The biggest change to IndyCar in 2020, other than a coronavirus-altered schedule, has been the addition of the new driver-protecting Aeroscreen to each of the race cars. On Friday night at Iowa Speedway,the Aeroscreen got it first real tests in a pair of potentially horrible crashes; happily, the new safety feature passed with flying colors.
The Aeroscreen was developed last year for IndyCar by Red Bull Advanced Technologies. The engineering consultancy of the championship-winning Formula 1 team originally proposed something similar for F1 in 2016, but that was rejected in favor of the Halo device—the bit that looks like a flip-flop strap—that we’ve seen on other open-wheel, open-cockpit race cars over the past few years.
The Aeroscreen refines the two ideas. There’s a titanium frame made by Pankl, bonded into the carbon-fiber monocoque around the car’s cockpit, that weighs 28.7lbs (13kg) and can withstand a load of 34,000lbs (15,422kg). This is enveloped by a laminated polycarbonate ballistic windscreen made by PPG that weighs 17.3lbs (7.8kg), capable of withstanding the hit from a 2lb (0.9kg) object traveling at 220mph (354kmh).
From some angles—particularly head-on—the Aeroscreen can make an attractive race car look ungainly. And last night’s winner, Simon Pagenaud, previously told me that cockpit temperatures have seriously increased inside the Dallara IR-12 car as the drivers are now no longer cooled by the airflow at speed. But I think after last night’s demonstrations, drivers will take a little more heat stress as an acceptable payoff for a much safer car.
The first incident happened on lap 144 of the 250-lap event, when a botched pitstop left driver Will Power’s car with a loose left front wheel. As the wheel made its own way across the oval track, it bounced up and was deflected away from Power by the Aeroscreen.
.@12WillPower has been cleared after this incident.
“I can’t thank @IndyCar enough for that Aeroscreen.” #INDYCAR #IOWA250s pic.twitter.com/kSc4qnMh0z
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) July 18, 2020
“Man, I can’t thank IndyCar enough for everything they’ve done safety-wise with the Aeroscreen and halo inside the Aeroscreen. You just saw Colton Herta go over the top of someone, and they’ve just done a tremendous job. It’s better than any other series that have invented something like it. Just a very good job,” Power said after the race, referring also to the second big crash of the night.
This took place on lap 157—ironically, as the race was about to restart after the caution period caused by Power’s crash. The restart was called off because of an incident farther up the field, but that information didn’t reach Colton Herta in time, and as he accelerated he was launched into the air by the car ahead of him belonging to Rinus VeeKay. As you can see from the video embedded in the tweet below, this time the Aeroscreen kept VeeKay safe from Herta’s wheels as the car ran atop his own. Herta also avoided a much nastier crash thanks to the Safer barrier that lines Iowa Speedway—had the young driver’s gearbox caught in the catch fencing, the results could have been much more serious.
Both drivers cleared from the medical center after the @ColtonHerta @rinusveekay incident.#INDYCAR // #IOWA250S pic.twitter.com/ODiBbwY4xi
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) July 18, 2020
Debris from this crash could also have caused real problems for Marcus Ericsson, who was right behind at the time. But he told Racer magazine that he, too, was spared injury thanks to the Aeroscreen.
All four drivers will join the rest of the grid for a second race at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night at 8:45pm ET.
Listing image by Chris Jones/IndyCar