Challenges of INDYCAR’s New Aeroscreen

By: Mary Bignotti Mendez

After discussing some of the features and testing that went along in implanting it, we continue to explore the NTT IndyCar’s Series newest safety innovation in part two of the two-part series.

If you missed the first part of the series, you can read it by clicking here.

The new safety adaption affixed on top the open wheel cockpit of an Indy car may have mixed responses from fans. The aeroscreen makes the driver helmets harder to see. But the overall car appearance looks more exciting, akin to the cockpit of a fighter jet.

Drivers have practiced getting in and out of the cockpit with handles added to aid them. Getting out seems to be easier than getting in the car. But for the crew, changing foot pedals, seats, and steering column lengths, as was done at the Spring Training test to accommodate more than one driver, took a lot more time for the mechanics trying to access the interior.

Visibility and cooling are the remaining issues. The track was wet at COTA for the open test but drivers said that moisture on the screen clears better than it would from their visors without the aeroscreen. The screen has a coating product to bead water if it rains. To avoid fogging, there is a heating element incorporated and an anti-reflective coating on the interior of the screen. The screen prevents rain from falling on the drivers visor but it doesn’t stop rain from dripping over the lip into the cockpit.

Normally, drivers have tear-offs, sheets of plastic, that are removable to keep their visor view clean. The aeroscreen will have two sections for large tear-offs, which can be layered. But the more layers, the greater the distortion. During a race that has three pit stops, a driver could go through three tear-offs, which must be performed by a crew member. A 500-mile race may require six or more.

The NTT INDYCAR Series has modified pit stop procedures to allow a seventh person over the wall as an aeroscreen attendant. Rule 7.10.4 describes that this person may stand, sit, or wait behind the wall for the car to come to a complete stop before taking action. The attendant may only perform tasks as long as the rear wheels are elevated, limited to removing the aeroscreen tear-offs from each side of the car or wiping the screen clean. The attendant must keep control of the removed tear-offs.

“Adding an extra person into the mix is going to be a really tight fit when you have the front tire guy, the fueler, and rear tire guy all on the same side of the car,” said Paul Tracy, NBC’s broadcast color commentator. “If a tear-off were to fall on pit lane, it could cause an incident if run over because it could break traction of a car running down pit lane.”

The season opener at St. Petersburg’s temporary airport circuit will be the big test of implementing the aeroscreen in racing conditions. How is the seventh crewman going to reach both sides of the car in less than seven seconds? And what happens when the strategy calls for a short fill (of fuel) or tires only (five second stop)? It may turn out that only one tear-off side is removed. And keep in mind just how close a car leaving its pit box passes the crewmen over the wall servicing the car ahead.

The aeroscreen has been rumored to cost teams an extra $50,000 per unit. But the tear-offs could significantly add up when a set (pairs) of four costs over $400 that could easily be used up in one day. To apply tear-off layers, it can take a crew member about an hour but then the layers need time to settle and eliminate any air bubbles.

The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team has practiced their quick removal process of the aeroscreen should a driver need to be extracted. They aren’t the only department affected, with Firestone’s choice in rubber having to be changed.

“The aeroscreen will very much affect the tires we bring,” revealed Cara Adams, Firestone’s Director of Race Tire Engineering and Manufacturing. “The added weight moves the center of gravity forward. The tires work harder at the front of the car. We expect to find more changes at the ovals. Driver safety is number one and foremost.”

The weight of the aeroscreen is said to add 50 lbs. to the car and moves the center of gravity forward. INDYCAR has revised the minimum car weight from 1630 lbs. on road and street courses to 1700 lbs. (utilizes larger wings than on ovals), from 1620 lbs. on short ovals to 1690 lbs., and from 1590 lbs. on superspeedways to 1655 lbs. That will affect spring rates and dampers. Another effect of the aeroscreen is pushing air higher over the rear wings, resulting in reduced downforce.

“We are figuring out how much air we need into the helmet, into the cockpit, and the vision effects,” described Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner. “There’s more weight on the front of the car with the canopy. We need to understand how the balance of the car behaves with the aeroscreen. Do we need more front wing or less? What do we do with the suspension, run the car stiffer or softer? We have to check what’s more powerful.”

“The aeroscreen will change the risk to drivers. Its use may grow like mushrooms in other series.”

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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