The Verizon IndyCar Series conducted its first official on-track test of a windscreen prototype earlier this week. The series, aided by Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing took to the ISM Raceway in Arizona to test the concept ahead of a possible introduction to the series in the not too distant future.
Dixon took to the track in his newly-liveried #9 PNC Bank Honda on Thursday for three different runs throughout the day. All three runs took place in different light conditions to see how visibility with the windscreen changed over time. Visibility was the key issue to be tested, as when Sebastian Vettel tested a similar concept for Formula One in practice for last year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the Scuderia Ferrari driver complained of distortion. That concept was not tested on track ever again after that test, with the governing body of F1 instead opting to go with the controversial HALO device for this year.
Thankfully, however, there were no such problems for Dixon in the IndyCar concept. The New Zealander was largely positive after stepping out of the car, only complaining of a lack of cooling air through the cockpit:
“It’s hard to explain, but when you look through something like that, it does change – not the magnification, but almost like a magnification,” Dixon said after his first run, “Your brain and eyes just need to catch up with it and the longer I ran, I got more adapted to it. It needs some cooling just because you get no air flow through the car.”
Aside from having to get used to looking through a thick windscreen, Dixon cited the lack of noise as another major difference from driving the car with no screen. As the wind is redirected over the drivers head, there’s less wind-noise and less movement for the drivers head.
“The weirdest thing was just how quiet it is,” he continued, “You have no buffeting (of the driver’s head), the car feels very smooth. It feels like you’ve gone to a really luxury dampened car. It didn’t feel that you were going as fast because you didn’t have any air pressure through.”
Dixon completed running in late-afternoon and dusk to test the windscreen’s reaction to a setting sun. After that, a third run took place in full night conditions under the floodlights of the ISM Raceway.
“We went through the biggest transition of lights,” Dixon said after the test, “The hardest was probably the first run where we had extreme sunlight to darkness right through (turns) 1 and 2.
“Out of all of them, the night time was the easiest – no (visual) transitions there. I think for us it was basically seeing if there was going to be glare issues or anything with the lights. But everything looks very good, I’m very happy and kudos to the Verizon IndyCar Series for getting it out there and running it.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series has been interested in bringing windscreens to the series for a number of years. Talks really began to hit overdrive in the wake of the tragic deaths of both Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson. Wheldon was killed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011 when a multi-car pile-up threw his car, cockpit first, into the catch fence. Wilson lost his life when a piece of debris flew up into the air and struck him on the head at Pocono Raceway in 2015.
The windscreen is IndyCar’s attempt at preventing head injuries. Made of a material called Opticor, which according to IndyCar’s director of safety and engineering, Jeff Horton, is stronger, lighter and easier to work with than the material used on F-16 fighter jet canopies. The windscreen is made in conjunction with PPG, who recently signed a long-term deal with the series to help produce these concepts.
The test took place under the supervision of IndyCar officials, including the president of competition and operations, Jay Frye. Whilst Frye was encouraged and pleased with how the initial running went, he maintained that there were still improvements to be made from what was learned during the day.
“We came here, we had a plan to run in light, at dusk and at dark. If any one of those had not gone well, we probably would not have been able to continue,” Frye explained. “They all went as well or better than we expected. Again, this is part of the process.
“Today was all about optics. It’s been in simulators, it’s been in wind tunnels, but until you actually put it on a real car with a real driver, there’s still that element that’s an unknown. Having Scott – which we sure appreciate what he did today and the Ganassi guys did a phenomenal job – it did what we thought it would do. Now we have to take it to that next step.”
Today, the ISM Raceway will be open to all competitors of the Verizon IndyCar series as pre-season testing continues. The season-opening round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, the Grand Prix of St Petersburg, will take place on March 11.