Race Car Heat

Dear Topspeed,
How hot does it get inside of a race car?

Jeanine H. from Denver, Colorado

Hi Jeanine,

You didn't specify what kind of race car but I'll assume you are referring to open-wheelers. I should mention though that temperatures can vary dramatically from one kind of race car to the next. An enclosed racing car is very different from an open-cockpit racing car. That being said, there are many factors that determine the temperature inside of a race car. The most obvious one is the location of the engine in relation to the driver's compartment. The closer the engine is to the driver's compartment, the more heat that will eventually be transferred there. The insulation used in between the engine and driver compartments also plays a role. Ideally, there will be a healthy amount of high grade insulation to keep engine heat out of the cockpit. Secondly, it is no secret that the more power an engine makes, the more heat it produces. Therefore, a race car with a 100 horsepower engine will almost always be cooler than a race car with a 1000 horsepower engine.

Ventilation also plays an important role. When an open-wheel race car is at speed, the wind flowing over and through the car dissipates heat buildup in the cockpit. As soon as the car stops though, the temperature inside the cockpit increases rapidly. This is why drivers don't sit in their cars with the engine running for long periods of time. The heat can become quite unbearable when you are not actually moving. The ambient temperature also contributes to the heat inside of the car. Logically, on a cool or shady day, in-car temps will be lower while the exact opposite is true of hot and sunny days, when in-car temps will be extremely high.

Now, measured temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit and higher but this does not address the heat that a driver actually feels. It may be 120 degrees inside the race car but for some drivers, it may feel a lot hotter. Every driver has a different level of tolerance to heat and heat stress. It is the same way with most people. Some people can handle hot weather very well while others have to live in a cooler climate. You'll find that racers with excellent physical conditioning perform better in the heat than drivers who do not keep themselves in shape. Many drivers, yours truly included, train in hot weather to increase our stamina and our ability to drive well in hot racing conditions. This higher tolerance for heat becomes a significant performance advantage when races are held in hot and sunny climates.

If you are interested in seeing for yourself how hot it gets inside of a race car, please try the following exercise. On a very hot summer day, put on three layers of warm clothing, a hat and a scarf and go sit in your car. Make sure the car is parked in direct sunlight. The car should be off and all the windows should be closed. Then proceed to move your arms and legs continuously for at least an hour. It won't be long before you break a sweat and start to feel really hot. This exercise will simulate the heat that most racers endure while competing. If you are able to keep at it for an hour, congratulations! You just might have the makings of a race car driver.

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