The NTT IndyCar Series has another safety development in the works with a redesigned cockpit head surround coming in 2023. The piece, which is made from carbon fiber and foam, will incorporate lessons taken from crashes encountered during the aeroscreen era, which began in 2020, where some drivers have been observed moving higher than desired in the cockpit in certain impacts. With the installation of the aeroscreen, some — but not all — drivers have taken to sitting higher in the car to gain an unobstructed view through the safety device.
To prevent the possibility of a driver’s helmet and HANS devices lifting over the top of the head surround in a rearward or side impact, the series will respond by crafting new and taller units that will be tested later this year.
“I think it’s just the fact that we’re seeing some guys moving around a little bit more in the cars,” Bill Pappas, IndyCar’s VP of competition and race engineering, told RACER. “One example is early on this year with Jack Harvey in Texas, where he came up and twisted in his crash. So if we raise the height of it for these guys, it should be a transparent adjustment.”
According to the series, drivers can move as much as four inches in their seat as the weight of their bodies and the forces in the bigger crashes can stretch their racing harnesses. A taller head surround that wraps around the back of the helmet and stops just short of where a driver looks out through the aeroscreen on the left and right, is what IndyCar is working towards for next season.
IndyCar will visit the Center for Advanced Product Evaluation (CAPE) facility in Indianapolis to put the new head surround through impact testing, and while there, Pappas says he will see if any new types of foam might be considered to use.
“We’re going to CAPE at the end of August; there may be some prototype parts to test in the wintertime, and then the plan is to introduce it for year,” he said. “They have all sorts of testing equipment there and that’s where they did the original baseline testing for the one we’re using now. So we’ll look at some materials, different foams, because they evolve quite quickly. So if we find something that based off of experience and the calculations and the studies for crashes to consider, we may be looking at an alternative foam density to test and see if it works or not.”