First IndyCar windscreen test a quiet success
The first on-track test of IndyCar’s new windscreen went so well that test driver Scott Dixon said he felt like he was in a “luxury car.”
That’s because the screen that was designed and developed by PPG Aerospace dramatically blocks out the noise in the cockpit of the high-speed Indy car.
After Gabby Chaves did all of the windscreen testing on a simulator, four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Dixon tried it out for the first time in his No. 9 Honda at the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway — formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway.
The windscreen reaches just over the top of the driver’s helmet but does not fully enclose the cockpit, so it cannot be called a canopy. The screen is also very thick, but Dixon said he had no issues visually looking through the screen under three different lighting conditions Thursday.
Dixon’s first test was in the sunshine of late afternoon, around 4 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. The second test was 90 minutes later as the sun was beginning to set, and the final test came when it was dark, and the track illuminated by the Musco Lighting systems that circles the short oval.
Dixon also changed the visor on his helmet for the nighttime run as well as taking pictures with his iPhone while in the car, so IndyCar officials could further examine areas he pointed out in his debrief.
“There were no glare issues whatsoever,” Dixon told Autoweek afterwards. “The vision was better at night. When I did the earlier running, it was under the worst transition of extreme sunlight to dark transition behind the grandstands. But the last run was the easiest to see and it was the same light all the way around. I don’t know if we thought there would be any light issues at night, but I didn’t notice that.
“I also didn’t have any peripheral vision issues. We might on a street course or road course but how they have adjusted that it has been taken care of.”
Dixon believes it is very important to move forward with a windscreen to further protect the driver after Justin Wilson was killed when he was hit in the head by debris from Sage Karam’s crashed Indy car at Pocono Raceway on August 23, 2015. Wilson was hit in the head by a seven-pound nosecone and died the following day from the severe head injury.
Since that time, a halo was considered before IndyCar officials began looking at a windscreen.
Scott Dixon prepares to test IndyCar’s new windscreen on Thursday in Phoenix.
“Whenever you are moving forward on safety there was a lot of flak from different people saying an Indy car shouldn’t look like that, it should be an open cockpit because of its heritage,” Dixon said. “But I think if there is any way you can increase the safety of anything, it’s very important.
“Now, with different versions, what the Verizon IndyCar Series and PPG Aerospace have put together right now is very good. We got accomplished what we needed to. Hopefully, we can accomplish what we need to for other applications. I think this is a very good compromise and definitely a very good application compared to others that I have seen.”
The IndyCar Series windscreen project is led by Jeff Horton, IndyCar’s Director of Safety and Engineering.
This is not the first time Indy cars have had windscreens. For example, several of the March chassis had them in the mid-1980s.
Up to this point, testing has only been in Dallara’s scale-model wind tunnel and its racing simulator. IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves of Harding Racing did the simulator testing at Dallara’s U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis.
According to IndyCar, the windscreen is made of PPG’s proprietary Opticor advanced transparency material and carries an appearance of canopies used on fighter jets. It is 0.4 inches thick and is angled at 25 degrees.
IndyCar entered this testing with three objectives – safety enhancements, aesthetically looking and to work in all conditions.
“The first run was the hardest because of the lighting but ultimately the last run was the best one,” Dixon concluded. “There was no real issue with distortion. We checked with focal points, but the Verizon IndyCar Series should be really happy with this.
“Everything looks very good and I’m very happy.”
During Dixon’s first run as the sun was setting over the grandstands at the ISM Raceway, Dr. Terry Trammell, IndyCar Medical Consultant and Horton along with IndyCar President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye, IndyCar Director of Aerodynamic Development Tino Belli, and IndyCar Vice President of Competition, Race Engineering Bill Pappas were standing on pit lane.
They listened intently to Dixon’s feedback once the initial run was over. The two debriefs that came after the final two runs were much shorter as they backed up what they had learned from the first run.
“The first impressions was just how quiet the car was,” Dixon said. “It’s a little different looking through something so thick. But there was no issue with distortion or reflection. The weirdest thing is how quiet the car is. There was no buffeting inside of the race car. The car feels very smooth and feels like you’ve gone to a luxury dampened car.
“There are things we can improve on and make better. But it’s a good job right off the bat.”
Dixon and IndyCar officials believe they need to make improvements to the cooling of the cockpit because the windscreen restricts some air flow to the driver. But that is an easy fix.
The key aspect that IndyCar wanted to learn on Thursday was how it impacted the vision of the driver.
“It just takes your eyes a little bit of time to adjust to it,” Dixon said. “Reflection was actually very good. There was no real area of light that stopped your vision or affected it in any way. It may have even helped it by reducing glare that you get off the visor of your helmet.
Scott Dixon puts the windscreen through a test session on Thursday.
“The longer I ran, the more I got adapted to it. It was so quiet it didn’t feel like you were going as fast because the air isn’t rushing through like it used to.”
Dixon believes every driver needs to try the screen before it is added to the series because it may affect some drivers more than others.
“It’s not an issue; it’s just getting used to it,” Dixon said.
Horton is in charge of this project and sees areas that can be changed to help improve it.
“He said there are no showstoppers and the transition in and out of the shade went well,” Horton said. “It wasn’t a deal breaker. The input was really good. Scott said no showstoppers, we’ll fix a few things and move on.
“I’m excited. For him to get out and say no problems, that is what we were shooting for. It’s always exciting to do the test and see it work out. We’ve had many non-successful things and we just go figure out the solution and keep working. This is what PPG Aerospace uses on the F16 and this is only the tip of their knowledge because there are many more coatings and applications we can use to correct any problems.”
The first on-track test was a great success, but that there remains more work to do, according to IndyCar. Validation of the mounting system and impact testing needs to be done so it’s possible this becomes a 2019 initiative.