A closer look at INDYCAR’s Aeroscreen

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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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 

2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Schedule, TV info, start times, entry lists, notable drivers, more

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The new year brings the start of a new era for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, which will open the 2023 schedule with the 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

A new premier class for prototypes is the overriding story entering the 24-hour endurance race that unofficially kicks off the major-league racing season.

The new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars of the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) top category will re-establish a bridge to the 24 Hours of Le Mans while bringing a new layer of engine electrification to IMSA.

With at least a few of the cars on the grid at Daytona also slated to race at Le Mans in June, it’s possible for the first time in decades (since the “Ford vs. Ferrari” battles) to have the same car win the overall title at Daytona and Le Mans.

The GTP category will feature four manufacturers, two of which are new to IMSA’s premier division. Porsche Motorsport (with Team Penske) and BMW (with Rahal Letterman Lanigan) will be fielding LMDh prototypes, joining (now-defunct) DPi category holdovers Acura (Meyer Shank Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing) and Cadillac (Chip Ganassi Racing, Action Express Racing).

Here’s what else you need to know ahead of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener Jan. 29-30 at Daytona International Speedway:


NOTABLE DRIVER ADDITIONS 

The Rolex 24 will feature 10 active drivers from the NTT IndyCar Series, including the IMSA debuts of Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who will be teamed in an LMP2 entry (teammate Will Power unfortunately had to withdraw from this debut).

Colton Herta will move into the GTP category with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud return with Meyer Shank Racing to defend their overall 2022 Rolex 24 victory. Scott Dixon also returns in the premier category with Chip Ganassi Racing for his 20th Rolex 24 start and third consecutive in the No. 01 Cadillac.

Other IndyCar drivers in the field: Romain Grosjean will make his debut in GTD Pro with Iron Lynx Racing (as a precursor to driving a GTP Lamborghini next year); Devlin DeFrancesco (Rick Ware Racing) and Rinus VeeKay (TDS Racing) are in LMP2; and Kyle Kirkwood will return in GTD with Vasser Sullivan.

Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric also will return, teaming with DeFrancesco in an LMP2 entry for Rick Ware Racing.


CAR COUNT

The Rolex 24 field was capped at 61 cars, matching last year’s field (which was the largest since 2014). The field was capped because of the space limitations for the LMDh cars of GTP in the pits and garages.

Click here for the official 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona entry list.


STARTING LINEUP

Tom Blomqvist captured the first pole position of the GTP era, qualifying defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing in first with the No. 60 ARX-06 Acura that he shares with Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

The No. 7 Porsche 963 of Porsche Penske Motorsports will start second.

Click here for the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona starting lineup


RACE BROADCAST

The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona will be streamed across the NBC Sports AppNBCSports.com and Peacock, which will have coverage of the event from flag to flag.

Broadcast coverage of the race coverage will begin Saturday, Jan. 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC and move to USA Network from 2:30-8 p.m. and then will be exclusively on Peacock and IMSA.TV from 8-10 p.m. Coverage will return to USA Network from 10 p.m. to midnight and then move to Peacock/IMSA.TV until 6 a.m.

From 6 a.m. until noon on Sunday, Jan. 29, Rolex 24 coverage will be available on USA Network. The conclusion of the Rolex 24 will run from noon through 2 p.m. on NBC.

HOW TO WATCH IMSA ON NBC SPORTS: Broadcast schedule for 2023

Other events that will be streamed on Peacock from Daytona during January (all times ET):

Jan. 21: IMSA VP Racing Sports Car Challenge, 2:05 p.m.

Jan. 22: IMSA VP Racing Sports Car Challenge, 12:20 p.m.

Jan. 22: IMSA Rolex 24 qualifying, 1:25 p.m.

Jan. 27: BMW Endurance Michelin Pilot Challenge, 1:45 p.m.


ROLEX 24 COVERAGE FROM NBC SPORTS

Wayne Taylor Racing takes a step up to the next level with Andretti Autosport

Austin Cindric seeks to join legendary club of Rolex 24-Daytona 500 winners

Helio Castroneves recalls “Days of Thunder” moment in 2022 Rolex 24 victory

The “Bus Bros” tackle the “Bus Stop” for Rolex 24 at Daytona debuts

Romain Grosjean adds Rolex 24 at Daytona to his crown jewel career

Tom Blomqvist beats the clock to win Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position

GTP cars make debut in “Gymkhana”-level traffic

Five things to watch in the new GTP class as a golden era of sports cars returns

Cadillac unveils paint schemes for LMDh cars

Austin Cindric, Devlin DeFrancesco, Pietro Fittipaldi teaming up in LMP2

IndyCar drivers in the 61st Rolex 24


ROLEX 24 DAILY SCHEDULE, START TIMES

Here’s a rundown of everything happening at Daytona International Speedway over the last two weeks in January, starting with the Roar test session. Rolex 24 start times and full schedule:

Wednesday, Jan. 18

7 a.m.: GTP garages open

4 p.m.: Non-GTP garages open

4 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship haulers load-in (park only)

6:30 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Thursday, Jan. 19

7 a.m.: Garages, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship haulers open

8:30 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection

10 a.m.: Rolex 24 Media Day

2 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge driver and team manager briefing

3 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver and team manager briefing

5:15 p.m.: Track walk

7:30 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Friday, Jan. 20

7 a.m.: Garages open

8:45-9:15 a.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge practice

9:30-10:45 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

1:45-2:15 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge practice

2:30-4 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

4:15-6 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice (GTD/LMP3/LMP2 4:15-5:45; 4:30-6: GTD Pro, GTP)

8 p.m.: Non-GTP garages close

9:30 p.m.: GTP garages close

Saturday, Jan. 21

7 a.m.: Garages open

8:40-9:15 a.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge qualifying

9:30-11 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

2:05-2:50 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Race 1 (streaming on Peacock)

3:10 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

4:30-5:30 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

6:30-8:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

10 p.m.: Garages close

Sunday, Jan. 22

7 a.m.: Garages open

10:15-11:15 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

12:20-1:05 p.m.: VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Race 2 (streaming on Peacock)

1:25-3 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Rolex 24 qualifying (streaming on Peacock)

8:30 p.m.: Garages close

Wednesday, Jan. 25

6 a.m.: Garages open

7:30-10 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection, non-GTP

8 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 load-in

10-11:30 a.m.: Track walk

10 a.m.-noon: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship car photos

11:30 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge team manager briefing

Noon: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team manager briefing

12:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship new driver briefing

Noon-2 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety and technical inspection, non-GTP

1:45-2:30 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

2:45-3:45 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

2:30-7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship safety inspection, GTP only

4-5:30 p.m.: Track walk

6:45 p.m.: Garages close

Thursday, Jan. 26

7 a.m.: Garages open

9-9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

9:45-10:45 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

11:05 a.m.-12:35 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:55-1:10 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 qualifying

2:25-3 p.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge qualifying

3:20-5:05 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice (3:20-5:05: GTD, LMP3, LMP2; 3:35-5:05: GTD Pro, GTP)

5:30-6:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

7:15-9 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

10:15 p.m.: Garages close

Friday, Jan. 27

7 a.m.: Garages open

9:25-9:55 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

10:15-11 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:30 a.m.: Michelin Pilot Challenge driver and team manager briefing

11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

1:45-5:45 p.m.: BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona (Michelin Pilot Challenge; streaming on Peacock)

8:45 p.m.: Garages close

Saturday, Jan. 28

6:30 a.m.: Garages open

9:45 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver and team manager briefing

12:30-12:40 p.m.: Rolex 24 engine warmup

1:30-1:40 p.m.: Rolex 24 formation laps

1:40 p.m.: The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona (starting on NBC; streaming flag to flag on Peacock)

Sunday, Jan. 29

1:40 p.m.: Finish of the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona

7:30 p.m.: Garages close