By: Tanner Watkins
October 2, 2019 | 4:30 PM
In a historic day at the world’s most famous racecourse, INDYCAR put its latest iteration of driver head protection on display with a day-long test session from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Veteran drivers Scott Dixon and Will Power were on-hand to run the Dallara IR-18 through its paces with the new aeroscreen prototype affixed to the cockpit. The weather was warm – with no threat of rain in sight for a full day of action.
The aeroscreen version we saw today is what was unveiled during the Indianapolis 500 race weekend back in May – which harkens to more of a halo-type structure surrounded by plexiglass composed by PPG. Through collaboration between INDYCAR, Dallara, Red Bull Advanced Technologies, and PPG, the day’s test was considered a success by INDYCAR president Jay Frye.
“I think we certainly had very high expectations and probably exceeded them today already,” said Frye in an afternoon press conference. “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.”
It is clear that INDYCAR wanted to involve two of the most experienced drivers on the circuit in the next steps of the aeroscreen testing – especially given Dixon’s prior test history with the previous prototype at Phoenix last year.
Dixon had some interesting comments to add about the process, including the way the teams can control air movement in the cockpit, how he could finally hear his radio, and what it would be like to race without the aeroscreen now.
“Obviously a big thanks to INDYCAR and Red Bull Technologies and all the other partners. 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, and today has been pretty much seamless,” Dixon noted.
“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.
Dixon later added, “I think compared to just having your head exposed and all that wind and all the noise, it’s almost like you’re in a road car driving around. It’s extremely quiet. You hear the engine a lot more. It’s kind of weird actually. It felt very odd.
“I’d had the same likeness back when I tested it at Phoenix with the other version in the early days, but yeah, it feels odd, but it feels, as Will (Power) sort of touched on, extremely safe, and it would be very strange taking it off now.”
In the afternoon press meeting, Power did indeed have his own comments to share. The Team Penske driver was in support of the new device, calling it the best of both worlds despite some minor kinks in the line thus far.
“I’m so impressed with how quickly all this came together,” said Power. “You know, 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.
“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.”
This afternoon, Frye noted that an additional date will be added to the aeroscreen testing tour – this time at Sebring on November 5. That joins an October 7 date with Barber Motorsports Park (Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay) as well as the October 15 test at Richmond Raceway with Dixon and Josef Newgarden.
One additional question on everyone’s minds heading into the day was the impact the aeroscreen would have on speeds and car balance. From the driver’s perspective, the transition was not as daunting as they had previously expected.
“I think it was meant to be bigger than what we expected. Actually it was smaller than what I thought it was going to be. It was almost neutral,” noted Dixon. “If you were looking at Carb Day in this race, boost and all that kind of stuff, it’s pretty similar without a tow. I think we all expected it to be a bit slower, but it was actually pretty good.”
Added Power, “once you found the right configuration on top, actually the downforce and drag (were) pretty close.”
INDYCAR will not be releasing any lap times for this test, and lap times for any of the following tests aren’t expected to be made public either. But it seems that the teams have quickly gotten the cars back in a similar box they were in during May, and that is a positive given the conditions today.
More than anything, two grizzled veterans gave the aeroscreen their stamp of approval after hours of actual on-track testing. Despite the device’s aesthetics – which, granted, looks better from a profile view than head-on – it will be far safer for the drivers, and that is the overwhelming goal of the aeroscreen.
And if most of the drivers have a similar opinion to what Marco Andretti tweeted earlier this afternoon, then you can expect it on a racetrack near you in the immediate future.
To all the fans who think the @IndyCar windscreen doesn’t “look good”. Just remember.. it’s not your heads headed towards the fence. We welcome your responses in any other departments, though.— Marco Andretti (@MarcoAndretti) October 2, 2019
Header image by Christopher Owens/INDYCAR.