RACER and IndyCar competition president Jay Frye sat down Saturday afternoon during the Phoenix open test to discuss the findings and next steps forward with the windscreen driver safety device sampled by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon during three runs – in daylight, at dusk, and at night – on Thursday.
QUESTION: With a day or two to think about the three sessions you ran, how do you think things went? Did you meet expectations?
JAY FRYE: Well, I think it certainly met expectations, and I believe it actually exceeded it because there were really no issues. Everything that Scott talked about or brought up were things we anticipated or expected. Obviously, there was no air flow in the cockpit, so it was hotter. Well, we expected that. We’re going to have a remedy for that. One of the things he did say that we didn’t think about was how quiet it was. That was an interesting comment.
It was 100 percent an optics test. We wanted to see what it did. We thought this was a great place to do it. Obviously, we were all here for everyone to see it take place. We could do it in the light, at dusk, and at dark, so we hit all three elements that we actually race on an oval going 190 miles an hour with it on the car, so it was a big box checker, I would say. Certainly, we appreciate all the Ganassi guys’ help, Scott, and certainly PPG for all that they’ve done to get us to this point with the Opticor material and our own team, like you mentioned, with Jeff [Horton, IndyCar director of safety and engineering] and Terry [Trammell, IndyCar safety consultant] to put it all together.
Q: What is next on the to-do list? Was it a one-and-done for this unit, and do you go back and produce a Gen 2 screen to test somewhere else?
JF: We’ll definitely look to build a Gen 2 next. We’ve got the data off this one from a performance perspective and an optics perspective, so we can definitely improve on this one. We want to get more drivers and teams engaged and involved in it, different courses. Obviously, we still need to take it to road course, street course, that type of thing, to look at that. We’ve got some more testing, durability testing, that we want to look at too that’s got to be done. This was a big part of this process that this passed the test the other night. Now we can really get rolling and really accelerate this process to take it to the next level, but it’s going to take some time.
Again, if that thing was not a prototype and it was exactly what we wanted and it worked exactly like we thought it would, which it basically did, it still wouldn’t be ready for competition. We have things to look at like the best way to fix it to the car and get the shape exactly right. It’s still going to take time to build them, to get them into inventory, to let the teams test them.
So we’re not really wanting to put an exact timeframe on it yet. Now that we’ve got the optic test done, over the next couple weeks, we’ll come up with a timeline. We’ll come up with a very thorough plan and try to meet that timeline on what comes next. Even coming here, if you remember, we tried to do this last Fall and we got a little behind, but it was very important to get it on a car here. It was time to get it on an actual car with an actual driver to let them give us their feedback.
Q: The only thing I heard from Scott to investigate on the optics was in the second run, the dusk run, where he said there was a little bit of issue focusing through part of the window where he looking through to pick apex points. Were there any other comments like that where you’re going to want to go back and take a closer look on some specific items that stood out for retooling?
JF: Yeah, that area was one, and we were aware it was a possibility. The way I understand it, how the screen was laid up meant that was possible. Again, this being a prototype, I think the final shape will end up being little different than what it currently is. It’ll be sleeker. The edges will be different. The way it’s affixed to the car will be different.
That was one of the things: the bolt pattern holding the screen onto the flange; the unit the screen mounts to. When he looked, going into the corner, he saw the bolts and hardware in his sight, so that wasn’t necessarily the optics, but we want to clean that up in the Gen 2 model. It was great learning, and again, there were really no big surprises in any way, so that was key.
Q: Provided the screen gets the green light for competition at whatever point in time, do you think it would be used everywhere, or only ovals?
JF: I think it would be something that we would want to do permanently. We go to very diverse racetracks, road courses, street courses, ovals, at night, in the day, so when we originally started this project, it was created as something that could be adaptable to anywhere we race.
Q: All right, let me drill into some of the questions that have been asked a thousand times on social media. So, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought it, but are you aware oil and water could actually hit the front of the screen?
JF: Yes, we did actually think about that before it was tested [laughs].
Q: The screen did the test with a large tear-off on it. Talk a little bit about tear-offs, debris, oil, water, and how they will be managed. If a driver gets a lot of gunk on their visor, they can peel it off easily and it’s a fairly small piece to get rid of. With the screen’s tear-offs, this is obviously something much bigger to pull and discard. If you pull it and throw it behind you while racing, it would be a caution flag for debris…
JF: No, it certainly will be something that’s done on a pitstop. Rain is a non-issue on the ovals because nobody races in the rain on ovals. And if it rains on a road or street course, we’ll have tear-offs just like the drivers do with an application like Rain-X where it beads and rolls off. We aren’t having to reinvent the wheel with what we’re doing here.
Q: How about dealing with oil?
JF: Yes. Oil, obviously, is another thing. If we have oil down, and the track’s oiled up, we’re going to throw the yellow, and they’re going to pit, and on the pitstop, they’ll have the opportunity to peel the tear-off off. So that’s really what it’s there for, not for the drivers to do it.
Q: In NASCAR and sports cars, you can see a lot of debris on the windshields, but rarely is it to the point to where the driver can’t find a place to look through. And with oil, windshield wipers aren’t an option because it would make the situation worse, which makes incorporating a miniature wiper system for IndyCar a waste of time?
JF: For sure. Worst case, there’s still going to be somewhere where you can see until you pit. And the tear-off material technology is so good today, they solve a lot of problems on their own.
Q: What kind of effects does the screen have on the day-to-day performance and physics of the car? By bolting it on, how might the screen change the chassis tuning for a team?
JF: Well, it’ll add weight. The actual Opticor piece weighs around 14 pounds. Again, the mounting flange, which was just for this test, adds another six pounds. In the next shape, how it’s done, some of it can be trimmed where it weighs a little less, so that’ll help. This new car, the weight distribution is already moved forward, so then this is part of that. It has a slight change on aerodynamics, too.
Q: The screen was also part of the 2018 bodywork design process from the outset – that might surprise a few people.
JF: Correct. We designed with it on and with it off. This version of car was designed to accept the application of this deflector screen. It was part of the design, so when we put the drawings out originally, we didn’t show the screen because we weren’t sure exactly what we were going to do. It was debatable at that point, so when it was on, when it’s been on the car, people have said, hey, that looks good. Well, that was planned, to a degree, that we wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing like the rest of the car.
Q: Ballistic impact testing. I know that this Opticor material already has a ton of data that comes with it. What are the plans to fire stuff at it and see how it performs and how it deflects how it deflects debris?
JF: Well, that’s part of the next step in the process that we’re actually going to go through, what we’re going to do and where we’re going to it. We talked some about it yesterday. There’s already some different ideas on how we could make it work and do it as quickly as we can.
But we want it to withstand some heavy items and redirect them. There’s always the wheels and things like that to test. That’s the expectation, so we’re going to do some testing and send some big things at it.
Q: How about from a vertical load? Josef Newgarden’s crash at Texas two years ago [below] comes to mind, or a car getting upside down. Normally you have the roll hoop, front of the tub, driver’s head beneath, and there’s always that rule of drawing a line between the two points and having the driver’s helmet well beneath it.
Now, with the screen in place, the loadbearing piece at the front of the car is no longer the top of the tub, so it would actually be from the top of the roll hoop to the top of the screen. The screen would now be expected to serve as that hard point. Is that data that you have already to know it will stand up to high vertical loads, or is that part of any upcoming vertical load tests?
JF: That’s part of an upcoming test. We’ll look at all those types of things. There’s parts about, if a car’s on its side or upside down, how’s the driver coming out of the car, how that works. We watched Scott the other night getting in and out of the car and timed him to see the difference between how it is now compared to how it is then, and it really was no different. I mean, the driver’s got to lift their leg up a little higher, but no big deal.
You try to look at everything that you can and anticipate all you can. Obviously, we have a lot of confidence in [Opticor manufacturer] PPG. We have a lot of confidence in what they’ve done already. We have a lot of confidence in what this application’s already been built for, so you’ve got a really good head start. So now we’ve got to go, OK, from a racing perspective, a new application for this material, what other things do we want to do to it to see how it performs?
Q: The thickness of the Opticor screen is four-tenths of an inch (10.2mm), and it weighs 14 pounds. Do you think the width could increase or decrease, which would impact its weight, or do you think the four-tenths and 14 pounds is baked in as the right size?
JF: We saw it worked at that thickness for the optics test, but we’ll have to confirm it once we do all the strength testing. The shape could evolve a little bit, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we trimmed a pound or two through the Gen 2 profile. The 14 pounds it’s at now, you would use that as the baseline number that I wouldn’t think will change too much.
Q: And how about the structure that it mounts to? It was 3D-printed, so would maybe that become carbon or Kevlar in the final version?
JF: Probably. The flange is also something we’re working on. The whole piece was designed for the 2018 bodywork and the aesthetics of it, but we’re still dealing with the same tub, chassis, right? The optimal thing would be to create some sort of proper track [that] the screen sits in, and then you bolt around it to hold it in position. That’s the next step. If we can do it exactly how we want to do it, how feasible is it to do it to this current Dallara application that we’re dealing with? What we had for the test here was not something any of us considered to be the ultimate version of how the screen will be attached to the car.
Q: What kind of feedback or questions have you gotten from the rest of the paddock after seeing the screen test?
JF: It’s been really good. I mean, they were very curious how it went. Not everybody was here yet, and then they saw the reaction, that the test went well, that aesthetically it seemed to be very well-received. Again, safety is paramount to all of us. If this is something we can do and do it right and do it as quickly as we can, we’re certainly on track or on target for that, so there was enthusiasm for the entire project by everyone.
Q: Is this device going to be something that is expensive? And is this going to be something teams purchase, or the series and teams go in on together?
JF: That’s one of the next steps. When we first started this a couple years ago, there were some things that we researched and we found out what F16 canopies were going for. It was one of those random questions, and we were really actually quite surprised how inexpensive they were. We don’t have a number for this yet because we haven’t gotten to the final stage with the design, but I don’t think the cost will end up being a prohibitive matter in any way.