Aeroscreen: Newest layer of protection for IndyCar drivers

Big Race - Indy

INDIANAPOLIS (WDTN) – If you haven’t seen an IndyCar race since last year’s Indy 500, you’re in for a surprise when you tune in for the race this Sunday. You’ll likely notice the cars look a bit different.

From the very beginning in 1911, Indianapolis race cars have always been open wheel and open cockpit. In the early years, the driver was protected by only a pair of goggles and a leather helmet but as the speeds and danger grew, driver safety became a priority. This year, IndyCar introduced the new cockpit system, “Aeroscreen,” as the newest layer of protection.  

The loss in recent years of popular drivers Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson was the impetus for cockpit improvement in IndyCar and it did not take long for the Aeroscreen this season to already prove its worth.

Just last month at Iowa, Colton Herta’s car became airborne after hitting a slower car, landing on top of Rinus VeeKay before skidding to a stop.  After the race, the marks on VeeKay’s car showed just how well the Aeroscreen worked, likely saving the Dutch rookie from serious injury, or worse.

“Of course we’ve had some tragedy over the years that there’s no question, I think, the Aeroscreen would have perhaps prevented. It’s the right thing to do. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt badly and this is going to help,” said Bobby Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

J.R. Hildebrand of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing adds, “There’s a lot of risks that you understand and have some impact on that we’re willing to take, that’s why we come here. The exposure of your head in the car has proven over the years to be an uncontrolled risk, something that ends up becoming a huge problem every now and again and it’s not something…it’s just complete chance.”

But the Aeroscreen is designed to minimize that chance. The upper frame can withstand the impact of 34,000 pounds, or the weight of six pickup trucks. And ballistic testing on the screen showed it can withstand an IndyCar-like impact of 220 mph.

“It’s good to hop in the car and know you have it in front of you and beside you, gives you a sense of security, safety. That’s always good when you get in an IndyCar. If you don’t feel good in an IndyCar, usually it’s not going to end well so you’ve got to feel safe,” said Sage Karam with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

The Aeroscreen has also brought new challenges, like keeping the driver cool with the lack of air flow, and it changes the overall weight and aerodynamics of the car. But the drivers say that’s a small price to pay for the added safety and security.

“Functionally, as far as driving with it, visual, it’s pretty seamless. The cooling, I don’t think, is as big an issue here with the higher speeds, we get enough air now. But from a car setup standpoint, the additional weight, the aero effects, we’re still zeroing in on what the car needs,” said Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing.

Graham Rahal says, “It’s a little different on an oval like this, just, the aero wash, the side effects of it, but as far as driving the car there’s no issues. It’s warm as we’ve all talked about but no issues here. I think it’s nice to have that peace of mind knowing that you are that much safer behind there.”

Click here for more on the Indy 500.

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