IndyCar introduced its aeroscreen during the 2020 IndyCar season after extensive development and with much fanfare. The introduction of new technology into any motorsport series comes with strengths and weaknesses, and the aeroscreen is no exception.
With two months of the season in the books, let’s look closer at the aeroscreen, the positives it’s brought to the NTT IndyCar Series, and the places where it could still improve in the remainder of the year.
What Is IndyCar’s Aeroscreen?
Open-wheel racing series around the world have been looking for effective head protection technologies after several drivers—including Jules Bianchi in Formula One and Justin Wilson in IndyCar—suffered fatal head injuries. While some series have been opposed to completely enclosing the cockpit or even mostly screening it in, IndyCar opted to implement the aeroscreen, which is essentially a reinforced windshield.
The aeroscreen was designed in a partnership between IndyCar and Red Bull Advanced Technologies that, according to IndyCar’s website, is made of a “ballistic, canopy-like windscreen anchored by [a] titanium framework that encompasses the cockpit.” The frame itself can withstand 34,000 pounds of static weight, while the screen itself can withstand the impact of a two-pound object striking it at more than 220 miles per hour.
A lot of consideration went into ensuring that the aeroscreen would not impede visibility, which was a significant problem during some of the first tests with the initial prototype. The result has been the implementation of a heating device to prevent fogging, an anti-reflective coating to the inside of the screen, and the addition of up to eight tear-offs that collect dirt and can be removed during pit stops.
When the aeroscreen was introduced, there were two main criticisms: it would obstruct the driver’s vision and it would be far hotter than normal due to reduced airflow. And while the glare and fisheye effect of the screen have both been nullified, excessive heat has come to play a big role during this summer’s races.
The new aeroscreen has tried to adjust by adding vents under the edge of the windscreen that direct air at the driver’s body, the angle of which can be altered depending on driver height and preferences. Additional vents have been added to the nose of the car to direct some air to a driver’s legs. There is also an air inlet that pipes air directly into the driver’s helmet.
Those tweaks have been helpful, but there’s still a significant air flow problem. Conor Daly reported losing 10 to 12 pounds after a race, while others like Colton Herta have suffered problems with either the helmet’s air inlet or the water bag inside the car. In Herta’s case, he got no water at all. But at the first event in Texas Motor Speedway, the water pouch’s location near the radiators turned the water “hotter than tea” according to Patricio O’Ward.
In response to the high cockpit temperatures, IndyCar has added a second side-mounted cooling duct and charged teams with testing out a top-mounted cooling scoop that angles air down into the cockpit from the top of the screen during weekend practice sessions. Drinking systems have been relocated to prevent them from growing so hot, and IndyCar has allowed each team’s aeroscreen pit stop attendant to provide the driver with a drink bottle during stops to preserve the amount of water in the driver’s drink pouch.
The cooling scoop has had mixed responses, with Ryan Hunter-Reay praising the added air flow while also noting that the scoop channels debris into the cockpit that would otherwise not be there. Other drivers haven’t noticed a significant cooling impact, so heat still remains a problem with the aeroscreen.
I lost north of 12lbs in the race today. It was HOT in the wagon. Really brutal temps. Heart rate lower on road courses but more difficult with the heat I thought. Felt great after Texas. Was feeling ROUGH after today. #IndyGP pic.twitter.com/PsdliX0dOs
— Conor Daly (@ConorDaly22) July 4, 2020
There are some obvious positives about the IndyCar aeroscreen, most notably the fact that it is designed to protect drivers from some of the worst accidents possible in open-wheel racing.
The safety aspect of the aeroscreen makes the teething process worth it, and the first of the 2020 Iowa IndyCar 250s proved exactly why. Will Power had a nasty crash where his wheel came loose and ricocheted into the aeroscreen. Herta essentially drove his entire car over that of Rinus VeeKay, and the aeroscreen prevented Veekay’s head from grazing the underside of Herta’s Honda. A piece of debris launched from the crash and struck Marcus Ericsson’s aeroscreen. Within less than a half an hour, three drivers escaped serious injury thanks to the aeroscreen.
And based on the response to the heat issue so far, it’s clear that IndyCar is willing to take driver criticism and make rapid changes. While the aeroscreen will likely require tweaks all season long, it’s incredibly promising that changes are being made so promptly.
While fans may have differing opinions about the aesthetics of the aeroscreen, there’s also one advantage in that respect: the screens include an inset camera that faces the cockpit and gives viewers an unprecedented view of the drivers. Fans can watch, for the first time, a driver’s helmet as he tackles the difficult twists and turns of road courses and the high G-forces of ovals.
Whether you like its looks or not, the aeroscreen is here to stay. At the very least, fans can rest easy knowing IndyCar is taking criticism seriously and keeping its drivers safe.
The 2020 IndyCar season continues Sunday, Aug. 9 with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, OH. TV information is TBA.