In reaction to a second consecutive race where drivers dealt with exceptionally high cockpit temperatures due to stagnant air behind the new aeroscreen, the NTT IndyCar Series has made two rule adjustments effective with this weekend’s REV Group Grand Prix Presented by AMR Doubleheader at Road America.
“Anytime drivers talk we certainly listen, and we had two really extreme tests to start the year — with Texas launching the season where it was very, very hot and then this past weekend at IMS, where it was very hot,” IndyCar president Jay Frye told RACER. “What’s good about that is it gives you an indication where it’s at, because if we’d had two not-so-extreme events to start off, you might’ve gotten a false sense of security that everything was perfect.
“We’ve always tried to come up with a consensus of opinion, or a trend, and one of the trends was the water bags were really hot and that was causing some of the problems that they didn’t have enough fluid in the car, or it wasn’t cold enough. So, we’ve worked this week to give them an option to move the water bags into the cockpit, on the right side by their knee, and make the hoses shorter, which we think will help in that regard.”
The 1.5-liter water bladders are most commonly found atop a radiator inlet cooling duct, or mounted below on the undertray, where high ambient temperatures, coupled with heatsink from the radiators, can bring the drivers’ preferred liquids well over the 100-degree mark. An aeroscreen-related problem was also revealed with the drivers’ drinking system where, with the new spike in cockpit temperatures on hotter days, the fluid sitting in the hose closest to the helmet would match the sweltering conditions in the car.
With each draw from the bag, cooler fluid would enter the tube in the cockpit, but in the time between drinks, the new fluid would go through the same heating-up process. By moving the bladder away from the radiator and shortening the drink tubes, there’s a belief the liquids drivers consume to cool and rehydrate themselves will be more effective.
And, in light of the high fluid consumption rate from the onboard drink system — some drivers emptied their bags well before the checkered flag at the GMR Grand Prix — IndyCar has given the aeroscreen pit stop attendant a new duty to perform, if desired by each team.
“We’re also going to let the pit crew member that was doing the tear-offs on the aeroscreen, service the driver so when they pit, they’ll be able to hand the driver a water bottle,” Frye said. “That’ll give the driver more volume to consume, meaning they won’t have to drink the water in their cockpit. They’ll drink from that bottle, and it’ll be guaranteed cold. So that gives them more overall to drink and leave more in the water bladder for the racetrack. Hopefully those two changes help with the fluid situation.”
With the rapid pacing of five races in three weekends from July 3 through July 18, there are limited opportunities for the series to address the biggest issue with steaming hot air lingering in the cockpit while IndyCar is on the road. The problem could be slightly reduced at this weekend’s races in Wisconsin, where the current forecast calls for temperatures in the 80s. But the following event on Iowa’s bullring oval, where drivers exhaust themselves from the high physical demands of constantly turning their cars — with no power steering, and while maximum downforce is piled onto the machines — has the series’ attention.
A number of options are being considered to bring cockpit temperatures down and with the involvement of auto manufacturers Chevy and Honda, plus the vast aerodynamic knowledge contained inside IndyCar’s teams and technical department, all ideas are being welcomed to help find an expedited solution.
“It’s a pretty big puzzle and we’re just trying to get a better handle on the complete picture,” Frye said. “Should we add a second duct, like the one we have for helmet cooling, where the hose can be pointed somewhere else at the drivers? Or is there more we can do with the [cooling] nostrils on the nose of the cars? It’s not supposed to be as warm this weekend and Road America has got long straightaways, but Iowa will be the next one and it’s where there could be more extreme conditions. So we’re working towards having even more of a solution by Iowa.
“We’ve had some drivers say the air is stagnant — it doesn’t move around once it comes into the cockpit — so how can we fix that; how do you pull the air out of it? We’ll talk to our partners who make the aeroscreen and see what kinds of pieces we might try to help here, and our teams, and we have great partners in Chevy and Honda to reach out to.”
Frye expects the problem-solving effort to continue throughout the season.
“I expect this process to go on all year long,” he added. “With all the downtime we’ve had where racing didn’t happen, we’re just now getting into gear, and we’ll learn more each race as we get more experience using the aeroscreen. We’re learning a lot — and very quickly here in summer — about how hot air is being dissipated into the cockpit, and how that needs to be attended to in ways it might not have before.
“There’s lots of little things we’re picking up, and that’s why we feel good about being able to come up with what’s next to help. I don’t think there’s any one thing that solves everything. It’ll be four or five little things that help, that are easy solutions or solutions that we can implement quickly, that can make it a lot better.”