The NTT IndyCar Series will formally introduce its new Advanced Frontal Protection device in competition starting at the May 10-11 Indianapolis Grand Prix. Tested on dozens of cars on Wednesday at the Indy Open Test, IndyCar president Jay Frye says the positive reaction led to moving the AFP’s introduction from the Indy 500 to the Indy GP.
“Thanks to a phenomenal effort by Dallara and all of the IndyCar teams, we are ahead of schedule in making this happen,” Frye said of the titanium piece. Weighing approximately five pounds with all of the mounting hardware and equipment included, the AFP has been tested to withstand the same impact forces placed on the Dallara DW12’s roll hoop.
Shaped in a tapered, aerodynamic form, the AFP sits atop the DW12’s central chassis bulkhead. Although some drivers found the new device — which is mounted directly in their field of view — somewhat distracting, most like Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, moved past that acclimatization phase rather quickly at the test.
“When I was in the car, I didn’t really notice it,” he told RACER. “On the track or pit lane, I forgot about it. That was encouraging.”
Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe, who suffered a concussion from being struck in the helmet by a front-wing endplate at a previous Indy GP, welcomes the accelerated timeline for the AFP’s adoption and whatever IndyCar will eventually introduce as its replacement.
“It’s great to see that IndyCar is always pushing safety,” he said. “Obviously, this is just Step 1 in an evolution of head protection. But having been hit by a piece of debris that would’ve been prevented with this device, I’m all for it. It’s also comforting to know that behind the scenes we are still working hard on a more comprehensive solution.”
The one common refrain from the test, however, was the unanticipated aerodynamic effects the AFP caused with the various helmets worn by IndyCar drivers. Teams and representatives from multiple helmet manufacturers were quite active on pit lane during the test as small spoilers and other pieces were installed to handle the aero wake coming off the AFPs.
“The biggest thing I had with it was the dirty air — the buffeting and lifting the helmet,” Pigot said. “We got a handle on it as the day went on; (helmet vendor) Bell helped with some wickers and pieces to settle things down.”
With padding added to the cockpit head surround piece on superspeedways to hold a driver’s helmet firmly in place while turning left, heavy buffeting is greatly reduced. With the upcoming race debut for the AFP on the Indianapolis road course, where the extra padding cannot be used due to the need for a free range of left and right motion while cornering, Pigot expects a flurry of new helmet modifications to be required.
“I am concerned about the road course where the head surround isn’t as wedged in with your helmet; you need more room to look around,” he said. “So we’ll have to see how that affects us at the Indy GP. Before we wedged my head in on the speedway, I couldn’t see much with all the buffeting shaking my helmet around. It’s not limited to Bell; it’s guys with Arais and other helmets, too, that were having to get things worked out pretty quickly at the test to get the [aero] stability they needed.”