Scott Dixon gave the windscreen prototype a thumbs-up after putting it through its paces on an Indy car on track for the first time on Friday evening at the ISM Raceway in Maricopa, Arizona.
Looks of approval surrounded the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion after he made three short runs on the 1.022-mile oval to test his vision through the prototype in varying light conditions – in late-afternoon sunlight and shadows, at dusk and at night under full track lighting.
“We went through the biggest transition of lights,” Dixon said after climbing from his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda following the third run. “The hardest was probably the first run where we had extreme sunlight to darkness right through [Turns] 1 and 2.”
“Out of all of them, the night time was the easiest – no (visual) transitions there. I think for us it was basically seeing if there was going to be glare issues or anything with the lights. But everything looks very good, I’m very happy and kudos to the Verizon IndyCar Series for getting it out there and running it,” he added.
Dixon’s pit stall was packed with interested observers for each run, spaced over two hours as the sun faded behind the mountains and grandstands at the historic track outside Phoenix. INDYCAR officials, media and fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers watched with great interest as the project that took on full focus following the tragic death of Justin Wilson in 2015 from flying debris had its first public display.
Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, stressed that this was the first on-track test for the prototype, that revisions will be made from what was learned on Friday and that there is no timetable for implementation to all Verizon IndyCar Series cars for competition. But he echoed the sentiments of everyone within the sanctioning body when he said he was pleased with the outcome.
“We came here, we had a plan to run in light, at dusk and at dark. If any one of those had not gone well, we probably would not have been able to continue,” Frye explained. “They all went as well or better than we expected. Again, this is part of the process.”
“Today was all about optics. It’s been in simulators, it’s been in wind tunnels, but until you actually put it on a real car with a real driver, there’s still that element that’s an unknown. Having Scott – which we sure appreciate what he did today and the Ganassi guys did a phenomenal job – it did what we thought it would do. Now we have to take it to that next step,” he added.
Dixon admitted that looking through the windscreen required an adjustment in a driver’s vision that may be more mental than physical.
“It’s hard to explain, but when you look through something like that, it does change – not the magnification, but almost like a magnification,” he said. “Your brain and eyes just need to catch up with it and the longer I ran, I got more adapted to it.”
He said the windscreen – made of a proprietary PPG Aerospace material called Opticor, similar to what the company uses to make canopies for fighter jets – may have improved his vision driving into the harsh late-afternoon sunlight heading into ISM Raceway’s Turn 1. He did offer one improvement suggestion following the initial run.
“It needs some cooling just because you get no air flow through the car,” the 18th-year Indy car veteran said. “Kudos to INDYCAR. I definitely think there’s things that we can improve on and make better, but good job.”
“The weirdest thing was just how quiet it is,” he added, referring to the air flow being directed over his helmet from the windscreen instead of at the helmet without it. “You have no buffeting [of the driver’s head], the car feels very smooth. It feels like you’ve gone to a really luxury dampened car.
“It didn’t feel that you were going as fast because you didn’t have any air pressure through.”
Jeff Horton, INDYCAR director of safety and engineering, has led the series’ development of the windscreen prototype along with Terry Trammell, the renowned motor sports surgeon and INDYCAR medical consultant. As an engineer, Horton was already thinking to the work ahead following Dixon’s run and feedback, but said he was pleased with the result.
“[Dixon] said he can definitely tell that [the windscreen]is there, but he said it’s one of those things that if he did more laps, he could get used to it,” Horton said, noting INDYCAR knew before the test that driver cooling would be an issue and that discussions for cockpit modifications to address it have already taken place.