of gumbo.
Your heart rate during Sunday afternoon’s Verizon Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana is constant at 150 beats per minute for nearly two and a half hours, comparable to the heart rates of marathon runners and long distance cyclists.
That’s what makes IndyCar drivers special: underneath their fire suits, their helmets hiding clean-shaven, baby faces, are some of the best athletes in the world. Men and women that face death at every turn, literally.
“It’s pretty intense because you feel your face actually moving around,” said Helio Castroneves, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 who will race Sunday on Team Penske’s No. 3 car.
Pushing the brake pedal is like one repetition on a leg press machine loaded with nearly 400 pounds. The steering wheel of this $4 million, Turbo-charged, 2.2-liter V-6, 550-700 horsepower mobile monster from Chevy or Honda feels like it weights 40 pounds, and you’re expected to maneuver around a 13-turn, 2.74-mile course at NOLA Motorsports Park on Sunday afternoon for 75 laps.
Your seat belt is so tight that, once you finally stop to change tires or refuel, you can’t breathe. Yet on the course, it isn’t tight enough to stop you from being tossed around a tiny cockpit.
Sorry, this isn’t your dad’s weekend stroll around town.
These masters of America’s premier open wheel racing keep their feet on the gas, never letting up.
Pushing even more.
No power steering. No car roof. No turn signals. No air bags.
“It takes a lot of dedication, strong motivation, something that drives you inside, that you will never give up,” said Simon Pagenaud, of France, who drives the No. 22 car for Team Penske.
“Even if you have a bad result, you’re going to bounce back in the next race.”
Unless you lineup for one of the 24 spots in Sunday’s race, you haven’t approached this feeling in your weekend drive.
Not even close.
A roller coaster?
Try the ride from your worst nightmare, then multiply it by three.
If you tire after five minutes of go-karting, with your hands aching and your neck getting tight, then you have a long way to go to get to the IndyCar Series.
It’s not to say an untrained adult could not jump into Will Power’s No. 1 Verizon Team Penske car and ride a few laps. But we’re talking about 205.5 miles, the distance drivers will race around this road course, the longest on the 2015 course schedule.
“You could drive the car without being fit, but you couldn’t drive it for very long, and you wouldn’t drive it very well,” said Power, the series’ defending champion. “You wouldn’t be competitive. It would be too strenuous.”
LeBron James, J.J. Watt, Mike Trout and Juan Pablo Montoya.
While Montoya, the winner of IndyCar’s first race of the season in St. Petersburg, may not top your list of best professional athletes in American sports, you might need to reconsider.
IndyCar drivers train as much as six days a week, their regimes ranging from Montoya’s mountain bike rides and Castroneves’ boxing sessions to Tony Kanaan completing the 2011 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
Montoya utilizes his collection of different types of bikes. He recently placed third in a century race.
“It was fun,” he said.
In February, rookie Sage Karam competed in the 2015 NFL Combine, posting results which compared with projected top 10 draft prospects.
Sebastien Bourdais said you can’t prepare for a race outside a race car. You can, though, prep for the physical problems.
“We try to mix the different aspects of other sports,” said Bourdais, who will drive Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing’s No. 11 car. “When you kayak, you’re mimicking movements in the upper body. It’s probably the closest that you can get to what we do in the car.”
Jim Leo, owner of PitFit Training, said the best sports comparison to IndyCar racing is stunt flying. It encompasses the heart rate — the danger.
The ability lies in taking the two into account, Leo said, and then remembering there are 20 other drivers trying to beat you.
“The strength it takes to muscle through cars is pretty intense, and that’s for more than two hours,” said Leo, who trains a multitude of drivers on various series.
Australian Scott Dixon said he jumps off a treadmill at 12 miles per hour and heads to play table tennis, aiming to hit 100 balls. He then returns to the treadmill.
“It’s just mentally training,” said Dixon, the series’ 2013 champion.
To sharpen his reflexes, Dixon utilizes big light bulbs, trying to hit them in sequence in five-minute intervals.
Pagenaud shared his four-times-a-week workouts of strength, interval and endurance training, along with workouts specifically for the neck, as well as cardio (cycling, rowing and running).
Still, he didn’t share everything.
“Yeah, I have my secret stuff,” he said, smiling. “There’s this thing in racing: Drivers don’t really talk about their training.”
You never see trainers around the pits, Pagenaud said. Or massage therapists.
“But they use them,” Pagenaud added. “Everybody uses one. We don’t want to show what we do to train.”
Carlos Muñoz, driver of Andretti Autosport’s No. 26, said the new aero kits, debuted last month in St. Petersburg, make the cars even faster — and heavier. Which means more, harder training ahead.
“What really helps us to be in shape is to be in the car for a long time,” Muñoz said. “You can tell in the offseason when you get out of the car; you feel the muscles tired afterwards.”
Castroneves, famous as a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 (2001-02, 2009) and winning season five of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” isn’t a fan of workout secrets. Not only has he trained with Team Penske teammates, but with competitors.
“For me, internal data is more important than physical, because physically, at the end of the day, you can be strong in one area and weak in another. But the aspect of the data from inside of Team Penske, that is a secret.
“And that, you don’t share.”