INDYCAR, in collaboration with Red Bull Advanced Technologies, staged its first on-track test of a revolutionary Aeroscreen on Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the officials and drivers involved couldn’t have been more pleased.
Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and 2014 series champion Will Power of Team Penske – both Indianapolis 500 winners – combined to run nearly 650 incident-free miles around the iconic 2.5-mile oval.
Power ran 129 laps at 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 Aeroscreen that will be fitted to all NTT IndyCar Series cars for the 2020 season.
“We had pretty high expectations, and we’ve probably exceeded them already,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye said. “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 the drivers will be a cockpit-cooling duct designed by Dallara using its 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.
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 a 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.”
“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’s been pretty much seamless.”
Dixon said he was surprised how quiet the cockpit is with the wind deflected. He said he could hear his team radio for the first time than ever before.
“There’s actually a lot less load on the helmet,” Dixon said. “Visually, there’s been no (issue). 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.”
Dixon and Power said they could have raced with the Aeroscreen this weekend, if necessary, and they are ecstatic INDYCAR, RBAT and others have taken these instrumental steps to further protect drivers.
“I'm so happy that we have it,” Power said. “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. 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, appreciated what he heard from the drivers.
“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,” he 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, with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay on Oct. 7; Richmond Raceway, a short oval, with Dixon and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden 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. Aeroscreens are to be delivered to all NTT IndyCar Series teams prior to Christmas.
“This is a total industry-changing driver safety solution, so we couldn’t be more proud of it,” Frye said. “This is, to me, a game changer – this is big. This is something that will really change the complexion of the sport for a long time to come.”