No simple solutions to keeping drivers cool in the aeroscreen era

The NTT IndyCar Series has arrived at its final iteration of cockpit cooling to complement the new aeroscreen driver protection device. With the wraparound screen made by PPG and titanium frame from Pankl in position for every test session and race going forward, drivers must deal with the lack of high-speed air entering their helmets for the first time.

Initial testing with the aeroscreen last summer exposed the need for increased airflow within the cockpit to cool the driver’s legs, torso, and head. After testing a range of solutions through the end of 2019, the series and the partners involved in the aeroscreen’s creation have arrived at a number of options for teams to use on road and street courses, and on ovals to address their drivers’ cooling needs.

Facing rain and frosty temperatures this week at Circuit of The Americas, IndyCar’s engineering staff isn’t expected to learn a lot more about reducing cockpit temperatures. But for the teams in attendance, getting to work with the aeroscreen and tune the three areas that feed air to the driver will be a valuable exercise.

The first and primary form of cockpit cooling is a carryover from the original aeroscreen tests where a redesigned piece of bodywork that covers the dampers invites air to flow beneath the base of the screen (photo above).

As air enters the opening, it’s split into two channels through ducting mounted atop the cockpit. In the maiden aeroscreen tests, a short diffuser was used that did not extend to the edge of the cockpit opening; but after receiving feedback, a new piece was created that brings air as far back as possible before exiting the ducts.

For the sake of the driver’s sightline out of the cockpit, the ducting, which splits to the left and right, sits just above the top of the steering wheel.

At the driver’s request, teams can fit different attachments to the ends of the ducts to angle the oncoming air wherever it’s needed most.

“We have the inlet damper cover, which has evolved a little bit since we first started testing at Indy, and now air gets extended all the way back to the front of the cockpit, and there’s much more air directed towards the driver,” Tino Belli, IndyCar’s director of aerodynamic development, told RACER. “And then there’s an optional part that mechanics can put on the end of the duct, which they can trim in different ways. As standard, it will take the air and blow it down 90 degrees towards the driver’s waist.

“Some drivers like it at 45 degrees on their chest,” Belli continued, “so the teams can trim this piece and basically achieve all of that or remove it completely and have it just blow straight through. Some drivers actually liked it just blowing straight at their face.”

The second cockpit cooling solution is the newest. Former Dale Coyne Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais was among those who tested in warm conditions at Sebring International Raceway in October where two holes drilled in the nose of his car introduced streams of air into the footwell. Based on the positive feedback received, the holes have become standard for all teams to use as desired.

“Sebastien came away from that test saying he did not need all the cooling options that we were providing, but we kept all the options just because it’s better to have a bit too much available than not enough if we have a particularly hot race,” Belli said. “So, on the road and street courses, we’ll have what I call a ‘torpedo tubes,’ the two holes in the nose, and those are the teams’ choice to use.”

The new nostrils are meant to cool the driver’s legs. IndyCar has allowed teams to add ducting inside the nose that channels air up to the front bulkhead—stopping in front of where the pedals are mounted—to help concentrate the stream.

“Some of the taller drivers were feeling the cooling on their legs and some of the shorter drives is weren’t,” Belli said. “So, we’re guessing that, and on everything that we’ve tested, we’ve never got exactly the same answer from the drivers we have tested them. The tubes can go as far back as the pedal bulkhead if they wish.

“The teams can add a filter inside the tubes. Once, we were thinking that maybe we would mandate a filter, but it’s early days and teams are very clever and innovative and so we don’t want to spoil the ability to innovate. So, we allow a filter in that tube so rubber can’t get through and clog the pedals. And the tubes will not be allowed to be open on the superspeedways. They’re for road course, short ovals, and street courses only.”

The last cooling option is found at the back of the aeroscreen, and it could be the most powerful of the three solutions. Using a duct that mounts to the side of the screen’s trailing edge, air is fed from a hose to special ducts that attach to the top of the helmet. Although the ducting at the front of the aeroscreen has been improved with feeding air to the driver, the lack of a ram-air effect to force cooling into the helmet was missing, which has been addressed with the side-mounted scoop.

With Arai, Bell, and other helmet manufacturers being used by the field of IndyCar drivers, each vendor offers their unique ducting that feeds air to the driver’s head once the flexible hose is connected to the scoop.

“And then finally, we have the helmet cooling duct,” Belli said. “We have a duct on the side; it’ll be the opposite side of whichever side the refueling takes place. The helmet manufacturers are still coming up with inlet pieces to go on top of the helmet to blow the air in. So, the helmet cooling ducting is mandatory on roads, streets and short ovals. Currently, it’s not approved for superspeedways because the drivers do not believe it will be necessary.”

The side scoop is a spec piece that cannot be modified, but IndyCar has left the rest of the associated componentry open to individual tailoring.

“Teams can do anything they want from the exit of the tube, to the diameter of the piping to the helmet where the air goes into the helmet,” Belli continued. “That’s all between the helmet manufacturers and the teams. And we are asking for quick disconnects so the drivers can actually get the piping off the helmet quickly. We want to leave the other manufacturers and the teams some latitude there so they can do things the best way. We want them to be innovative, so the quick-disconnect method is open.”