Drivers react to the first rain race of the aeroscreen era

INDIANAPOLIS — IndyCar’s development team has done a complete overhaul of the aeroscreen since its 2020 debut. But can they add a wiper blade? Simon Pagenaud would like to know.

Saturday’s runner-up suggestion in the chaotic GMR Grand Prix on a rain-soaked IMS road course was one of many reactions to the aeroscreen’s first real in-season test, outside of the series’ hazy, misty test at COTA and a wet track during a qualifying session at Mid-Ohio in 2020.

From front to back, the 27 riders in the peloton largely agreed that Saturday’s rain-shortened event (including 75 laps, instead of the planned 85) was one of, if not the craziest conditions, they have ever encountered in a racing car.

“I can’t imagine being back in the 10th”

The race, won by Colton Herta, included three pivotal turns on tire strategy, eight warnings, nine penalties, 31 laps under caution and 362 assists for position (breaking a previous record of 190). But no matter where you ran (unless you were Herta at the end), drivers said they faced a lack of visibility far worse than anything they had faced before when dirt and precipitation on their helmets were the worst obstacle to vision.

“At the end there, man, you couldn’t see anything,” said Will Power, 3rd, who started on pole on Saturday. “There was a spray in front of me. I don’t know how it was behind one car, but for two, I can’t imagine being back in 10th, man. You don’t know if someone brakes early, or you are looking at the fence to get a referral.

“You lift early (on the accelerator), but you don’t want to lift too early because nobody can see from behind. Pretty crazy day. It was just about survival.”

Power clarified, however, saying that the worst visibility issues he had were just the spray thrown up by cars driving on a wet track – a visibility issue that would exist with or without the aero screen. He wondered if, in the final 15 or so laps, if the spray had reached a point that put IndyCar race control on the verge of having to throw a red flag and pause the race.

“There’s really nothing you can do about open-wheel car spray,” he said. “But it was about whether we should have raced. It was starting to get a little hydroplane.”

Learn more about the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix:

Somehow Herta agreed that racing without the aero screen wouldn’t have changed the most notable visibility issue he faced minutes before the checkered flag on Saturday.

“The only downside, I think, was not having a tear (to pull me out),” he said. “Because when it dried, there’s all the mud and the dried drips on it. But once I got a tear (pulled during a pit stop by my crew), it was fine. I think a lot of people were worried about the fogging, because it can still get quite heavy when it rains here, but that wasn’t an issue for me, I was happy with it.

Cars race in low visibility on the course as heavy rain falls during the NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix, Saturday, May 14, 2022, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Daly worries about water buildup on screen

Not all pilots were equally glowing in their reviews. Conor Daly, who started 4th and finished 5th, said he struggled with what he described as water pooling in the center of his aero screen, even when riding at speed. Originally a noted vocal opponent of the aeroscreen, Daly notably became a proponent of the device; whether it was the metal pole that allegedly hit Callum Ilott this year or the many riders who saw the wheels ricochet off their screens.

Hesitating at the start when he spoke on the media center podium after the race on Saturday, Daly said he felt there were still lessons to be learned and work to be done to bring the aeroscreen where it needs to be for wet conditions.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. The water stayed in the center of the screen,” he said. “Even if you went faster, which you hope would have erased it, it didn’t. Obviously this is a (test), and we have a lot of data to go through with the show, and I’m sure (series president Jay Frye) will review everything, but it was tough.

“Luckily we had a great spotter at Packy Wheeler who was literally guiding me around Turn 1. I couldn’t see the braking zone or the cars in front of me or the end of the pit wall, but I could look down the side of the aeroscreen, so I was looking right and left to go straight, which was good.”

Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver Colton Herta (26) waves to fans Saturday, May 14, 2022, after winning the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Could IndyCar add a wiper blade?

Pagenaud’s suggested solution is rooted in his racing days of more than four dozen top-level sports car races with machines fitted with windshields and wipers. It’s unclear whether Frye or IndyCar would consider such a massive change, but over the past two years, IndyCar decision makers have shown a willingness to listen and act on driver feedback. Since its racing debut in June 2020, the series has added multiple vents, as well as an air tube and shovel used in some races to help cool the rider down.

“I couldn’t see,” Pagenaud said of the final laps of the race. “I didn’t even know where (Colton) was, quite frankly. I picked a few spots on the fence to figure out where to brake, but it was very hard to see without a wiper. If we had one , that would probably help, but this is the first real race with the aeroscreen (in the rain) so you have to give credit to IndyCar Safety is amazing, but in those conditions you would need a towel -ice like they have in sports cars.

“Obviously I’m not an engineer. We’ll find solutions, improve it and make sure that when we have races in the rain – and hopefully we have more – we don’t have these problems. “

Email IndyStar sportswriter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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