Photo by Bruce Martin
Photo by Bruce Martin

Defending Indy 500 winner Will Power approves of INDYCAR’s latest safety advancement

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INDIANAPOLIS – As defending Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power was hitting the throttle of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet in Wednesday’s “Open Test” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this year’s Indy 500, directly in front of him was a three-inch piece of titanium, just a few inches in front of the steering wheel.

Power barely noticed it.

“Anything they put to protect a driver’s head is a good thing,” Power said. “You notice it there, but you need to be at top speed, following cars to really know for sure.

“The ‘Halo’ they use in Formula One is much bigger and obviously higher. Believe me, you are going to want it there if a piece of debris hits that. It’s worth it, in that respect.”

All 29 cars on the track for Wednesday’s open test were equipped with the Advanced Frontal Protection (AFP), the latest safety advancement in cockpit safety.

The AFP will be used for the rest of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, including the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

Wednesday’s rain-interrupted session was the first time the AFP has been used on the track. The AFP is made of titanium by IndyCar chassis manufacturer, Dallara. That company introduced the AFP to INDYCAR in January as the series continues to test a protective windscreen that can withstand high impacts from debris.

The concept of the AFP began in 2012 and the current AFP has been subjected to, and passed, the same loads as the roll hoop.

Bolts included, the AFP weighs just 2.8 pounds and reinforcements to the monocoque weight 2.1 pounds. It costs $5,000 per AFP.

It’s the next step in safety, and to a driver such as Team Penske’s Power, it is very important. Power has been involved in several serious crashes during his career.

“It’s the luck of the game, man,” Power told NBC Sports.com. “When you have a car crash in front of you on a superspeedway, the amount of stuff that goes flying, man, it’s really the luck of the draw whether it hits you.

“The windscreen can’t come soon enough. INDYCAR is constantly working on ways to make it safer. You have to hand it to INDYCAR President Jay Frye, he gets after it in terms of safety and is really, really good.”

Photo by Bruce Martin

Frye gave an overview of the new device before Wednesday’s testing began at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. He said the AFP was considered after testing results of the windscreen did not meet INDYCAR’s wishes.

While that program continues to be developed, the AFP serves as another safety device to help the drivers and teams in debris situations.

“We’re worked really hard the last couple of years to come up with a solution,” Frye said. “This is Phase One of that solution. Phase Two will be announced sometime in May. This is the first piece of that process.

“This process began in 2012 and we resurrected it. We were confident of what this piece can do, so we were able to get it on the car now.”

The AFP is designed to deflect the flying debris over the head of a driver.

“We work on safety every day and this is the latest piece of that,” Frye said.

Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon tested the new device on a simulator to helped give the drivers an idea of how it affects the driver’s vision.

“After today, the drivers will get more used to it in their line of vision,” Frye said. “Scott said it didn’t bother him. This is narrower than the F1 Halo. By their second time out today, they won’t even notice it is there.

“Scott didn’t even notice it when we did the testing on the simulator. It was important we had him do this because we had him run the windscreen in Phoenix. We put some different devices in front of him and he thought it was fine.”

Photo by Bruce MartinAccording to Tino Belli, INDYCAR Director of Aerodynamic Development, the height of the device was determined by simulator results.

As for the windscreen, Frye said a new evolution of that technology continues to be tested and he is pleased with the results so far. He hopes to give more information on that in May.

“We are doing this to help the drivers, so it’s a good thing,” Frye said. “The new piece we are working on for the next phase is for 2020. We feel good where we are at in that process.”

This device could have helped save James Hinchcliffe from a concussion when he was hit by a piece of the wing from Justin Wilson’s car in the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014.

“We think this would have helped that a lot,” Frye told NBC Sports.com. “That’s all we can do. It would have been a better outcome in that instance.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.