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

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
1 Comment

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 

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
1 Comment

With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”