The Verizon IndyCar Series will conduct their first on-track test of a car fitted with a windscreen next week. The test, that follows several years of concepts and planning, will take place at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, with Scott Dixon driving his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda with the windscreen fitted onto it.
IndyCar released the first pictures of a windscreen fitted to a car today, with the images showing a number of modifications to the tub of the car around the cockpit in order for the screen to be properly fitted. The test, that will take place on Thursday next week, will be the first in what will most likely be a large number of on-track trials to see whether the concept can be introduced fully in the next few years.
“This has been a long process, one that’s been very methodical and purposeful,” said INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye, “We have been striving to create a safety piece that aesthetically looks good and works in all conditions, and this is a test of those things. Any piece we put on an Indy car must work for multiple types of venues and different lighting conditions. It has to be versatile.”
“We’ve tested this at Dallara’s simulator, but this will be the first time it has been on a car at speed. So this is just the next step in the process.”
Windscreens for IndyCars have been heavily considered and rumoured over the last few years after numerous incidents in the series and other open-wheel championships across the world. The discussion really started to ramp up at the end of the 2011 IndyCar season where former champion Dan Wheldon was killed after a huge pile-up at Las Vegas Motor Speedway saw him launched cockpit first into the catch fence; dealing fatal head injuries to the British driver.
A few years later, the subject came back to the forefront of conversation after Justin Wilson was killed at Pocono Raceway in 2015 after debris from an accident further up the road flew up into the air and struck Wilson directly on top of his head. Between Wheldon and Wilson’s deaths, there were a number of other similar incidents, such as James Hinchcliffe being struck by debris during the 2014 Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
The problem, of course, isn’t IndyCar specific. Formula One will race with the controversial HALO device for the 2018 season after the tragic deaths of both Jules Bianchi and Maria de Villota, as well as the life-threatening accident for Felipe Massa at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix where he was hit in the head by a suspension spring.
A windscreen concept had been tested for Formula One at last year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, but after complaints from Sebastian Vettel of distortion and vision issues, the idea was dropped immediately and never resurfaced. Many drivers and fans are hoping for such issues to be solvable if they should crop up in next week’s IndyCar test, as there is no doubt that the windscreen concept is a much more aesthetically pleasing design choice than the HALO.
Last year, reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden aired his views on the HALO and head protection in single-seater racing whilst visiting Formula One’s United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas:
“With motorsports, we have always strived within the spirit of open-wheel racing to find and implement safety improvements,” Newgarden said to reporters at the event back in October, “That’s always been the case. We’re so much safer than we were 100 years ago and it’s gotten incrementally better every year.
“So I think finding a solution for the head-surround is absolutely something we should be doing. We’re doing the right things in trying to find the right solution. I’m not sure if the halo is the right thing or not.
“Obviously the FIA has deemed that to be the best piece possible to implement, and you have to respect them – they’re the FIA and have the best resources in the world to determine that. But with us in IndyCar, we’re taking a different approach.
“I think if you asked the drivers, the majority will tell you they don’t want it [the halo] and the drivers are telling you that because they love open-wheel racing and they associate that with open-cockpit. It’s not necessarily what open-wheel means, but that’s what you associate it with.
“I think most drivers – they understand the risks and they wouldn’t want it. That’s just from the drivers’ point of view, and taking all the other variables out of it.”
The first on-track test of the IndyCar windscreen will take place next week on February 8 at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix. Scott Dixon will be behind the wheel for Chip Ganassi Racing. The rest of the IndyCar series will join Dixon on track the following day for the next round of official pre-season testing for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series.