AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — With Scott Dixon at the wheel, the prototype for a windscreen to help protect IndyCar drivers from flying debris passed its first on-track test Thursday, a big step toward requiring such devices, perhaps as early as next year.
"I think it's definitely a milestone as far as moving forward and moving in the right direction for some more safety initiatives, and we all know the reasons why," the four-time IndyCar series champion said.
The only real problem for Dixon, he said, was the lack of air flow made things quite warm. But he described that as "an easy fix."
"The cooling thing we kind of knew," Dixon said, "but we just didn't want to deal with it right now."
Jeff Horton, IndyCar director of engineering and safety and head of the windscreen project, was happy with the results.
"When a guy like Scott gets out, a veteran of ours, and says there's no deal breakers, a couple of small things to look at, what better could you ask for," Horton said.
The windscreen wouldn't prevent all flying-debris accidents since material still could sail over the front of the screen or come in on top of the driver, who otherwise is protected only by a helmet. Driver Justin Wilson was died in August of 2015 of injuries he sustained when he was struck by flying debris in an IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway.
But IndyCar officials see the windscreen as potentially a big improvement in safety. With more testing to be done, the wind screen probably wouldn't be required on the circuit until 2019 at the earliest.
The screen, made up of a new material called Opticore, is four-tenths of an inch thick and rises at a 25-degree angle.
"It's a little bit different looking through something that's so thick," Dixon said, "but I thought it would have messed with m y distortion a lot more but there was nothing like that. There was no problem with reflection. ... The weirdest thing was just how quiet it is. You have no buffeting. The car feels very smooth."
Next up is a ballistics test, when researchers will find out just how much the screen can take from small, medium and large size debris.
Dixon drove the Chip Ganassi Racing team Honda at speeds up to 190 mph on the track at ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix International Raceway and site of two NASCAR and one IndyCar race each year.
"It's like any project," Horton said. "Whether we're developing foam for the car and stuff or whatever, it's always exciting to do the test and have it a success. And trust me, we've had many non-successful things and we just go figure out the solution and keep working."
Dixon said earlier problems with potential limits in peripheral vision had been resolved.
But, he said, "you're looking through quite a substantial amount of glass or material. It just takes your eyes a little bit to adjust to how you look through it."
The reaction to could be different from driver to driver, Dixon said, so he suggested everyone get to test the screen.
"This may affect other guys in different ways so it's something that everybody needs to almost try," he said. "It ran with little to no problems but it could affect others."
Dixon said he would like to see if he gets more used to it over time.
"Your brain and eyes just need to catch up to it," he said. "The longer that I ran I got more adept to it."
Before Thursday, the screen had only been tested in a wind tunnel. In Thursday's test, Dixon drove the Honda in sunshine, at dusk and at night with the track lights turned on. He spoke to reporters after the first run but didn't foresee any problems when the light changed.
It's not the first a windscreen has been used on an IndyCar. Several March chassis used them in the mid-1980s.
The current project has been ongoing for two years.
Formula One teams have been testing a "halo" protective wind screen, too, but it's an entirely separate exercise.
"We've shared with them," Horton said. "We don't know the exact stuff that they're using right now."