A Legitimate Question About the Aero Screen

Much to the chagrin of my wife Susan, I spent most of Saturday afternoon watching Day Two of the Open Test from COTA that took place on February 12. I never got to see any of this, because I had an extremely busy day at the day-job and we flew out that evening to go on our cruise. Keep in mind, I wasn’t sitting there glued to the TV all day long – but I had it on throughout the day. I was doing other chores either outside or other parts of the house, but I would sometimes sit and watch and even dose off a little bit. Is there a better way to spend a cold Saturday in late February?

Susan ended up going back to the bedroom to watch whatever, complaining about me monopolizing the TV for the whole afternoon. Keep in mind, I can’t count how many weekends I’ve caught her binge-watching Sex and the City for the umpteenth time, but I guess that’s OK.

Late in the broadcast, I heard Kevin Lee and Jake Query discussing the new aero screen. Most of you know that I was part of the chorus of boos back in the fall that thought the looks of the car had been ruined. While it still looks boxy from a head-on view, it didn’t take long for me to grow accustomed to the overall looks of the car. I’m not going to say I prefer the new look of the car, but I’m not noticing it as much as I thought I would. And if the potential is there to save lives, then it’s a good thing.

But bringing up legitimate questions does not make me a hater. Nor does it mean that I like to watch drivers die, as some have had the audacity to claim. Fire is a legitimate concern and the AMR Safety Team has done all it can to address this issue in the offseason. But there is still that lingering doubt that won’t be answered until we see several drivers escape a burning race car unscathed.

One thing they addressed on the broadcast was how the pit stops will be affected. For this season, there will be an extra crew-member allowed over the wall in pit stops, just to either clean the aero screen or remove a tear-off.

As it sometimes does in long broadcasts like this where there is no real competition going on, my mind began to wander. And as usual, it wandered to the Indianapolis 500. That’s when another legitimate question crept into my head that I had no real answer to. I’m assuming IndyCar has thought of this question, but I’ve never heard it addressed.

I don’t normally try to stir the pot here. I don’t seek out controversy. In fact, I try to avoid it. But a legitimate question is roaming through my head and I can’t think of a satisfactory answer to it. Perhaps some of you can enlighten me.

It is not uncommon for fluids to be sprayed onto the track and in the path of a trailing car, when an engine lets go. We’ve seen it on the in-car camera many times, when oil and/or coolant is sprayed all over the camera lens. When that happens, the protective film in front of the lens immediately scrolls to the right until the dirty clear film is replaced by a new clean section. That spray also hits the driver; who can either wipe his or her visor clean or pull off the tear-away visor right then to give the driver a clear view of the track.

For example…Let’s say that Graham Rahal is setting up to pass Fernando Alonso on the main straightaway during the Indianapolis 500, just as Alonso’s engine suddenly lets go just as it did in 2017. Rahal’s aero screen would be immediately coated in oil and fluids from Alonso’s car. He does not have the luxury of simply wiping his visor or quickly ripping off a tear-away visor. His vision is completely impaired as he is heading into Turn One and navigating traffic.

What is the driver to do in that situation?

The driver can’t reach out and peel away the tear-away windscreen. Even if they could, what would they do with it? They can’t toss it out on the track like some do with a tear-away visor. Sometimes, even they have gotten into the radiator inlets of other cars and caused over-heating problems. The tear-away windscreen is huge, compared to a visor. But that part of the question is a moot point because there is no way the driver could do it in the first place.

Have you ever had a leaf stuck in your windshield wiper? You roll your window down and hope you can time it right so that you can reach your hand around outside the windshield and pop the windshield wiper, in hopes that the offending leaf will fly away. I’ve almost crashed my car doing this at 45 mph. Imagine trying to accomplish something similar at 225 mph.

If you can envision that scenario, then imagine trying to go into Turn One at speed while trying to see through a film of oil.

When AJ Foyt was headed to his third Indianapolis 500 victory, on the final lap, there was a four-car pileup between Turn Four and the checkered flag. Foyt had already backed off but was faced with a wall of smoke that completely obscured his vision of the track ahead of him. He later admitted that at that point, he sped up. His thinking was that if he hit someone, he would be carrying enough speed to drag them both to the finish-line.

That way of thinking sounds halfway logical and almost comical for the final few hundred feet, while going in a straight line. But there is nothing comical about the hypothetical situation I described involving Graham Rahal and Fernando Alonso. Would Rahal even be able to see his mirrors in such a scenario? If not, it would be just as treacherous for him to try and slow down and pull over as it would be to go blindly into Turn One.

There has been a lot of testing on ovals involving the aero screen, but they have all been in mostly ideal conditions. Yes, they’ve tested in extremely hot conditions and some concerns were identified from those tests, but how do test for a blown-engine from the car just in front of you? To even simulate something like that would be extremely dangerous, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the driver that drew the short straw to be that guinea pig.

Fluid from a blown-engine obscuring a driver’s vision is a real-world scenario that happens fairly frequently. Not to be crass or insensitive, but it happens with a lot more frequency than the nose-cone of a car dropping straight down onto a driver’s exposed head.

This is one of probably many unintended consequences that will arise throughout this season, and especially in the Month of May when the aero screen hits a high-speed oval in anger for the first time. Again, I’m not trying to stir up controversy – because I’m in favor of the intent behind the aero screen. But after this popped into my head on Saturday, I’m hoping that someone can tell me that IndyCar has already addressed this and they can tell me what the remedy is.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “A Legitimate Question About the Aero Screen”

  1. Tin-tops and sportscars get through this problem without much issue. If the windscreen gets coated with fluid the driver doesn’t go blind, things just get a bit blurry and they can still see good enough to get around to the pits if need be. What we see when the camera gets coated with fluid is more exaggerated than what the driver will experience. I believe it was also mentioned that the tear-offs will have a hydrophobic coating much like RainX so fluids will bead up and roll off.

  2. I have heard others bring this up but no answer about it, I guess pit and remove tear off. I am sure it could get pretty blurry but I am not sure they would be blinded by it. In stock cars I have seen it get pretty ugly though with oil but it is not often. Could see drivers comically carrying a Swiffer brush thingy in the car.

  3. Jeff Petersen Says:

    I think this is going to be much like what happens if a driver hits debris from another driver’s misfortune and cuts a tire. It’s going to simply be bad racing luck. Most likely the caution will be out if there is that much fluid going onto the car behind, so that should minimize the impact and allow the impacted driver the opportunity to get to the pits. With the current reliability of engines, there aren’t too many grenading like in the past. IMO, just another variable to deal with that should have minimal overall impact.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I would be inclined to agree. I also think that Race Control reacting quickly with caution flags in the appropriate circumstances will be important in preventing the worst in George’s scenario.

      • Same here. Except for the few seconds directly after an engine expiration (a decreasingly likely event nowadays), there shouldn’t be a whole lot of extra danger introduced because of the aeroscreens. If somebody blows up in front of you and you have to make an extra pitstop to get a tearoff taken off, well, that’s racin’.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    Another additional feature (problem) compounds the potential for driver’s vision becoming obscured.

    I believe the recent COTA team tests provided insight to the windscreen positive and negative aspects.

    The rain during COTA testing was dismal for on track time; however, there was a benefit from a driver’s perspective.

    It was discovered that at speed rain accumulated on the driver’s helmet face shield.

    In the “old” windscreenless era, the air flow kept the visor relatively clear.

    At COTA during the rain, it was found that the new protective windscreen does not provide sufficient airflow (so to speak) to clear the visor as previously (without the windscreen).

    Add to the “To Do List” there needs to be modifications to allow airflow to somewhat cool the drivers.

    So one resolves one problem and as a result two or more are created to be resolved……………

  5. well, this resembles the “separated bubble effect” evidenced when
    a pickup gets better gas mileage with the tailgate up vs. gate down.
    here’s a link:

    in other words: just like Bruce Waine posted above.

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