NTT INDYCAR Series
IndyCar Advances Driver Safety with Windscreen
In its efforts to continually improve driver safety, members of the Verizon IndyCar Series have been working on a type of windscreen to protect the exposed driver’s head in the open cockpit. No other racing series requires such a versatile car that can be competitive on both road and street courses and yet still protect the driver by withstanding high–speed impacts on ovals.
IndyCar tested their windscreen prototype at ISM Raceway, the 1.0-mile oval located west of Phoenix with four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon at the wheel under different lighting conditions on February 8. At issue was the driver’s visibility.
“We came here and had a plan to test in daylight, dusk, and dark,” explained Jay Frye, IndyCar’s President of Competition and Operations. “If any of those runs had not gone well, we probably couldn’t have continued. The tests all went as well or better than expected.
“Today was mainly about optics. It’s been in the simulator and wind tunnel, but until you actually put it on a real car with a real driver, there is still that element of the unknown.”
Several curious IndyCar drivers observed Dixon during the test and are in favor of the extra protection. None of them have experienced this type of screen, such as the very similar windshield used by Patrick Racing in the 1981 Indianapolis 500. But at that time, its purpose was for aerodynamic efficiency moving the air over the driver’s head rather than for protection.
“It’s always exciting to do the test and have it be successful,” stated Jeff Horton, IndyCar’s Director of Engineering and Safety. “We’ve had many non-successful things over the years, but we just keep working on it until we find a solution.”
The windscreen concept has been worked on for the last two years and has become a reality thanks to the help of PPG’s Aerospace facility located in Huntsville, AL, utilizing their new Opticor™ product. The screen is 0.4 inches thick and angled at 25 degrees.
Dixon immediately became aware of how much quieter it was in the car using the windscreen. But it also became much warmer in the cockpit with the wind being deflected over the driver’s head. While these characteristics were expected, now that the visibility has been acceptable, adjustments can be made.
“The car does feel a little different,” described Dixon. “The sound – there is no air going through the car – so it felt quite strange, almost like you are in a capsule. But those things you’ll get use to quite quickly. I think they’ll make some additions, especially for cooling, which will be an easy fix. There was some speculation about an aero screen or a halo. But a halo would not work for us driving on banked tracks. Your sight line would be blocked quite a bit.”
Drivers will also have to adjust the way they climb in and out of the cockpit to angle around the windscreen.
While this windscreen test was successful, it is still the prototype. There are still fine-tuning efforts needed in addition to testing it on both road and street courses, involving other drivers, and putting it through ballistic and crash testing. The final version could be a season away. And, IndyCar has already taken into account the added weight of the windscreen by increasing the current universal aero kit car’s minimum weight.
“From an aesthetic standpoint, it looks great,” said Josef Newgarden, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar champion, driving his second season for Team Penske. “IndyCar has taken their time and didn’t just slap something together. This has been in the works for two years. One of our partners, PPG, has been heavily involved in developing the screen. The visor cam didn’t have much distortion. We didn’t drive it, but just from the views you can see, it looks fantastic.”
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