IndyCar president Jay Frye sought the input of Mario Andretti, Dario Franchitti, and Rick Mears to get their thoughts on the new Red Bull Advanced Technologies Aeroscreen unveiled today at the Speedway.
In individual meetings, the trio of legends — men who’ve won eight Indianapolis 500s and championships aplenty since the 1960s — gave their thoughts on its looks, its function, and most importantly, its ability to take driver safety to stratospheric heights.
Franchitti, whose body endured fractures and breaks over 20 years of racing, and whose brain reached its limit to recover from concussions, earned his opinions through pain. The Scot has also dealt with crushing emotional loss, earned as well, as IndyCar’s need for an Aeroscreen grew more certain with each goodbye.
A best friend. A little brother. A big brother.
“First of all, I think it’s a great addition to the safety of the current IndyCar,” he said. “I say that as someone who has strapped themselves in for a long time into an IndyCar and someone who lost three good friends to injuries that might have been prevented.
“Safety moves on. That’s the thing. I’ve certainly benefited from it a lot. Advances as well as the SAFER barrier, the HANS device, better helmet technology, accelerometers in the ears, there’s been this ongoing seat technology. There’s constant developments. I go back to Greg [Moore], I go back to Dan [Wheldon], go back to Justin [Wilson]. If we’d had the new Aeroscreen, if we’d have had that combined with everything they’ve done to integrate it into the top [roll hoop], those guys might still be here.”
“I go back to Greg [Moore], I go back to Dan [Wheldon], go back to Justin [Wilson]. If we’d had the new Aeroscreen, if we’d have had that combined with everything they’ve done to integrate it into the top [roll hoop], those guys might still be here.” – Dario Franchitti
Some will pan RBAT’s Aeroscreen for the change it brings to IndyCar.
“I don’t care what it looks like at that point,” Franchitti said. “I happen to think it looks good, but I don’t care what it looks like, if that was the trade-off that you need to have to still those friends around. And IndyCar is never going to be fully safe. And everybody accepts that. But if you have the opportunity to make it safer, you have to do it.”
The path to Aeroscreen 2.0 was a helpful one. Limitations in the original concept developed by RBAT, created as Formula 1 sought a new cockpit protection solution for 2018, led to IndyCar’s upcoming design.
Tested by Scott Dixon on the one-mile Phoenix oval and Josef Newgarden at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar’s prototype relied on the fortitude of the Aeroscreen material, a product named Opticor made by PPG, to withstand impacts on its own.
Borrowed from jet plane and jet fighter applications, the thick Opticor material was bolted to a custom bottom frame that mounted to IndyCar’s spec Dallara DW12 chassis. Unlike the airplane installations, which offered 360-degree window frame mounting for the Opticor, IndyCar’s prototype suffered in ballistic testing. Lacking a frame at the top of the material, heavy objects fired at the prototype caused the Opticor to bend, warp, and reach its elastic limits before ultimately experiencing catastrophic failure.
Befitting its name, the prototype, which gave IndyCar gigabytes of important information to process, was shelved as a comprehensive re-think was performed. In the interim, the series commissioned a stop-gap cockpit safety enhancement, the Advanced Frontal Protection device, which required retrofitting dozens of DW12s with new structural mounting points above the chassis bulkhead at the leading edge of the cockpit.
Where the Aeroscreen 2.0 makes use of the prototype’s shortcomings is with the addition of a new titanium superstructure that mounts where the current AFP is attached, and branches upward, in a nearly identical fashion to F1’s Halo device, and gives the Aeroscreen material the rigid upper frame it was lacking.
Although PPG was not named as the Aeroscreen’s material provider – nor were any other companies – the primary RBAT design was made to turn Aeroscreen 2.0 into a protective device that does not rely on the see-through material to carry the brunt of an impact in isolation.
The new titanium superstructure, which sits behind the screen at the front of the device, and wraps around the cockpit — above the driver’s helmet — on its way to being anchored at the primary roll hoop’s mounting points, is the heart of what makes Aeroscreen 2.0 a game-changer for IndyCar.
With a new capability of handling obscene forces fed into the three load-bearing chassis fixtures, RBAT and IndyCar have achieved something special by fashioning a halo device covered in an aeroscreen. Girded by the strength of titanium, the protective system wraps the superstructure with material that the AFP or Halo, due to the exposed nature of a driver’s helmet, would not be capable of stopping.