A closer look at INDYCAR’s Aeroscreen

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

INDIANAPOLIS – From a broader view, last Wednesday’s Aeroscreen test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was successful on all counts. It proved that INDYCAR is moving forward with the latest cockpit safety innovation that can greatly increase driver protection in the wake of several serious incidents that have taken place this decade.

The movement toward greater cockpit protection increased after Justin Wilson was killed when the nose cone from Sage Karam’s crashed race car hit him in the helmet in 2015 at Pocono Raceway. Driver Robert Wickens suffered serious injuries from a crash at Pocono at the start of the 2018 race but is making impressive progress from paralysis that saw him able to stand and dance at his wedding in Indianapolis on September 28.

Wickens injuries were caused by rapid deceleration when his car hit one of the fence posts after it was launched into the air when it ran over the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car. His helmet came dangerously close to hitting one of those poles, and that likely spared him from an even more serious head injury.

The INDYCAR Aeroscreen, which is a combination of a “Halo”-like structure used by Formula One with the added safety benefit of an aerospace-material, canopy-like windshield, could greatly reduce the danger involved with some of these crashes.

The INDYCAR Aeroscreen is a joint effort between INDYCAR, Red Bull Advance Technologies, Dallara, PPG Aerospace and Pankl.

“I’m really impressed how quickly it has come together and I can’t thank those guys enough because it is a big change in terms of safety,” Team Penske driver Will Power told NBC Sports.com last Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Power, along with five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon participated in last week’s tests.

Another test is set for Monday, October 7 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Next Tuesday, October 15, it will be tested on a short track for the first time at Richmond Raceway.

A final test is scheduled for 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.

For the drivers, they are confident INDYCAR is trying to make increase safety while keeping the competitive performance of the race car.

“It will certainly change the car,” driver Jack Harvey told NBC Sports.com. “That’s a lot of weight to put in extra in that one spot. It will be interesting to see how that changes. After that, I like the idea of the halo. The screen itself raises a few more questions.

“INDYCAR, has been so innovative and on the forefront of safety that we can trust their want and desire to make the cars safe. We just have to make sure we go in the direction that is best for everybody. The halo and the framework look pretty solid. If that is the route everyone wanted to go, I would be happy to go with that, for sure. It can be an unpopular conversation to talk to people about, but I love being here and I love IndyCar racing. We are trying to be as safe as we can be.

“I’m in.”

INDYCAR and its test drivers believe visibility factors will be addressed and corrected during the tests. Some of these issues include the material used for tear offs that will be placed on the outside of the Aeroscreen. These are similar to the tear offs that are currently used on the visor of the driver helmets that they tear off after they are covered with small bits of debris or fluid from another car.

The tear offs on a windscreen will be removed during pit stops.

“Visibility needs to be a primary factor, especially racing the speeds that we do,” Harvey said. “I haven’t driven it, so it would be wrong to pass any comment. I’ll speak to Josef Newgarden after he has driven it and Will Power and Scott Dixon after today. You have to take the experience of the guys in the series. The people testing it are multiple champions and Indy 500 winners. Being new to the series, I look to them for support.

“INDYCAR is so great and working with Dallara has been great making the cars as safe as possible. Everybody’s desire to see them as safe as can be is huge, not only to the drivers, but to their families. You can’t stop things from happen, but you can take solace and comfort into making things as safe as possible.”

Conor Daly is one driver, however, that isn’t sold on the Aeroscreen concept. He admits as an “old school” driver, it’s going to be a bit strange to be surrounded by an additional structure between himself and the race.

“I’m very curious,” Daly told NBC Sports.com. “I’m not a huge fan of the whole Aeroscreen thing because I like my air flow, but if they sort it out for safety, that’s really cool. As long as they go through testing, that’s awesome. They know what we as drivers are looking for and what we would like to see out of this program.

“(INDYCAR President) Jay Frye has done a great job and they hear our concerns, so we will see what happens.”

Many fans have been outspoken on how the screens change the look of the race car, but it’s hard to take those criticisms seriously if the device can save drivers from getting killed. There were also critics of the HANS Device when it was implemented in 2001 following NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt’s death, but when it became obvious the HANS Device eliminated the Basilar Skull Fractures, those criticisms quickly ended.

“It’s the evolution of the sport,” Andretti Autosport engineer Ray Gosselin told NBC Sports.com. “Things change over time. We can’t always have things the way we liked them 20 and 30 years ago. The sport has changed. Anything for safety, the sport is all for.

“It’s going to be a huge expense for the owners. They will get some help from INDYCAR on the initial ones, but in the end, it will still be a huge expense for the teams to do this. If it will help protect guys, that’s what we are all for. We have to do whatever it takes for safety. Hopefully, we don’t ruin things in the meantime.

“We like the way the racing is right now.”

The racing may change, though, and to what extent won’t be determined until all cars are on the track equipped with the extra weight from the Aeroscreen. Gosselin and other race engineers will have to factor that in when they devise speed setups on the race cars because the center of gravity, aerodynamic drag and downforce will be changed.

The downforce may actually be reduced because the airflow coming off the Aeroscreen may go well above the rear wing, rather than onto the wing. The rear wing helps keep the car stable and planted to the race track.

“We only have the additional aero numbers from Dallara; we don’t have anything final yet,” Gosselin explained. “We only have the target CG (center of gravity) height and Fore Aft CG changes so you can do some simulations based on that to recover your balance.

“But it’s a big unknown once you get it all together. And, once you get you get your aero and mechanical together, what is going to happen to the tires? They haven’t even gotten to the tire testing portion of this yet, so Firestone comes back with a tire that recovers the balance of those changes and you don’t have to do anything.

“We’ll find out Monday, too, when Ryan Hunter-Reay runs at Barber Motorsports Park. The track has been repaved and what tire is Firestone going to come out with to cope with changes in mass and CG with the Aeroscreen.

“Until we get to that stuff, it’s hard to say. Are we throwing all of our setups out the window? Are we keeping them? Are we tweaking them? I don’t know yet.”

The Aeroscreen may also “punch a bigger hole” in the air, and that could potentially bring back the draft to such tracks as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Before the current aerodynamic package entered competition in 2018, the previous configuration featured “rear pods” that created a large “wake” from the car in front. That meant drafting played a big role in the style of racing.

“A lot of people liked the style of racing we had from 2012 to 2017,” Gosselin said. “There was a lot of passing for the lead and a lot of passing throughout the pack. You were never really out of it. The racing we’ve had the last two years, you are really earning your spots to make one move.

“If you go back to Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud at the end of this year’s Indianapolis 500, if you go back two years, they would have swapped positions three or four more times in that last little restart?

“Will we go back to that? Will it punch that big of a hole in the air?

“We will find that out in testing.”

There are other areas that will need to be refined, such as improved airflow through ducts at the bottom of the Aeroscreen. Drivers admitted the inside of the cockpit will increase in temperature, and teams will find ways to cool the inside better airflow.

“We are trying some different stuff to stop helmet buffeting,” Power said. “We think we have fixed that. Driver cooling, we are trying to duct the air in the best way. So far, it’s been pretty good. No problems at all.

“It’s a pretty good day because you get a feel over the long run with really hot conditions and also how the cooling is for the driver.

“It doesn’t change the way the car drives; if anything, it feels more stable and better. The car felt pretty good out the box, but we want to see how it runs in traffic. It’s very early days with this thing, so it’s not like we want to run in the pack or anything.

“I think you would be fine too, actually. It’s pretty good.”

Another aspect is the higher screen changes the way drivers get in and out of the race cars. INDYCAR has addressed the safety aspect of that with its famed AMR Holmatro Safety Crew, which continues to practice getting drivers in and out of the configuration.

“I’m sure getting in and out of the car, you will get better at it,” Power said. “It’s something we will be practicing a lot.”

Frye has been a key figure in moving this project forward. He is confident teams will find ways to improve the look of the car.

And, the new screens, even create an additional sponsorship opportunity to the teams that previously didn’t exist with a true “open cockpit.”

“We will let them monetize the front of the screen so they can put sponsor logos on it,” Frye told NBC Sports.com.” We have looked at every part of this.

“Monetizing is a good thing. Economics matter. It will create a monetization opportunity.

“And most importantly, it’s safer.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
Align Media

Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury