IndyCar was supposed to have two full days of preseason testing this week for drivers and teams to get all the data, feel and confidence they could with the new aeroscreens installed on the cars for the upcoming season.
What they got instead was mostly two days of cold, wet frustration and only a snapshot of what’s to come.
The chilly, damp weather that settled over the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, wiped out much of IndyCar’s only open testing sessions scheduled ahead of the March 15 season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida. When temperatures finally rose above 50 degrees (10 celsius) Wednesday afternoon, teams scrambled to spin as many laps as they could.
“I could go back to Indiana and be cold and wet,” Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi complained to IndyCar.com as drivers waited through a long delay.
Teams and drivers wanted this week to study the impact of the aeroscreen, a combination of a halo-like structure similar to those used in Formula One, and a wrap-around windshield. The device was designed to protect drivers’ heads in the open cockpits.
The addition makes the 2020 IndyCar look more like something more likely to be launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier than driven out of a garage.
“It’s a fighter jet on wheels,” Graham Rahal said. “I think it’s really cool.”
Some drivers had already done test runs with the aeroscreen, but for many others this week was their first chance. Drivers were nearly universal in praising it.
“How many times have we been on an oval and things miss you by inches or a fraction of an inch?” said A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, who has 37 career victories.
Bourdais recalled this week a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2005 that sent debris flying toward his car. One large piece bounced off the nose of his car, snapped the antenna and “took out the camera over my head.”
“When you go through those experiences and people talk about putting a halo with an aeroscreen, you are like, ‘Óh, yeah,'” Bourdais said.
There are few questions about safety. Teams still have plenty to learn about what the change will mean when it comes to things like driver visibility, aerodynamics as well as pit stop and race strategy since adding 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) to the cars will affect tire wear.
“There’s more weight in the front,” said Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, the defending Indianapolis 500 champion. “It changes the balance on the car.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist, last season’s rookie of the year, said the aerodynamic impacts will likely be bigger on oval tracks rather than road courses like Austin.
“You might get a read on a qualifying lap here, but it will make a bigger difference on ovals. At Indianapolis or Texas, it will be a big deal,” Rosenqvist said.
Many teams still have time to schedule private testing. Several rookie drivers already plan a test drive Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
A few teams ventured out for a few wet laps Tuesday and Wednesday. Drivers that did closely followed each other to judge the splash and spray on visibility.
Penske driver Will Power followed Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward and said he liked how quickly the aeroscreen dried and didn’t get foggy. But he also noticed water dripping over the top.
“It seems like it needs a lip around the top because the water drips in as you drive,” Power said. “The wind screen is great. It just dries.”
Teams must also figure out how to keep drivers cool.
Driver helmets have vents that circulate air, but the aeroscreen now pushes the wind over the drivers and temperatures during summer races will be far higher.
Calmer air around the cockpit still won’t let drivers race with an open visor, said Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. Dust and dirt will still get in the cockpit — and now don’t get blown out.
“I tried that. Really quick you get a lot of stuff in your eyes,” Hunter-Reay said. “The top is still open.”
Pit crews will need practice with the aeroscreen as well.
The screens will be fitted with several “tear off” layers similar to helmet visors. IndyCar is allowing teams to have an extra person in the pit crew to evaluate and, if necessary, peel away a layer spotted by rain, oil or dirt.
How that person will navigate around mechanics, tire changers and others is a new challenge. They won’t be allowed to fix anything else on the car.
Some drivers like the aeroscreen because it literally gives them a new view of the track.
Dale Coyne Racing driver Santino Ferrucci, who is 5-foot-3, said the protective canopy lets him sit higher in the cockpit without sacrificing safety.
“Ï really love it. I’m incredibly short,” Ferrucci said. “I can actually get up now, in the car, and be on top of the steering wheel and be on top of the pedals and feel really in control versus sitting really low, underneath everything, for your safety.”