INDIANAPOLIS — Ever since Justin Wilson’s death at Pocono Raceway in 2015, windscreens on race cars in the NTT IndyCar Series was an inevitability. Five years later, that inevitability becomes a reality.
In the midst of Carb Day festivities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar announced that Red Bull Advanced Technologies will develop a windscreen, dubbed the Aeroscreen (though IndyCar President Jay Frye implied during the announcement that a different name is coming) as a means to enhance driver cockpit protection. The Aeroscreen makes its debut in 2020.
“…we’ll have a prototype in probably 30 days, and we’ll have real pieces in another 60 days,” Frye said. “Get them on cars this summer to test, and then at some point we’re going into the off-season around November so we’ll have one for each entry.”
According to the press release announcement, it will be “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 possibly tear-offs…” It’ll be supported by a titanium framework, similar to the Halo design currently used in Formula 1.
Scott Dixon says the piece that comes down in front of the driver’s view is “something you won’t notice too much.”
“It’s very similar to the addition that we have right now as far as line of sight for the driver,” he said. “But I think it — until we get it into running conditions through the summer months, we’ll obviously pick up some differences. But I think this adds more to it. It’s structurally more sound. It is higher, creates obviously more room for error, as well. So I think it’s just a far better piece that has been improved from the original concept.
The “addition” that Dixon’s referring to is the Advanced Frontal Protection (AFP), the three-inch trapezoid placed just in front of the driver that’s designed to deflect debris, such as tires, away from a drivers head.
What happens to the AFP in 2020?
“The AFP device comes off, and the frame for this screen just bolts on to it, so it’s in the same spot,” Frye said. “So that’s already been done. So the cars are already equipped to take on this frame by taking off the AFP device.”
The Aeroscreen — in development since 2016, as Red Bull was working with the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) — is similar in design to those tested in 2016 at ISM (Phoenix) Raceway. The proposed design, however, is taller in the rear to provide greater protection to the drivers head.
“So part of our work has been to study previous crashes in the IndyCar Series and to detect where the helmet position was during those crashes,” said Ed Collings, Red Bull Advanced Technologies head of composites and structures. “One of the important parts of our design is that we don’t put a very rigid structure in a position where the helmet could make contact in a high-G instant. So in order to deliver that, we’ve created an exclusion zone where this device, this protection system does not come into — doesn’t enter that zone so it wouldn’t impede the driver’s head. So it’s important that we haven’t introduced any compromises by adding this assembly on to the car.”
Unlike the windscreen tested in 2016, this design might produce a little drag on the cars. While IndyCar will test to see if that difference can be mitigated, the safety value outweighs the drag factor.
While it deviates a ways away from the “traditional open cockpit look” that’s a hallmark of open-wheel racing, aesthetics were taken into consideration and IndyCar thought Red Bull’s design “looked very cool.”
“Remember when we did this car a couple years ago, we would put out sketches of the car to the fans to see what their opinion was, and then we’d put out a rendering of the car, so this car, remember we kind of reverse-engineered it where we did esthetics first and the performance was second,” Frye said. “So obviously we put all that effort into the aero kit, so we wanted to make sure the screen matched that, and they’ve done a phenomenal job. It looks, I think you see, it has a fighter jet kind of look to it, so we’re excited about that.”
The designing of a windscreen came as a result of Wilson’s death at Pocono in 2015, when he was struck in the head by a nose cone that came off Sage Karam’s wrecked car.