By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Since its implementation 2020, the NTT IndyCar Series Aeroscreen hadn’t been subjected to a wet weather race, so there was still a big unknown on how it would perform in the rain ahead of Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
After two hours of racing in inclement conditions on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course, drivers and teams got their answer and the reviews were mixed.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said fifth place finisher Conor Daly. “It was like the water just stayed in the center of the screen, and I don’t know why, but even as you went faster, which you would hope it would clear, it didn’t. Again, I can’t say anything.
“Obviously, this is very much a scientific test run. Obviously, we have a lot of data to go through with the series, and I’m sure Jay Frye will look at it as well. And he hates when I talk about the Aeroscreen, but I’m just describing what I saw. That’s all. It was challenging.
“Thankfully, we had a great spotter in Packy Wheeler, who was literally guiding me into turn one. I couldn’t see the brake zone or the cars in front of me or the end of the pit wall, but I could look out the side of the Aeroscreen, so I was looking right and left to go straight, which was neat.”
Daly continued, noting that racing in the rain is nothing new for him and others in the IndyCar paddock and the issues discovered with the Areoscreen will get figured out in time. Even if it took treacherous conditions in wet weather at Indianapolis to put the safety device through its paces.
“Look, I used to race in the rain all the time, so we had a visor that you can work with, but this is a new era, so obviously there are things that we can figure out. We go from here.
“I do think it was tough. It was definitely hard to race like that because you don’t want to, obviously, end up on the wrong side. Even under yellow. I couldn’t see the cars in front of me under yellow. I had to be guided into pit lane, and that’s concerning. Hopefully we can figure that out, but hopefully we also have very shiny weather for the rest of the year.”
Runner-up finisher Simon Pagenaud said much of the same regarding the visibility, adding that if the cars had some sort of wiper, like in sports cars, the issues seen Saturday would not have been as bad.
“I couldn’t see,” Pagenaud said. “I didn’t even know where [Herta] was, quite frankly. I picked a few points on the fence to know where I had to brake, but it was very difficult to see without the wiper.
“I mean, if we had a wiper, it would probably help, but that was the first real race with the Aeroscreen, so you got to give credit to INDYCAR. The safety is amazing, but in these conditions you would need a wiper like they do in the sports cars.
“It’s very similar to a wind screen you have on a sports car. There’s a wiper. It’s possible, and it would probably help in these conditions.”
Will Power, who finished in third to take over the points lead, echoed the comments from Daly and Pagenaud, explaining the treacherous conditions.
“At the end there, man, you could not see a thing,” Power said. “There was a spray in front of me. I don’t know how it was behind the one car, but just the two car, I couldn’t imagine being back in tenth, man.
“You don’t know if someone is braking early or you are kind of looking to the fence to get a reference, you kind of lift early. You don’t want to lift too early because no one can see from behind.
“Pretty crazy day. One to stay on your toes and know when to pick the right tire and definitely not overdo it. Yeah, real happy with third with a day like that. Just survival.”
Race winner Colton Herta added that he didn’t have many issues with the Aeroscreen while out front, aside from the changing conditions throughout the race that allowed dirt to build up on the surface in between pit stops.
“The only down side I think there was was not having a tear-off when it dried up because you get all the mud and dried, I don’t know, raindrops on there, but once I had a tear-off, it was fine. I think a lot of people were worried about the fogging because it can still be quite muggy when it’s raining here, but it wasn’t a problem for me. I was happy with it.
While there were visibility issues with the Aeroscreen in the rain, Herta added that he was able to use it to his advantage while leading, increasing the spray on the trailing cars, notably Pagenaud in second place.
“Following Pato, I couldn’t see anything. I could see the red flash, the rain light, but that was it. I kind of knew when to pull out from that.
“The heavens opened as soon as I pulled out of the tow. It’s great because every time I look back at a restart or a start or something, it was just torrential downpour.
“Maybe I shouldn’t tell you guys this, but I saw Simon poking out on one of the restarts on the TVs. I was watching the TVs because I couldn’t see anything out of the mirrors. Every time he would poke out, I would go down a little bit more so he couldn’t see anything going into one.
“I was giggling a little bit in my helmet looking. Every other TV he would poke out a little bit more, so I would go a little bit more. Funny.”