IndyCar focusing on cockpit protection

BY JIM MILLER
WEEKLY INDYCAR WRITER
Newgarden tests an aeroscreen (Photo by INDYCAR Photo)

Newgarden tests an aeroscreen (Photo by INDYCAR Photo)

Josef Newgarden was lucky to come away from his recent crash at the Firestone 600 in Texas with a couple of broken bones. It could have been a lot worse, and IndyCar officials know that.

Newgarden’s car was side-slammed by Conor Daly with Daly’s tire narrowly missing Newgarden’s helmet by mere inches. Newgarden then got rolled onto his side and was shoved into the SAFER barrier, cockpit first.  As he then slid inverted down the track the roll bar on his car got shaved off by the pavement exposing his shoulder to track surface. Daly walked away unhurt and Newgarden was fortunate.

The drivers following behind this incident found themselves dodging pieces of carbon fiber and debris, which at speeds just under 200 m.p.h. could be extremely dangerous if hit. One simply needs to recall the fatal accident that took Justin Wilson’s life last year at Pocono Raceway when he was hit on the helmet by a piece of debris.

IndyCar is recognized as a leader in developing and implementing advanced safety measures. The SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barrier, designed to absorb energy in accidents, is now found along the walls of the majority of tracks hosting open-wheel and stock-car racing. Even the Dallara IR-12 chassis Indy cars use has advanced these past four years including greater side impact protection in 2014, mandatory wishbone pads in 2015, and high-tensile Zylon tethers on aerodynamic components in 2016.

The next area of focus? Head protection.

The Verizon IndyCar Series has been investigating the best way to bring substantial improvements to cockpit protection of the driver. Like in Formula One, canopies, halos and windscreens have all come under discussion in Indy cars. Drivers and teams have differing opinions on the best answer. Formula One’s Red Bull Racing team recently tested and liked an aeroscreen (low profile windshield), yet the Mercedes and Ferrari teams preferred a structural halo frame over the driver’s head, which appears to be the option being implemented by FIA in 2017.

While the urgency to increase driver safety is always paramount, developing the most effective means of protection that does not impair driver vision is just as significant.

“We’re not going to rush it,” Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations, is quoted as saying. “We’re gathering as much information as possible and we’ve been working on it for over a year. … We’re still trying to figure out our best plan in this evolution of safety. Hopefully we’ll have something in place in the near future.”

Another INDYCAR executive is more bullish stating that something in way of cockpit protection could be implemented as soon as 2017.

Whatever design IndyCar decides upon, odds are it will work as well as the many other safety advancements they have brought to the sport.