MARTIN: Windscreen Is IndyCar’s Latest Safety Initiative

Windscreens could be the next big safety initiative in the Verizon IndyCar Series. (IndyCar Photo)
Bruce Martin

AVONDALE, Ariz. — The concept of a windscreen on an Indy car is not new. Some of the great cars of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s featured a windshield-type screen that helped protect the driver and allowed air to flow over the cockpit of the car.

But none of those screens compared to what Scott Dixon tested Feb. 8 at ISM Raceway.

IndyCar conducted its first on-track test of a very thick windscreen made by PPG Aerospace. This screen is far thicker than any previous shield used on an Indy car and is made out of the same material used for the canopies on fighter jets.

The screen rises to just over the top of a driver’s helmet but it does not enclose the cockpit, allowing for easy entry and access for a driver while maintaining the “open-cockpit” look of an Indy car.

The safety initiative started shortly after Justin Wilson was killed when the seven-pound nosecone off Sage Karam’s crashed race car sailed through the air and hit him in the helmet during a race at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 23, 2015.

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“There is no doubt in my mind that the windscreen IndyCar tested at Phoenix would have saved Justin’s life,” said IMSA team owner and part-time IndyCar team owner Mike Shank, a close friend of Wilson’s. “Justin Wilson would be here today if the new windscreen was available then.”

Dixon made three runs with different degrees of sunlight.The final coming after dark with the track illuminated by the MUSCO Lighting system that circles the short oval.

Dixon also changed the visor on his helmet for the nighttime run and he took pictures with his iPhone while in the car, so IndyCar officials could further examine areas he pointed out.

“There were no glare issues whatsoever,” Dixon said. “The vision was better at night. When I did the earlier running, it was under the worst transition of extreme sunlight to dark transition behind the grandstands. But the last run was the easiest to see and it was the same light all the way around. I don’t know if we thought there would be any light issues at night, but I didn’t notice that.

“I also didn’t have any peripheral vision issues. We might on a street course or road course but how they have adjusted that it has been taken care of.”

Since Wilson’s death, a halo was considered before IndyCar officials began looking at a windscreen.

“Whenever you are moving forward on safety there was a lot of flak from different people saying an Indy car shouldn’t look like that, it should be an open cockpit because of its heritage,” Dixon said. “But I think if there is anyway you can increase the safety of anything, it’s very important.

“Now, with different versions, what the Verizon IndyCar Series and PPG Aerospace have put together is very good. We got accomplished what we needed to. Hopefully, we can accomplish what we need to for other applications. I think this is a very good compromise and definitely a very good application compared to others that I have seen.”

The windscreen project is led by Jeff Horton, IndyCar’s director of safety and engineering.

Up to this point, testing had only been in Dallara’s scale-model wind tunnel and its racing simulator. Gabby Chaves of Harding Racing did the simulator testing at Dallara’s U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis.

According to IndyCar, the windscreen is made of PPG’s proprietary Opticor advanced transparency material and carries an appearance of canopies used on fighter jets. It is four-tenths-of-an-inch thick and is angled at 25 degrees.

IndyCar officials entered this testing with three objectives — safety enhancements, aesthetically looking and success in all conditions.

“The first run was the hardest because of the lighting, but ultimately the last run was the best one,” Dixon concluded. “There was no real issue with distortion. We checked with focal points, but the Verizon IndyCar Series should be really happy with this.

“Everything looks very good and I’m very happy.”

Horton sees areas that can be changed to help improve it.

“He said there are no showstoppers and the transition in and out of the shade went well,” Horton noted. “It wasn’t a deal breaker. The input was really good. Scott said no showstoppers, we’ll fix a few things and move on.

“I’m excited. For him to get out and say no problems, that is what we were shooting for. It’s always exciting to do the test and see it work out,” Horton added. “We’ve had many non-successful things and we just go figure out the solution and keep working. This is what PPG Aerospace uses on the F-16 and this is only the tip of their knowledge because there are many more coatings and applications we can use to correct any problems.”

The first on-track test was a success, but there remains more work to do, according to IndyCar. Validation of the mounting system and impact testing needs to be completed and it’s unlikely the windscreen will be implemented before 2019.