INDIANAPOLIS – History was made on Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On a day that featured record warmth in the circle city, the NTT IndyCar Series conducted their first on track test for the new Aeroscreen which will debut for the 2020 season.
It was a perfect day to test out everything that they needed to see for this new safety device. Temperatures were closer to that of May than they would be for October. That’s good for data collecting.
See, while social media endured a storm of fans criticizing the visual appearance of the Aeroscreen, this was just the debut of a prototype. The only reason why just Scott Dixon and Will Power took to the famed 2.5-mile track, and not more drivers, was because they only have two devices on hand. That’s also only because there’s no reason for the series to have any more made when they know that there likely will be changes made following the other two upcoming tests at Barber and Richmond.
Why pay a ton of money to order at least a dozen when changes will likely come?
But, after over 600 miles of testing action on a sun drenched day in Indianapolis, it doesn’t sound like many changes will need to be made.
“Well, I think we certainly had very high expectations and probably exceeded them today already,” Frye said on Wednesday afternoon from IMS. “We’ve run almost 600 miles to this point, and we’ve still got a couple more runs to go, so I think it’s done everything we thought it would do and then some. Obviously we’ve learned a lot. Scott (Dixon) and Will (Power) have been phenomenal to work with. The teams have been phenomenal to work with. We’ve got a little work to do, but I think the foundation is really there and really set. So we’re quite excited about what we’ve seen today.
Dixon and Power both seemed comfortable in their cars, so much so, both said that they would race this device as soon as this weekend if needed.
“Yeah, you could race this weekend no problem,” Power said. “You could do that. That wouldn’t be an issue. So you know, that shows how well they’ve — what good of a job they’ve done just bolting it straight on. So that’s what you get when you work with the best people in the game.”
“Yeah, totally agree,” said the five-time series champion. “I think as we’ve been working on it today, there’s some configurations that you could adjust, and those might be personal things, as well, but I think it’s spot on. It’s good to go.”
The biggest thing that both took away from this test is just how quiet it is in the cockpit now. When you’re used to having air coming at you with a wide open cockpit, to not have any air coming anymore makes things vastly different.
“We went through a bunch of configurations for cooling and where we can kind of push the air to control the helmet and how it feels and how much pressure you have there,” Dixon said on the difference in the race car now compared to this past season. “Ultimately it’s just very quiet. I can hear my radio for a change. Normally I can’t hear that. So that’s kind of nice.
“It’s just super quiet. I think compared to just having your head exposed and all that wind and all the noise, it’s almost like you’re in a road car driving around. It’s extremely quiet. You hear the engine a lot more. It’s kind of weird actually. It felt very odd.
“I’d had the same likeness back when I tested it at Phoenix with the other version in the early days, but yeah, it feels odd, but it feels, as Will sort of touched on, extremely safe, and it would be very strange taking it off now.”
“But yeah, there’s actually a lot less load on the helmet, too, so visually there’s been really no impairment. I think some of the areas with tear-offs and stuff and where they seam in the middle will be sort of fixed kind of down the road, too, to make it even better. But ultimately I think today we’ve just run through a long list of projects that we needed to get through, but ultimately it’s been pretty seamless.”
In terms of setup changes with an extra 50 points added to the front of the car now, neither driver noticed anything much different than racing here this past May. They thought they would, but the drag wasn’t much different once tweaks were made.
In terms of the aesthetics of it, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. But, now that I was here on site to witness it, you really can’t tell the device is even there at speed. That’s with this thing being painted black. Once the teams get the final product this winter, they can have this device painted to team colors which will really help the Aeroscreen blend in.
Power says that this device is a game changer.
“Yeah, it’s just little things that need to be worked on that it’s honestly — I’m so happy that we have it,” said the 2018 Indy 500 champion. “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 because there’s just — you think about it, when you’ve driven it for a day, you’re going to feel naked without it. If you took it off, you’d feel pretty naked because there’s not much protection there. So very happy that we’re moving ahead with it.”
Frye echoed Power’s sentiments.
“To me this is a total industry-changing driver safety solution. So we couldn’t be more proud of this. This to me is a game changer. This is big. The aero kit was obviously very cool. We got our identity back. We like the way it races, all that type of stuff, less downforce, more horsepower, that’s the direction, that’s all good. But I think this is something that will really change the complexion of the sport for a long time to come, so this is big.”
Power, also noted that this device could even prolong racing career in a sense that the fear of getting tragically hurt in an open wheel, open cockpit race car diminishes.
“Actually, yes, I do think it would prolong a career, make you feel a little safer for sure, yeah, a lot safer. I can remember a couple of times in the last five years on a superspeedway, there had been a big crash — actually Scott’s was one of them, and I actually went like that with my arm, not that that’s going to stop anything, it’s going to kill you. But that’s how much stuff you see flying towards your head and how lucky you really get to get through all that stuff. Any time you’re on a superspeedway and there’s a big crash, it’s just luck really to me. It’s just a matter of time until someone got caught again. So yes, having a family and all that, you probably won’t think about retiring quite so soon.”