By Mary Bignotti Mendez
The NTT INDYCAR Series has implemented the aeroscreen this season, a safety device mounted to the cockpit to protect drivers from flying debris. And so far, all the competitors have praised this protection system.
“The aeroscreen is a huge step in safety,” said Will Power, the 2014 INDYCAR champion and 2017 Indy 500 winner. “I am so happy that we have it. It’s the best of both worlds, you’ve got the halo and a screen. When you drive it for a day, you feel naked if you remove it. There is so much protection there.”
The device was initially developed by PPG Aerospace and tested at Phoenix Raceway in 2018. Then INDYCAR reached out to Red Bull Advanced Technologies to further advance the design comprised of a titanium framework with a polycarbonate screen that mounts in three areas, the chassis center line and two rear side mounts.
While the drivers haven’t tried the aeroscreen in race conditions, their first opportunity came at Spring Training, the mid-February two-day Circuit of the Americas (COTA) open test. The consensus was that there were no vision issues and that because driver’s focus is so far forward, they forget they have it.
“Driving with the aeroscreen isn’t any different than driving a sports car (with a windshield),” explained Graham Rahal, who also competes at endurance IMSA events. “With the aeroscreen, the car is like a fighter jet on wheels. And as a kid, my dream was to be either a fighter pilot or a race car driver.”
Cooling in the cockpit is probably the biggest challenge. Tubes are used to flow air that attach directly to the helmets and to direct air to cool the driver’s feet. Dallara has added air vents to the body work just forward and center of the cockpit opening. INDYCAR’s Rule 14.15.6 mandates nose cap ducts and helmet inlet cooling for road, street, and short ovals but not on superspeedways. An adjustable port is optional at all tracks.
“I noticed in the simulator that the aeroscreen affects the car’s balance at some tracks,” described Conor Daly, joining Ed Carpenter Racing for a partial 2020 season. “There’s no helmet buffering. We have to determine how much air is needed into the cockpit and the angle needed. It has to be effective at 75 mph, which are the speeds on a street course, compared to over 200 mph on a superspeedway. I prefer to sit a little higher in the seat.”
Several other drivers stated they would like to sit higher in the cockpit for better vision now that they don’t have to worry about interrupting the aerodynamic air flow over their heads without the aeroscreen.
“We are the only top-level racing series in the world with helmets completely exposed,” noted Jack Harvey, driving a full season for Meyer Shank Racing with an Andretti Autosport technical partnership. “We use to have air flowing around our helmets at 230 mph and now with the aeroscreen, it’s about 15 mph. That affects the air flow and cooling, which we will continue to adapt. As a driver we still need the visor (helmet).”
INDYCAR methodically tested the aeroscreen at a variety of tracks to fine tune its final version. Drivers Scott Dixon (Honda) and Will Power (Chevy) ran laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2, 2019. Then October 8, 2019, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud tested at the Barber Motorsports Park, a permanent road course, in wet conditions. October 15, 2019 there was a short oval test at Richmond (0.75-mile) with Dixon and Joseph Newgarden. And a final assessment was conducted on November 5, 2019 at Sebring International Raceway, representing a street course, with Sebastien Bourdais and Pato O’Ward.
“It’s been an intense project,” stated five-time champion Scott Dixon. “A lot of people have done their due diligence to get it to this point. We’ve gone through a bunch of configurations for cooling. There is a lot less load on the helmet. And, it’s a lot quieter in the cockpit. I can hear my radio for a change.”
Part two of the article explores more features of the latest safety feature in NTT IndyCar Series competition. You can read that by clicking here.
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