• Chris Beatty

Speed Trap - RaceCar Engineering - Part Three

Late in 2020, RaceCar Engineering, one of the world's leading technology magazines for the MotorSport industry, invited Chris Beatty to tell the story of how the critically acclaimed 2018 Universal Aero Kit was developed for IndyCar.

Making the current IndyCar both look fast and hit its performance targets was a delicate balance of engineering and aesthetics


Safety advances

In the run up to the 2019 Indy 500, IndyCar and Dallara introduced the Advanced Frontal Protection (AFP) pylon. Intended as a stopgap safety device in the wake of Robert Wicken’s horrendous Pocono accident, the titanium fin was designed to deflect large debris from directly in front of the driver, but IndyCar already had eyes on more

comprehensive driver protection systems.

Following the failure of the self supporting Mk1 Aeroscreen to meet the

specified impact requirements, Bill Pappas and Tino Belli started to look at other options. One of which was to fit the car with an FIA specification Halo device. Again, IndyCar drafted in Beatty to mock up what the car would look like with a Halo and carried out some initial investigation into integrating a screen with the FIA device

The main problem was the DW12 chassis did not have sufficient reinforcing at the

rear mounting points, and it would be cost prohibitive for Dallara to modify all chassis

in the series to achieve that. Therefore, Belli worked with Dallara to investigate the

possibility of extending the Halo around to the DW12s original roll hoop – an area of the

car that already had the required strength. The result, however, was clumsy looking,

making the car look awkward and top heavy.

What IndyCar wanted was a device that combined the proven strength of the FIA Halo

with the extra security offered by a screen. The answer lay in the Aeroscreen concept Red Bull F1 had put forward as a challenger to the FIA Halo, so reached out to the team to seek its assistance in developing it.

Red Bull Advanced Technologies (RBAT), headed up by Andy Damerum and Ed

Collings, proceeded to develop a mechanical concept for a new form of Halo, combined

with the knowledge gained from the F1 Aeroscreen project. RBAT’s Mark Foster

engineered the first proof of concept, which was then visualised by Beatty to give IndyCar a clear picture of the design’s potential and how it would impact on the car’s aesthetic.

The idea was to use a 3D-printed ‘Halo’- type structure that mounted on the front

bulkhead and formed a loop to the roll hoop mounting points. There were to be support

pillars on either side to increase stability in a high-energy impact, which met the chassis at the driver’s shoulders. A screen was to be moulded around the frame with a single curvature constant radius to reduce visual distortion to the absolute minimum. Red Bull collaborated with Dallara in finding a solution for mounting it to the existing chassis.

Cooling was also an area of development that needed further attention, with Dallara

creating an intake vent under the lower leading edge of the screen.

Styling consultant

Beatty once again acted as IndyCar’s styling consultant, working closely with the

engineering team at Red Bull during the initial design phase of the project, included

styling the overall device where engineering considerations would allow. One of these

touch points was suggesting a modification to the original IR-18 damper cover, rotating

it about its leading edge to form a ramp up to the top of the new Dallara screen vent.

The purpose of this was to integrate the side profile of the screen into the existing

angles of the chassis, reducing its perceived angle of attack and making the overall device appear less top heavy.

Beatty also added further intakes, cut into the new cover to feed the venting system to

tie in with the existing car styling. Dallara then developed these designs through CFD aero testing to ensure sufficient airflow actually reached the drivers in practice.

The rear fairing and the form of the screen’s ‘blacking’ were all areas the screen could be worked on to make the car look fast, and Beatty developed a number of concepts with Belli and Pappas to help Red Bull develop a device that would fit with the design attitude of the car.

The one area where they were limited was the screen’s frontal profile, mainly due

to the original vertical sides of the tub. The screen’s top access needed to be the same size as the original cockpit opening to allow emergency crews to interact with an injured driver unimpeded. It was also driven by what Red Bull call the ‘helmet box’, an invisible area around the driver’s helmet that represents possible head movement in a crash. The idea was that no part of the screen’s structure could encroach on this volume to make sure the device itself couldn’t inflict an impact injury on the driver.

Red Bull’s Aeroscreen was introduced to the world by Jay Frye and Christian Horner at the 2019 Indy 500 Carb Day. In the background, Belli and the teams at Red Bull and Dallara had moved on to prototyping the screen, testing it with driver, Scott Dixon,

in the Dallara simulator. Other partner companies also came on board to add

material and manufacturing expertise to the project with the frame manufactured in

3D-printed titanium by Pankl – a magnificent piece of engineering, incidentally, that Frye described as ‘a work of art.’

Competition debut

As Covid-19 delayed the start to the 2020 racing season, the first race at Texas

Motor Speedway saw the screen make its competition debut. Its first real on-track test,

however, came at Iowa when Colton Herta’s car climbed over the cockpit of Rinus VeeKay, almost immediately proving its worth as a potential lifesaver.

The Aeroscreen has been a critical addition to the plethora of safety measures

already developed by Dallara and IndyCar. It is also an incredible innovation for the racing industry as a whole, and IndyCar prides itself on never standing still when it comes to looking after the safety of drivers and fans.

As for what is to come for the series in terms of a next-generation car? Well, with

Covid-19 continuing to cause havoc across the globe, and the recent acquisition by

Penske, all we currently know for certain is there are new engine regulations coming

in, and it’s going to be fast!

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