IndyCar, its teams, and drivers have been engaged in a flurry of communications behind the scenes as the series prepares for its first test of the new Red Bull Advanced Technologies aeroscreen set to debut in competition next year.
As a testament to the growing concerns over the aeroscreen’s weight and how that weight might negatively influence handling, its height and how it could impede cockpit ingress, egress, and possibly increase cockpit temperatures, receive pitting from rocks and debris throughout each race that would reduce visibility, and other worries, IndyCar’s stars recently called a private drivers-only meeting where their issues with the device were debated and assembled for presentation to IndyCar’s leadership team.
When the people who are tasked with driving the cars feel the need to gather and form a united front on any subject, the serious nature of such a meeting should command IndyCar’s complete attention.
Positioned atop the cockpit, the high and forward aeroscreen mass is far from optimal when considering vehicle dynamics. With the addition of a metal halo behind the aeroscreen, the estimated weight of the device and mounting fixtures is in the region of 50 pounds, which is a significant figure for a highly-tuned open-wheel race car to incorporate without experiencing a number of adverse reactions to cornering, braking, and tire consumption.
As word of the weight made the rounds in the paddock over summer, a number of team principals and race engineers have lobbied IndyCar for changes to mitigate the anticipated problems.
In particular, a call for new front suspension a-arms, and the corresponding pushrods and rocker arms that connect the a-arms to the dampers, is said to have been met with heavy resistance due to added costs. As a common practice to combat excessive forward weight distribution, installing new a-arms that sweep farther forward and therefore move weight distribution rearward to compensate for the nose-heavy changes that are coming would be the most obvious route to pursue.
Complicating that move, however, would be the related need to modify the front wings. If new forward-swept a-arms were adopted, the front tires would likely rest where the various current front wing packages sit, and would need to be moved forward to make space for the Firestone rubber.
In his August 14 visit to The Week In IndyCar podcast, championship-winning race engineer Craig Hampson outlined the primary performance issues the aeroscreen will present for IndyCar’s competition department to overcome.
“That thing is not going to be light,” said Sebastien Bourdais’ Dale Coyne Racing technical guru. “And it’s not going to be light because it has to be able to stand up to some pretty impressive forces, like a tire hitting it going 200 miles an hour. So, it’s going to have a very beefy titanium frame and then it’s got the optical material surrounding it and then you need the tub modified for all the locating points for that. It’s going to add a lot of weight. That weight is going to be towards the front of the car, so it’s going to affect the weight distribution of the car.
“And that weight actually is going to be pretty high up as well, so it raises the center of gravity of the car and the net effect of that is there is more weight transfer from the inside wheel to the outside wheels going around a corner and that’s going to reduce your level of grip.
“In particular, the weight distribution change is going to pretty dramatically affect how the car handles. I expect it would add a lot of understeer to the car. It may be that Firestone has to design all-new tires. Or at least all-new front tires to be able to deal with the changes that are going to be coming from the aeroscreen.”