IndyCar teams size up revised aeroscreen ahead of first test

Images by IndyCar

IndyCar teams size up revised aeroscreen ahead of first test

IndyCar

IndyCar teams size up revised aeroscreen ahead of first test

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Along with the recent drivers-only meeting aimed at staving off any aeroscreen problems IndyCar might need to get ahead of before the RBAT units go into production, the series made use of the Firestone tire test earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway to gather feedback on how the weight of an aeroscreen impacted handling and tire degradation.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden were asked to carry approximately 50 pounds of ballast toward the front of their cars to replicate the effects of having the aeroscreen’s mass resting across the front axle, and it’s believed the 2019 Texas race tires fared rather well during those runs.

Without the actual aeroscreen in place to judge the aerodynamic changes to the cars, IndyCar will have plenty of work to do once it starts proper testing. The aero and mass influences produced by the device will be tested on the road courses at Barber Motorsports Park and on Sebring’s short course, but the complexity of the problems will increase once oval testing is complete.

“Now, the good news is, these discussions have been taking place. IndyCar is on it,” Hampson added. “They know figures and values. Firestone knows that they’ve got work to do on this. But, I expect that every setup I have this year goes in the bin, in the shredder. We’re going to have to start all over again next year, because that’s a lot of weight, and it’s forward, and it’s high, and I think the tires are going to change. So, everybody enjoy your 2019 and then put your thinking caps on for 2020 because I think it’s [going to be] all different.”

“I sat in the car and can get out of it as fast as I can the current car, and have no general problems with visibility,” says Graham Rahal. Image by Phillip Abbott/LAT

From the driver’s meeting to testing with the simulated weight of the aeroscreen, it’s clear how much the changes coming for 2020 have dominated the thoughts and actions of the IndyCar paddock. For Rahal, whose family has been part of the IndyCar community for longer than he’s been alive, there might be some value found in recalling the series’ past with CART and Champ Car.

“I know there are a lot of drivers who are nervous, and they have every right to be,” he told RACER. “But I think sometimes we’re forgetting that change was how we did things, every year; hell, sometimes every race. It was new cars every year, different engines, different aero, new tires…new everything. And I think we’ve lost track of that since, these days, nothing really changes. Not regularly.

“So when you have a big thing like the aeroscreen coming in, and it’s a lot different from anything we’ve seen, there’s a lot of reaction from some drivers, and yeah, fans too, who maybe don’t remember that we used to change everything every year. We’re making a big change, but it’s nothing new for IndyCar.”

Although Rahal has not driven an Indy car with the first or second generation aeroscreen attached, the series’ tallest driver was able to climb in and out of a Dallara DW12 chassis with the RBAT prototype aeroscreen in place. His findings might settle come of the other concerns that were registered.

“I sat in the car and can get out of it as fast as I can the current car, and have no general problems with visibility,” he said. “Some people are concerned about heat being in the cockpit. With the ducting they’re putting in the shock covers to flow air into the cockpit, I think it might actually be cooler than it is now. I know some people complained about not being able to belt themselves in, but I have no problems there, either. I typically belt myself in, and I know some drivers need help doing that, and they’ve had some issues, but for me, the aeroscreen didn’t change anything in getting into the car and strapping myself in, or then getting out. Total non-issue.”

Where Rahal has found positives with the RBAT device — at least prior to sampling it in anger behind the wheel of the No. 15 Honda — he and the NTT IndyCar Series have some deeply entrenched opponents on the grid who are unlikely to welcome the aeroscreen’s arrival. Those drivers, so far, have opted to keep their names and opinions out of the public eye.

Hampson might not have to drive the cars he engineers, but in light of the ongoing pushback by some for IndyCar’s new cockpit protection device, he’s reminded of the driver he engineered at Andretti Autosport in 2015.

“Am I supportive of the aeroscreen and the halo structure that supports it?” he asked. “Absolutely yes, and that’s because I was good friends with Justin Wilson. Every other major (open-wheel) series in the world — Formula 1, Formula E, Formula 3, GP2, GP3 — they’ve all got the halo. We’re late to the party, honestly; it’s not from a lack of trying but we’re late to the party and if we can prevent one more injury, prevent a death, it’s worth every bit of effort and every bit of money. I miss Justin all the time and what we are making for next year would have saved him, so I’m supportive.”

Support aside, the coming months where aeroscreen testing begins, Firestone attempts to finalize its 2020 tires and the internal debates over the device’s merits and shortcomings will rage should make for an interesting offseason.

 

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