There are several major changes coming into this year’s IndyCar season.
McLaren’s return and the takeover of the championship, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, by Roger Penske are two of the most important. However, the most obvious change that people will notice when the cars take to the track in St. Petersburg will be the aeroscreen.
The original prototype was a simple windscreen style device that was tested by Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden in 2018. However, it failed to meet the required standards and so IndyCar took to working with Red Bull Technologies on a new concept. While this was being worked on, a fill-in device was used for most of last season. This resembled a small vertical strut that was positioned right in front of the driver’s face and it did its job as an interim measure. Now for this year, Red Bull’s concept is being introduced.
It’s effectively a halo with a windscreen on it. Originally, it was thought that using a halo-style device would restrict vision on high-banked ovals like Texas, but after being tested by Dixon last year, this was found to be not the case. It’s a highly controversial topic for several reasons. Firstly, it’s “changing the DNA”. Some believe that this is too far removed from the idea of open-wheel racing cars. I would argue though, that in the 1960s the rear-mounted engines and wings were very, very far removed from the idea of open-wheel cars of the time and we soon got used to those. Besides, open-wheel cars are just that. Open-wheel. There’s nothing in there that says you have to have an open cockpit.
Some feel it’s ugly. It’s certainly strange to look at compared to what we’re used to, but I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s ugly. The problem is, this current car wasn’t designed with the aeroscreen in mind, so it will look like it’s been bolted on as an extra part. However, the new car is coming in 2022, so IndyCar will be able to incorporate the aeroscreen into the design a lot better than at present. It sure as hell is a lot better than the halo in terms of looks, particularly from the side, and I personally feel that out of the two, a windscreen suits a racing car more.
There have been concerns about visibility in the rain. There are demisting systems inside the car and from watching onboard footage in the rain at Spring Training, visibility seems just fine. Anyway, despite now having wipers, the cars will have tear-offs on the screen, a bit like the ones used on prototype sportscars, that can be removed during pitstops.
Finally, there are those people who think it’s pointless because of the chances of a head injury being sustained. Unfortunately, IndyCar doesn’t have many options. We’ve had Henry Surtees, Felipe Massa, Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson all suffer serious head injuries (three were killed) in the past ten years and in the world we live in today, that is bound to cause changes. With the FIA mandating the halo everywhere, IndyCar looked like a bit of a dinosaur, which does nothing for its reputation.
Personally, I’d love the cars to have stayed open cockpit forever. I like seeing the driver’s helmets and that it is truly different to any other type of racing. However, we must move with the times and try to see the positives in changes as much as we can. Of course, that means making the necessary changes to prevent recurring injuries to drivers. I will say though, that motorsport must be careful that it doesn’t go too far to make it completely safe, otherwise we may as well ditch the drivers and play esports instead.