The first race of IndyCar’s double-header at Iowa Speedway saw a couple crashes that highlighted the effectiveness of the series’ newly implemented Aeroscreen.
The Aeroscreen was custom-developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, designed to fit on the existing Dallara DW12 chassis that IndyCar has been using for eight years. Similar to the solution Red Bull presented to Formula 1 when discussions were underway that led to the implementation of the Halo, the Aeroscreen features its own 3D-printed titanium “halo” combined with a ballistic windscreen to protect the drivers in all manner of situations.
The 45-pound structure is mandatory on all cars this season, and can withstand a two-pound object striking it at over 220 mph. Drivers have almost universally welcomed the new protection and were able to witness first hand this weekend the benefits of the new device.
A near miss for Will Power
Near the midpoint of Friday night’s race at the short 7/8-mile oval of Iowa Speedway, Team Penske’s Will Power lost a left front wheel while driving at speed. After losing control and crashing into the barriers, Power slid down the frontstretch along with the debris from his own car.
While still travelling at over 120 mph, the 13.5-pound front wheel that had come off earlier tumbled across the nose of Power’s stricken car. Though it did not bounce directly off the Aeroscreen, the close call immediately brought everyone’s attention to how easily it could have impacted driver cockpit area.
Titanium structure put to the test
While coming to the green following the caution for Power’s crash, a second incident more dramatically highlighted the effectiveness of the Aeroscreen. Near the rear of the field, second year driver Colton Herta was caught off guard by the stacked up field in front of him and ran into the back of rookie Rinus VeeKay.
Though the field was not yet up to full speed, the impact to the rear tire lifted Herta’s nearly 2,000-pound car up on top of the other. The rolling wheel underneath further launched the car forward through the air where it came crashing down on top of the SAFER barrier, just inches from the catch fence.
Closer analysis showed that Herta’s car actually deflected off the edge of VeeKay’s Aeroscreen, putting the strength of the titanium to the test. There was superficial damage to the structure, but the integrity was not compromised and both drivers walked away unharmed.
“I’m very happy, especially with the safety,” said VeeKay after being cleared by the medical team. “I stepped out, I saw the whole rollhoop of the Aerosceen. It was destroyed. Thank you to IndyCar for the great safety cell.”
Windscreen protects against small objects
In addition to this, television replays showed that a significantly-sized piece of Herta’s front wing came flying out of the air and struck Marcus Ericsson’s Aeroscreen as he drove past the wreckage. The impact was a direct hit on the ballistic windshield and would have certainly been a safety issue had the new protection not been in place.
Fans of motorsport will remember the tragic IndyCar accident that caused Justin Wilson’s death at Pocono in 2015. The 37-year-old British driver was struck in the helmet by a flying nosecone and was left in a coma before dying a short time later.
Accidents like this directly led to development of the Aeroscreen, and now, in only the fifth race since it was implemented, what could have been another tragic accident was reduced to a spectacular crash that saw all parties walking away unharmed.
There was never much doubt about the effectiveness or necessity of a more enclosed cockpit, but Friday’s race proved that safety should always be a moving target. The Aeroscreen has only just been introduced, but has already proven to be a valuable and necessary addition to today’s open-wheel cars.