INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens

INDYCAR ushers in ‘Aeroscreen Era’ with Indianapolis Motor Speedway test

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INDIANAPOLIS – INDYCAR has the throttle down as it races full speed ahead into the “Aeroscreen Era.”

Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon and 2014 IndyCar Series champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power tested a new “Aeroscreen” that incorporates concepts of the Formula One “Halo” along with a clear protective Plexiglass screen. Wednesday’s all-day test was at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of the annual Indianapolis 500.

The innovative design was created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies of Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. That company is part of Red Bull’s Formula One team, which worked on a Formula One “Halo” of its own in 2016.

Although Formula One chose a different design for its driver protection, INDYCAR President Jay Frye contacted Red Bull Racing Formula One team principal Christian Horner. Frye knew Horner from the days when Frye managed Red Bull’s NASCAR team from 2008 to 2011.

Horner agreed to work on the project and turned it over to Andy Damerum, the business development engineer of Red Bull Advanced Technologies, earlier this year.

INDYCAR and Red Bull Technologies announced the concept on Carb Day at this year’s Indianapolis 500 on May 24.

On a hot and sunny day on October 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that was more reminiscent of Indy 500 Race Day than an Autumn afternoon in the Midwest, the “Aeroscreen Era” was ushered in with an all-day test session at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“To me, this is a total industry-changing driver safety solution,” Frye told NBC Sports.com Wednesday. “We couldn’t be prouder of this. This to me is a game changer. This is big.

“The aero kit was obviously very cool. We got our identity back. We like the way it races, all that type of stuff, less downforce, more horsepower, that’s the direction, that’s all good. But I think this is something that will really change the complexion of the sport for a long time to come, so this is big.”

The key to this system is it takes two different components and creates a safety-redundant system to protect the driver from debris.

“It’s been a great project to work on from Red Bull Advanced Technologies side with all the partners that we’ve been working with on this,” Damerum said. “I’m really proud to see the device on the car. Getting together over the last week has been I’d say relatively faultless.

“I’m really pleased with the outcome.”

The necessity for such a protection device came after IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson was killed when the nose cone off Sage Karam’s crashed race car hit him in the helmet at Pocono Raceway on August 23, 2015. He died the following day.

Last year at Pocono, Robert Wickens was involved in a massive crash in Turn 2 that launched his car into the catchfence. Wickens suffered paralysis from the waist down, but was able to stand, and even dance, at his wedding in Indianapolis this past Saturday.

As INDYCAR President, Frye made it a priority to devise a protection device that would minimize serious injuries in the future.

“I think we certainly had very high expectations and probably exceeded them today,” Frye said during a break in the test session. “We’ve run almost 600 miles to this point, and we’ve still got a couple more runs to go, so I think it’s done everything we thought it would do and then some.

“Obviously we’ve learned a lot. Scott and Will have been phenomenal to work with. The teams have been phenomenal to work with. We’ve got a little work to do, but I think the foundation is really there and really set. So, we’re quite excited about what we’ve seen today.”

Dixon has worked on the Dallara Simulator that was equipped with the INDYCAR “Aeroscreen” recently, but Wednesday’s laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway provided him with “real time” feedback.

“I think it’s been an intense project and one that I think a lot of people have done their due diligence on to get it to this point,” Dixon said. “Today has been pretty much seamless. We went through a bunch of configurations for cooling and where we can kind of push the air to control the helmet and how it feels and how much pressure you have there.

“Ultimately it’s just very quiet. I can hear my radio for a change. Normally I can’t hear that. So that’s kind of nice.

“There’s actually a lot less load on the helmet, too, so visually there’s been really no impairment. I think some of the areas with tear-offs and stuff and where they seam in the middle will be sort of fixed kind of down the road, too, to make it even better. But ultimately, I think today we’ve just run through a long list of projects that we needed to get through.

“It’s been pretty seamless.”

Power offered his thoughts on the Aeroscreen and how he believes the windshield combined with the elements of a Halo would provide tremendous protection.

“I’m so impressed with how quickly all this came together,” Power said. “To have the first run in and really no major issues, it’s just like Scott said, the tear-offs are obviously something they’re going to work on, how they fit and glare on the inside with what paint you put on and such. But the vision is fine. There’s no problem doing a stint with bugs and such that get on the screen.

“It’s just little things that need to be worked on that it’s honestly — I’m so happy that we have it. It’s really a huge step in safety, and I think it’s the best of both worlds. You’ve got the halo and you’ve got a screen, so I think that you’ll see other open-wheel categories follow suit because there’s just — you think about it, when you’ve driven it for a day, you’re going to feel naked without it. If you took it off, you’d feel pretty naked because there’s not much protection there. So, very happy that we’re moving ahead with it.”

The two drivers were so impressed with the first run with the Aeroscreen, they would be confident to enter a race with it this weekend if possible. Before that happens, however, there will be more testing including next Monday at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama; October 15 at Richmond Raceway and November 2 at Sebring International Raceway.

After those tests are completed, it is expected to be approved for all races beginning with the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season.

“You could race this weekend, no problem,” Power told NBC Sports.com. “You could do that. That wouldn’t be an issue. That shows what good of a job they’ve done just bolting it straight on. So that’s what you get when you work with the best people in the game like Red Bull Technologies and obviously IndyCar, as well, and all the partners involved. You get a product like this, which is pretty seamless, you know, straight in.”

Dixon agreed with Power’s assessment.

“I think as we’ve been working on it today, there’s some configurations that you could adjust, and those might be personal things, as well, but I think it’s spot on,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to go.

“But we’d be the only two with it. I think there’s only two of them so far.”

More will be made after INDYCAR goes over the testing data and makes some changes to improve airflow and cooling.

Meantime, it’s full speed ahead for INDYCAR into what it believes will be a safer future.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

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Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”