Fit to Drive

Ryan Brandt

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WHEN TONY KANAAN lines up for the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, chances are he’ll have one of the slowest heartbeats on the grid—and not because of overconfidence. The 30-year-old Brazilian uses triathlon training to prep for the rigors of his 200-mile-per-hour workdays. And it’s paying off. Kanaan won the IndyCar Series title last year and became the first Indy Racing League driver to complete every lap of every race in a season.

Kanaan’s daily four-hour workouts aren’t just setting the standard; they’re setting a trend. While Kanaan receives tutelage from two-time Ironman world champion Tim DeBoom, other racers are turning to coaches like exercise physiologist Jim Leo, whose Indianapolis-based PitFit Training offers driver-specific fitness programs. “They have heart rates in the 140- to 180-beats-per-minute range, the same as triathletes,” says Leo. Add three hours of heat, dehydration, and fighter-jet-type G-forces and drivers can become as fatigued as marathon runners—but with potentially catastrophic consequences. “When you’re tired, you make mistakes. But here, making a mistake can mean people die,” says Leo, who has trained about half of the drivers in this year’s Indy 500.

When it comes to fitness, though, Kanaan still holds pole position. In one two-week period last year, he completed the California Half Ironman between two Indy podium finishes. “Learning to suffer and live with pain like this helps me,” says Kanaan. “I’m not thinking about where my body hurts. I’m thinking about winning.”