Jay Frye, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, has confirmed that the new universal aerokit for 2018 has been designed with a plan in mind to add extra cockpit protection for the drivers’ helmets.
Following Justin Wilson’s death at Pocono in 2015, IndyCar has sped up its process of looking at extra cockpit safety devices to reduce the likelihood of debris striking the drivers’ helmets.
And while the images of the Dallara-built universal bodywork for next year’s IndyCar have not featured such a structure, Frye told Motorsport.com that the designs have the provision for adding extra devices to the cockpit.
Testing is expected to start soon into the off-season.
“We’re still full-speed ahead looking at different applications that we can use,” he said. “There’ll be certain things tested this fall.
“We didn’t want to introduce it immediately, so the two cars that will take part in our initial four sign-off tests won’t have it right away. But once we’ve done those four sign-off sessions, testing cockpit protection is very much on our to-do list. although we’ve not yet decided what/when/where.”
Frye said that it was unlikely the cars would race with the extra protective devices in 2018.
“Racing with them next year, that’s debatable,” he said, “but we have to try these things on track, because we need to see how the cars react. If it is a screen, it will affect the car aerodynamically. Not so much on the 2018 car, though, because behind the drivers’ head we’ve got a hoop instead of the airbox on the current car.”
Asked if IndyCar is favoring the aeroscreen-type device, Frye said: “Well, the halo type thing won’t work on banked ovals because of the sightlines. But we could have multiple applications for our multiple venues.”
Longer sidepods to reduce side cockpit intrusion
Frye also explained that while a lot of thought has been given to debris entering the cockpit from the front or overhead, one of IndyCar’s and Dallara’s priorities for the 2018 aerokit was to reduce the chances foreign objects, particularly the wheels of a rival car, threatening cockpit intrusion from the side.
“The triangle in front of the sidepod on the current car – which everyone’s called the “sponsor-blocker” – was regarded as a safety measure,” said Frye. “It’s to help prevent another car’s wheels from getting up on the piece of floor that sticks out in front of the sidepod.
“But if you look at the overhead of the new car, you can see the new sidepod shape should prevent that. It goes much further alongside the cockpit, for one thing, and the top surface of the sidepod overhangs the bottom surface. Going wheel to wheel would be like banging doors on a stock car. You’ll be hitting sidepod.
“Several reasons we thought that was good. One, obviously, was that it’s now tougher for another car’s wheel to get up near the cockpit. Two, getting rid of that sponsor blocker means less debris in the event of a collision. And three, sponsor logos under the cockpit or on the leading edge of the sidepod aren’t blocked any more.”
On that subject, some IndyCar teams’ marketing staff had expressed concern that the reduction in surface area of the 2018 car would leave them with less space to display sponsor logos.
“Yeah, that was a legitimate concern,” agreed Frye. “This car is just smaller in terms of bodywork. So we got Nielsen [America’s premier market research firm] to examine the old car and the new car, and show us how they compared on TV.
“Well, we’ve been able to show to the teams that the new car is better from a signage point of view, because it’s so much cleaner in terms of fewer pieces sticking out and blocking from certain angles. You know, until we get cars out there and we can see it, for real, it’s a theoretical thing, but we’re optimistic.”