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Safety First: Aeroscreen Is Latest in Long Line of Innovations Developed at IMS

The latest look of the NTT IndyCar Series car was placed on full display Wednesday, Oct. 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the first on-track test of the revolutionary Aeroscreen.

Series champions and Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winners Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Will Power of Team Penske tested the safety device, which will be fitted around the cockpits of all NTT IndyCar Series cars starting in the 2020 season.

The Aeroscreen has been developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies to reduce the risk of driver injury from debris or other objects striking the cockpit area. The driver safety innovation encompassing the cockpit is comprised of a ballistic Aeroscreen anchored by titanium framework.

“This is a total industry-changing driver safety solution,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye said. “I think this is something that will really change the complexion of the sport for a long time to come, so this is big.”

The successful test also was the latest chapter of IMS’ legacy as an incubator and laboratory for racing and automotive safety for 110 years. Since 1909, fostering innovation and development in motorsports safety has been a priority for IMS leadership, and the teams and manufacturers that compete at the Racing Capital of the World. Over time, many exciting breakthroughs have occurred, and many lives have been saved.

IMS opened in 1909 with the idea that its 2.5-mile crushed gravel-and-tar oval would serve as a testing facility for the nascent automotive industry in Indianapolis. Safety innovations started almost immediately when early competition proved the track surface was unstable for racing.

So track co-founders Carl Fisher and James Allison wasted no time in deciding that paving bricks – more expensive but more robust than concrete – should be the surface of the future.

Just two years later, another major safety innovation was unveiled at the Speedway. Ray Harroun’s Marmon “Wasp” race car showed up for the inaugural Indianapolis 500 as a single-seat car, with no room for a riding mechanic that was the norm for the era. After safety concerns were raised by competitors, Harroun’s Nordyke & Marmon team framed a piece of mirror in steel and mounted it at the top range of Harroun’s vision.

The world’s first rear-view mirror was born.

Countless other “firsts” for racing safety have been perfected or created at IMS since then, including:

•The first use of a Pace Car, in 1911
•What is believed to be the first mass rolling start of a race, in 1911
•The first use of four-wheel hydraulic brakes, in 1921
•The introduction of Magnaflux inspection of crucial metal parts, in the 1930s
•The first installation of colored warning lights, in 1935
•The first mandatory use of helmets, in 1935
•Mandatory use of fire-resistant uniforms and roll bars on cars, in 1959
•Mandatory use of methanol fuel, which is much less volatile than gasoline, in 1965
•Mandatory use of a rupture-resistant fuel cell, in 1965
•Introduction of energy-absorbing attenuator at the pit road entrance, in 1991
•The first use of crash-data recorders, in 1993
•Introduction of the revolutionary SAFER Barrier energy-absorbing system, in 2002

The SAFER Barrier changed racing safety forever after its first installation in May 2002 at IMS. Every major oval and many permanent road courses in America installed the steel-and-foam system on its retaining walls, dramatically reducing driver impact forces in accidents.

Dixon made his IMS debut in the 2003 Indianapolis 500, just a year after the SAFER Barrier was first installed. He recalled that safety revolution pioneered at the Speedway and thinks the Aeroscreen will be just as influential and innovative.

“I remember hitting the old concrete walls (before 2003), and they weren't too fun,” Dixon said. “It's been a huge advancement, not just for INDYCAR and what they did for the sport, but it went everywhere. It helped a lot of formulas.

“This (Aeroscreen) is just another version of it, I think one that we've been wanting to implement. This is huge for drivers and for safety of the sport and something that will definitely push that safety boundary, I think, throughout.”

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