New INDYCAR Aeroscreen A Quiet Success

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 4 2019
Scott Dixon gave a quiet thumbs up to INDYCAR’s new protective Aeroscreen after this week’s test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Once INDYCAR’s innovative Aeroscreen is implemented by all 2020 NTT IndyCar Series competitors, open-wheel racing’s next big thing might actually be bling, as in satellite radio? Rich Corinthian leather? Maybe even power steering.

Five-time series champion Scott Dixon facetiously suggested as much after his first on-track experience with the Aeroscreen at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Ultimately it’s just very quiet,” said Dixon, the Chip Ganassi Racing ace. “I can hear my radio for a change. Normally I can’t hear that. So that’s kind of nice.

“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.”

Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power _ both Indianapolis 500 winners _ combined to run nearly 650 incident-free miles around the iconic 2.5-mile oval on Wednesday. Power, the 2014 series champion, ran 129 laps with a top speed of 224.591 mph while Dixon completed 128 laps with a best of 224.501 mph. Neither reported issues with visibility, head buffeting or car-handling _ all positives for the device that will be fitted to all Chevrolet and Honda-powered entrants for the 2020 season.

An Aeroscreen-equiped Penske Indy car driven by Will Power cruises through at at turn at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We had pretty high expectations, and we’ve probably exceeded them already,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye said during a news conference midway through the day-long session. “I think it’s done everything we thought it would do and then some. Obviously, we’ve learned a lot. I think the most important thing is the foundation is right…and it’s been a very turn-key event, so we’re really proud of that.”

The Aeroscreen has been developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies to reduce the risk of driver injury from debris or other objects striking the cockpit area. The driver safety innovation encompassing the cockpit is comprised of a ballistic Aeroscreen anchored by titanium framework.

The RBAT design consists of a polycarbonate laminated screen that includes an anti-reflective coating on the interior of the screen, an anti-fogging device through an integral heating element and tear-offs, all of which will be produced by integrated third-party companies. Another feature for drivers will be a cockpit-cooling duct designed by Dallara using computational fluid dynamics.

The titanium framework mounts in three areas around the cockpit _ the chassis centerline, two rear side mounts and roll hoop integration to provide enhanced load-bearing capabilities. The load bearing is expected to be 150 kilonewtons (kN), which equals the FIA load for the Halo design currently used in Formula One. A kilonewton is equal to approximately 225 pounds.

The Aeroscreen is the second phase of INDYCAR’s objective to further enhance driver safety in its open-cockpit cars. INDYCAR debuted the Advanced Frontal Protection (AFP) device for the INDYCAR Grand Prix run May 10-11 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course and used throughout the season. The AFP is designed to deflect debris away from the cockpit area and the driver.

Dixon tested an Aeroscreen prototype on a simulator July 2 at the Dallara Research Center in Speedway, Ind. Dallara is an official INDYCAR supplier and partner in the Aeroscreen project.

“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 little things that need to be worked on.

“Yeah, you could race this weekend no problem. 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, noting there is room for configurations to be adjusted according to personal preferences. “But I think it’s spot-on. It’s good-to-go,” Dixon said. “We’d be the only two with it.”

Dixon added he experienced “a lot less load on the helmet” that he anticipated. “Visually, there’s been no (issue),” said Dixon, longest-tenured driver at CGR. “Some of the areas with tear-offs and where they seam in the middle will be sort of fixed down the road to make it better.”

Power said it took him a bit longer exiting his car fitted with the Aeroscreen. “It’s something you’ll practice a lot,” Power said. “You think about how many times you get in and out, you’ll get good at it. I’d rather have it around my head than worry about if it’s a struggle to get out because maybe someone will be pulling you out.”

Along those lines, Frye said the series’ AMR Safety Team has been fully involved in the development process. “Yes, they’ve already practiced, they’ve had the frame, the piece that they’re already practicing on,” Frye said. “They’re also practicing on if you had to take the thing completely off how quickly that could be done. It’s very quick at this point. We have some great tools to do it.

“Again, we’re really hoping that this creates…so you don’t have to extract anybody, right, it’s there to protect people. So again, like the whole thing that we’ve went through, there’s really no stone that’s been left unturned. They’ll get better as they go. There’s even parts of it that they think it’s better than the current car to help extract because you can lean on it. There’s eight inches in the front that they can lean on and it gives them leverage.

“Again, it’s just part of the process. We’ll get better every day. If this thing is at 80 percent when he hand it off to the teams, the teams will make it even better, the guys will get better. For the first day we’ve had this piece on the track, to run 600 miles, it’s a big day. It’s been a good day.”

Dixon suggested that drivers will need to climb into their cars a little earlier next season, as the strapping-in process requires an extra step. “It does take a little longer,” Dixon said. “But getting out was fine, actually.”

Power said the innovation was the “best of both worlds” in terms of driver cockpit safety. “You’ve got the halo and you’ve got a screen, so I think that you’ll see other open-wheel categories follow suit,” Power said. “When you’ve driven it for a day, you’re going to feel naked without it.”

Andy Damerum, Red Bull Racing’s Commercial Development Officer, was pleased by what he heard from the participants. “For me, today was all about the drivers’ feedback and seeing what their response was to the device because we knew it was going to work as far as from a structural perspective,” Damerum said. “We’ve still got a few more tests to do, some rig testing, but it’s all looking really good.”

INDYCAR has scheduled additional Aeroscreen tests at Barber Motorsports Park, a permanent road course in Birmingham, Ala., with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay on Oct. 7; Richmond Raceway, a short oval, with Dixon and two-time/reigning series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske on Oct. 15; and Sebring International Raceway, a road-course which can simulate a street circuit, with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan’s Sebastien Bourdais on Nov. 5.

Frye said at least one of the tests will be conducted in rainy, or simulated wet, conditions.

“They’ve got a heated screen for the fogging because I think that’s actually worse than the water on the screen,” Power said, answering a question about racing in the rain. ”But Rain-X or wax, there’s things you can make so it just beads off. That’s something they’ll have to test, but I think if it doesn’t fog, it should be not bad.”

Aeroscreens are scheduled to be delivered to all Series teams prior to Christmas.

“To me this is a total industry-changing driver safety solution,” Frye said. “So we couldn’t be more proud 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.” 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 4 2019
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